2014 the year for raising awareness about Memorial Park’s restoration

2014 the year for raising awareness about Memorial Park’s restoration

Events planned in the park, for the park –

It’s approaching two years now since the Memorial Park Association took its first steps toward a major effort to restore and rehabilitate Riverside’s 90-year-old Memorial Park to its original grandeur.
The first step was engaging with landscape architect David Sacks to develop a Master Plan. The initial plan was presented in January 2013 to the association’s board members.
memorial park
Even back then, members were anxious to procure shrubs, put shovels into dirt, and start the restoration process, but the brakes were applied. Fast forward to March 2014 and it may seem like nothing’s been done when you visit the park.
To the contrary, 2013 was the year to finalize the Master Plan, to undertake a feasibility study with the help of Partners for Nonprofits, and to revamp the Memo of Understanding (MOU) with the City’s Parks and Recreation Department. That latter task is well on its way to being put before City Council for approval this month.

According to the MPA’s new president, Pattie Houlihan, 2014 will be the year of raising awareness and establishing credibility with the City and in the community.

“We’ve just finished our new MOU with the City, and the association is now growing into its own, out of necessity,” Houlihan said.

MPA also rolled out a new brand, including a logo that is a stylized, colorful rendering of the park’s iconic memorial statue, Life.
The association, established in 1986, has been in the background for nearly 30 years, but has always been an advocate for and a caretaker of Memorial Park.

“We’ve actually contributed over $250,000 in capital expenses and maintenance for the park in the past 10 years and over 21,000 man hours in volunteers,” Houlihan noted. “We’ve always sort of apologized for the City – as in, it needs our help – but at the end of the day, the creation of the park has always been a public-private partnership.”

Back in 1919 the City said, in essence, “we’ll buy this land for $125,000 on the river for the Jacksonville Rotary Club to erect a monument for World War I fallen” but it was a group of citizens who got together to run with the opportunity to hire the Olmsted Brothers to design the six-acre park. “I’m not really sure the City would have ever done this [design-wise],” she said.
According to Houlihan, the MPA has always been the one to do the grants for capital improvements. “When times got bad for the City, it became even more important to us to help chip in, but it became hard to explain why we were the ones working on it. People in the community wondered why the City wasn’t doing it,” she explained.

“The new relationship we’re in the process of establishing is to have the City be the caretaker of maintenance and repair, and we’ll take care of capital improvements,” Houlihan continued. “They are more about safety and security, maintenance and repair.”

Under the Master Plan, the City does not have a say-so if it’s a capital improvement, but the plan as a whole will be approved by City Council so that when any work needs to be done, the City doesn’t need to be involved, Houlihan stated. The Master Plan was finished in mid-Decmeber, has been approved by Parks and Recreation and Kelley Boree, Director of Parks, will take it before City Council.

After MPA finished drafting the Master Plan, the association hired Jane Jordan of Partners for Nonprofits to do a feasibility study.

“The truth came out that people really didn’t know a whole lot about our relationship with the City, why the park is unique, why we’re unique and why our relationship with the City is special,” said Houlihan, thus explaining why 2014 is the year to talk about critical improvements, about cultivating donors, and most of all, about raising awareness about why they are doing this.
“We need to set some groundwork for the community,” she noted, “and we’ll have a series of events over the next year to do that.” Beginning with an information booth at the Riverside Arts Market on March 1, these events will give people an opportunity to enjoy the park, learn of its history and the restoration plans, and to make donations toward the $5.2 million capital campaign.

On March 23, the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days program will invite visitors to the park for a picnic to purchase box lunches donated by Jonathan Insetta of Black Sheep; MPA will also have a booth at One Spark in April to share the Master Plan, and they are planning a Memorial Day celebration, a Fourth of July “home grown” parade, Oktoberfest for three days, and a Veterans’ Day event.

More information about the all-volunteer association, the park, the plan and events this year can be found at memparkjax.org.

By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News

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