Jacksonville, FL — For the first time since Hurricane Matthew, the campgrounds at Huguenot Park are re-opening.
The City of Jacksonville believes it’s an exciting time for the recreation opportunities available for you, but could also mean positive things for revenue at the site, and the impact that has on the budgets for the park and City overall.
Revenue at Huguenot Memorial Park is driven by entrance fees, campground rentals, and shelter rentals. Before Hurricane Matthew in 2016, Parks, Recreation and Community Services Department Director Daryl Joseph says the park, and specifically campgrounds, had been in demand.
“It is a popular facility, so when it closed down, of course we’ve been impacted by that. We were seeing a spike in usage prior to the hurricanes,” he said during a recent City Council Finance Committee budget hearing for the Parks Department.
The Park previously reopened, but after that, the focus turned to restoring the amenities. The Parks Department has focused on rebuilding roads, reconstructing the campsites, refurnishing them with picnic tables and fire rings, and more- although that process was further hampered by Hurricane Irma in 2017. Now, the City confirms 38 of the 72 campgrounds are in operation once again, with the rest slated to be open by the Spring. Two shelters are also now available to rent, with a third remaining under construction, but expected to open in the next couple of weeks.
As for the roads, Joseph says they have built a temporary road to get to the beach. They intend to start construction in the fall on a more permanent road, with the hope that it will be available to use next summer. The coastal road suffered substantial damage from Matthew.
With these services now getting up and running again, the City hopes revenue will quickly follow. In the proposed $1.2 billion City budget from Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, Huguenot Park had to be subsidized by a $369,442 transfer from the General Fund- or taxpayer driven portion of the budget. That amount is a few thousand dollars more than what was allocated for the current fiscal year, and represents money that could have been put elsewhere, if the subsidy was not needed to balance the budget.
Joseph says they're not relying just on the return of services to spark more revenue. He says they're looking at opportunities like adding electricity at campgrounds, because that's something that is frequently requested. He was hesitant to say raising fees outright is the answer, because he doesn't want to price the park out. Currently, it is level with the fees at Hanna Park, and an annual pass will get you in to both locations.
Hanna Park has a transfer from the General Fund of $846,320 in the proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year, but it is not to balance their budget. Instead, it’s to be able to pay with cash, instead of debt, for several capital projects, with the commitment to pay back that General Fund loan through excess revenue in the near future. The Park did not require a transfer from the General Fund in the current fiscal year.
The transfer will combine with other Hanna Park revenue to fund a $1.02 million package of three improvements- the playground, the Splash Park, and campground restroom renovations. There aren’t many details on the specifics of the projects, but WOKV was able to obtain a rendering of the proposed Splash Park.
City Council Finance Committee members highlighted that not only does Hanna Park not need a transfer to balance its budget, but it is sustaining capital projects from its revenue as well. They are hoping that once Huguenot Park is fully up and running again, it will follow in kind.
“It’s a tremendous amenity for our County,” Joseph says.
Previously, $550,000 was allocated for the creation of a permanent beach access road for Huguenot Park that is more removed from the shoreline and, therefore, less prone to washing out. That project also included new campsites that were lost to shoreline erosion. WOKV asked the City what the cost was for all of the repair work done at Huguenot Park- to see how it stacks up to the allocation- and we have not yet been given a specific answer.
While the Finance Committee has given a preliminary thumbs-up to the Mayor’s proposed City budget- which includes these funding lines and projects- the budget is still pending approval by the full City Council next month. WOKV continues to work through the City budget proposal, and will update you as we learn more.