Hemming Park has struggled with finding an identity for decades, despite its central location within the heart of downtown Jacksonville.
It’s a piece of land that has enormous potential, but it only hints at realizing that potential every now and then – whenever there’s a live music event, or during Art Walk or other marquee downtown events.
While the city has done a decent job of programming events around the plaza’s shortcomings, it’s clear that a significant revamp is needed as downtown Jax enters a new era.
But what should that revamp look like? As it turns out, one community park in Gainesville actually offers a realistic model for what Hemming Park could be.
Bo Diddley Community Plaza, located next to the county courthouse in the heart of downtown Gainesville, features a small covered stage, large central green space, public restrooms, an information hut, and two commercial tenants.
The plaza hosts a variety of events including a weekly farmers’ market, yoga classes, and live concerts. It was first built in the ‘70s and underwent a major refresh a few years ago to add the info hut and other key upgrades.
There are several things that Bo Diddley Plaza has going for it that Hemming Park lacks. The most obvious is its openness – whereas Bo Diddley Plaza has a large sunken green space at its center, Hemming Park is clogged by multiple fountains, an outdated statue, and poorly-placed landscaping. Another big one is the covered stage, a feature that would be a natural fit for Hemming, which already routinely hosts live music.
The Gainesville plaza also features amenities like public restrooms, something desperately needed in downtown Jax, and two tenants: cupcake shop Patticakes and restaurant Steamers.
Imagine a Hemming Park with a full stage, an open-flow design, public amenities, and even a couple of retail tenants. Sounds pretty nice, right?
The city would have to address the issue of loitering from homeless individuals – an issue Bo Diddley Plaza also faced for years, but Gainesville was able to get it under control with the addition of day-time resources for those facing homelessness – something Jax has also started to address.
Obviously, a dramatic reconfiguration of Hemming Park in the style of something more like Bo Diddley Park could get expensive. But the city has made it clear as of late that they have no issues with spending big money.
And for a key piece of land like Hemming Park, it’s a worthy investment.