Friends of Hemming Park unveiled a new collaboration that will enhance our city’s central park with improvements beginning next year. Community First Credit Union has partnered with Friends of Hemming Park to help establish a main stage near Hogan Street. Black Sheep Restaurant Group has also plans to open a kiosk in the park’s café area near the corner of Laura and Monroe streets.

“There is so much momentum building behind Downtown Jacksonville, and Hemming Park is at the heart of it,” says Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry. “These announcements represent a significant investment in the future of this integral park, and will contribute to even more energy and activity for our urban core for years to come.”

As the focal point for special events downtown, a world-class stage is needed in Hemming Park to facilitate such events as One Spark, Art Walk and Gastrofest and serve as a premiere location for future community events. The Community First Stage, to be designed by Content Design Group, will operate as a one-of-a-kind space for outdoor live performances in the heart of the city.

“Our vision is to create a premiere destination that is fresh and vibrant, filled with community partners, cultural creatives, and family-friendly activities year-round,” says Vince Cavin, CEO of Friends of Hemming Park. “With these major improvements, we can bring new programming to the park that will move Jacksonville forward toward a more inclusive and accessible city.”

Founded in 2013, Friends of Hemming Park is a nonprofit organization dedicated to revitalizing Jacksonville’s oldest public park into a vibrant, modern, and accessible space that engages diverse communities through improved amenities, daily programming, a family-friendly environment, and community-driven partnerships (www.hemmingpark.org)

John Hirabayashi, CEO and president of Community First, says the organization is excited to join Friends of Hemming Park in the development of an iconic attraction in the downtown core. “The revitalization and continued improvement of Hemming Park is so crucial to downtown development. We have a strong commitment to downtown as the longest continuously operating financial institution,” he says. “While this is in the very early stages of due diligence and planning, we look forward to unveiling more details as we work with all of the stakeholders toward a solid, workable plan.”

Black Sheep Restaurant Group in partnership with Design Cooperative, LLC will design a restaurant kiosk using re-purposed shipping containers donated by CSX Corporation and Crowley Marine. This project will be funded in part by the Southwest Airlines Heart of the Community Grant Friends of Hemming Park received in April.

“We are excited about the growth of downtown and have been watching it closely since closing Chew in hopes of finding the right project to return to the urban core, which we care about strongly,” says Jonathan Insetta, owner of Black Sheep Restaurant Group. “There are few projects that can truly be a force for positive change downtown and we believe the transformation of Hemming Park and this project in particular is one of them.”

Wayne Wood, board president for Friends of Hemming Park, says the organization is “extremely proud” to partner with Community First Credit Union and Black Sheep Restaurant Group in the first step to revitalizing Hemming Park. Says Wood, “These key additions will impact not only the look and feel of the park, but also its sustainability and place in history as an important landmark our city can be proud of.”

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