Avondale residents challenge others to support Hemming Park

Pajcics make gift to kickstart fundraising

A little more than two months after City Hall withheld the $150,000 June payment to the Friends of Hemming Park – which prompted CEO Vince Cavin to loan the nonprofit $7,000 to meet payroll in July – City Council voted 18 to 1 on Aug. 11 to approve a bill that would change the fundraising agreement.

Council decided to honor the original intention of the agreement after Councilman John Crescimbeni found draft versions of the contract, which did allow concession sales to count toward the $250,000 fundraising goal.

The icing on the cake came two days after City Council’s action, when philanthropist Steve Pajcic, of Avondale, presented a $75,000 check to Dr. Wayne Wood, Friends of Hemming Park board president.

Steve Pajcic and Wayne Wood square off for a game of chess in Hemming Park following announcement of Pajcic’s $75,000 “challenge gift.”

“I don’t think you can really feel good about Jacksonville unless you can feel good about Hemming Park, which is our heart and soul,” said Pajcic. “I grew up here, and we used to take the bus down here, the 32 Woodstock, with our mother to pick up our school clothes in the St. James Building and we would make it a day down here and have lunch in the park. It’s a special place.”

Steve Pajcic

Steve Pajcic

Pajcic originally had a law office in what is now the Museum of Contemporary Art, overlooking the park. “I felt badly about it when they decided to cut the trees down and then it went into disrepair,” he said. “Now Wayne [Wood] and his group have brought it back to life and I’m so proud of that and want to support them wherever I can.”

Pacjic and his wife, Anne, made the gift to spur others to throw their support behind revitalizing Hemming Park. Anne could not be present, but Pajcic said, “My wife totally supports this, too.”

“I think their gift shows that individuals see this as a really important centerpiece for Downtown, and they are willing to come out and put their own money in as an investment for the future,” said Cavin. The Pajcics’ unrestricted $75,000 gift will be used for operations and improvements in Hemming Park.

Referring to the controversy over the fundraising agreement, Wood said, “It has been a rollercoaster ride. Our concern was that we fix the park and use every means we can to do it, and these little side issues, whether political or legal issues, come up when you have a project this enormous.

“We’ve ridden through it and we have great support from City Council which realizes this park has to be revitalized, has to be fixed. We got past the little tempest in a teapot and we are ready to roll into the next stage, which is going to have great things in the park. We want the place to not just be a pleasant park, but a showplace for Jacksonville,” he said.

Park’s next steps

Cavin said the temporary halt in City funds “definitely spurred into action the urgency of the nature of the request that we needed to bring in private donations as quickly as possible. We’ve been talking to this particular donor for a while about giving and he said, ‘It’s needed now so I’m going to step up the plate and make this investment.’”

The City receives quarterly reports on the progress of the park’s revitalization, showing where it’s headed and listing the accomplishments, according to Cavin. Now Friends of Hemming Park are undergoing a thorough strategic planning process, prioritizing from “a huge menu of things we can do, which includes fundraising, sponsorships and the sustainability of the park,” said Cavin. “That’s a big discussion topic we’re going to share with City Council.”

Partnership events, such as GastroFest, provide income, but the park’s own events, like the Beer Festival last month, represent net profits. “Our plan for next year and the years moving forward is every month to have a significant event and every quarter have some really huge bash, something large we can plan revenue around,” Cavin stated.

Many of the ongoing events in Hemming Park are free, designed to lure visitors downtown to experience the park. Friends of Hemming Park, MOCA, Sweet Pete’s and the Candy Apple Café regularly provide entertainment and dining options in the one-block core.

“We are trying to follow some clear principles set forth by the Project for Public Spaces, such as the Power of 10, which states if you have 10 good things to do in a small area it increases that
attraction,” Cavin said. “We’re starting to build that Power of 10 concept out.

“We’ll be holding a community charrette [in September] with the Project for Public Spaces, to share all of our ideas and talk about what’s been good and what we need to work on.”

By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News

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