Hemming Park (formerly Hemming Plaza) is undergoing a major transformation. The improvements promise to make it family-friendly, and the programming will include daily events and entertainment such as yoga classes and small concerts. Executive Director Vince Cavin is leading the charge.

What brought you to the First Coast area?
I came to Jacksonville from California in 2009. Back then, I was exploring my options after my MBA, and California was deep in the recession. In Jacksonville, I had the support of family connections and they offered support while I got on my feet. I quickly found my tribe of cultural creatives and found that I loved the climate, history, and people.

How did you get involved in downtown advocacy?
A few friends and I started Party, Benefit and Jam (PB&J) back in 2010. After programming a couple of years of successful events, the executive director, Keith Marks, started working on the beginning of the project that would become One Spark. He said I needed to talk to Elton Rivas and get in on this cool new idea of an “innovation festival.” I was working at CoWork at the time, which Elton also started, and we hit it off and quickly started building the project from the ground up. I’ve always been interested in innovation, design, and technology. One Spark seemed to pull that energy in, by bringing in art and culture into a model that provided funding for great ideas.

Describe your role as Executive Director.
As the Executive Director, I’m responsible for the stewardship of park development and funding provided by the city. One of my crucial responsibilities is to ensure we’re building out the right amenities, giving the community something they want, as well as developing funding sources that make this project sustainable. Right now, I’m exploring ways to do this through a mix of revenue streams including grants, sponsorships, concession sales, and park memberships.

Tell us a little history about Hemming Park. Why was it called Hemming Plaza for so many years? 
The land was established by Isaiah Hart, founder of Jacksonville, in 1857. Originally, the park was called City Park, then St. James Park, and was renamed Hemming Park after Charles Hemming, who donated the civil war statue that sits in the middle of the square.

The park went through a transformation in 1977, during a time when municipalities thought that public, grassy areas were too hard to maintain and pedestrian malls would complement a retail environment that was developing on the river. Hemming Park was transformed into a plaza landscape, but in doing so, lost the element that was appealing to the public, which is the ability for family recreation. The plaza hardscape is great for events and tables and chairs, but doesn’t offer much flexibility in terms of family picnics, and other leisurely activities.

What is the vision for Hemming Park? 
The vision for our park is for it to become the centerpiece for downtown, a symbol for the revitalization many feel is brewing and gradually being realized in the urban core. As we build out the fundamental amenities such as an established dining area, reading rooms, and kid-friendly play areas, we expect to see more women and children frequenting the park. The major goal is to reimagine Hemming Park as a family-friendly cultural amenity that has plenty of regular attractions as well as consistent programming to attract visitors on a daily basis.