Task Force To Make Hemming Plaza Family and Business Friendly | News

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Task Force To Make Hemming Plaza Family and Business Friendly
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Historic Hemming Plaza. It's surrounded by some of Jacksonville's most prominent landmarks: City Hall, the Jacksonville Public Library and the Museum of Contemporary Art. Vikki Wilkins owns the UPS store near the plaza. "The park is the heart of our city," she said.

The plaza is also home to 154 arrests since 2010, for suspected crimes such as aggravated battery, assault, drugs and criminal mischief. 

Wilkins said people use the back door of her business as a bathroom. "Oh certainly, certainly," she said.

Now she's wondering why the city can't fix the problem so families and people who work downtown can enjoy this area. 

"You can't go sit in the park. Either someone's going to panhandle you, you're going to hear cursing and fighting, you're going to be intimidated," Wilkins said.

Jacksonville City Councilwoman Denise Lee said, "Something drastic has to be done. It's just that much out of control."

That's why the city has formed a special task force, with Councilwoman Lee as the lead. Lee said people have verbally attacked her twice in this park. "I don't know what I can repeat what was said on camera, but at the end of the day, it was very volatile," Lee said.

They're trying to find new ways to crack down, in addition to the regular heavy police presence.

Lee said, "Some of the things suggested have been lunchtime concerts, food festivals, arts and crafts shows."

The first step to change is a survey asking people about the park. More than 1,300 people responded, many asking for more security, and a desire to remove chairs and tables where people gather.

People like Wilkins are demanding the city step in. "The behavior is unacceptable," she said.

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