When Christina Parrish Stone moved to the Springfield area, she saw its potential, even with its negative reputation from some.
After helping to start and launch the annual festival Porchfest, she has her sights set on Hemming Park next. The pride in gaining recognition, business and support for these areas is what drives her — on a local and national level.
“I think Jacksonville has been an underachiever for a long time. One of the best things about it is all the really cool and historic neighborhoods around Jacksonville,” Parrish Stone said. “They all have their own character and a lot to offer for people that live here, and for tourists. We don’t have a big history with tourism. We actually did 100 years ago, and I think we can move closer back to that.”
Porchfest, which started in 2014, is attempting to be one of the answers to that. In November, over 30,000 people went to the event. That included many out-of-towners who came for the festival. Porchfest grew to its biggest yet in 2017, featuring a 5K race and a sculpture contest to go along with its usual musical acts (35 of them in total).
Parrish Stone, along with a group of colleagues, first had the idea for Porchfest after hearing about other local events like it across the country. She lived in Springfield for several years and started to think of ways to change people’s perception about the area. She loved the area, but her neighbors in San Marco agreed that it wasn’t a very good place to live, and not a place other people would find desirable. However, Parrish Stone felt the complete opposite.
“I fell in love with the neighborhood. It’s the best place I’ve ever lived in, and at this point, I would never live anywhere else in Jacksonville,” she said. “I didn’t agree with what was thought of the area, and knew there were ways we could go about gaining more recognition for how great of a historical part of town it is.”
They brainstormed ways to bring people into the neighborhood and to raise its appeal. While talking about the assets their area had, they realized that one of them is the most visible part of the area — the front porches. Almost every home has a front porch, unlike most other areas, and people there routinely get together and hang out on them.
The group heard about Porchfest and thought it was the perfect event. Springfield’s Porchfest was the first in the South, but other versions already took place around the country.
Parrish Stone also had a decent background in music, previously owning a guitar shop in Jacksonville — something that could help her set up performers. They decided to host the festival in the afternoon so that more people would be willing to show up to the area.
It worked. Thousands of people showed up to see the 20 artists they had, and it was sponsored by small businesses throughout the area. In 2015, they got a big-time sponsor and had over 10,000 attendees. That year they also got a grant from the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs and had the biggest turnout and most performers ever.
Throughout setting all this up. Parrish Stone, a real estate attorney at the time, realized how much she enjoyed things like this and turned it into her full-time job. It started when she moved to Springfield and had her own law office there.
As she got more involved in the community, she soon became the executive director of the Springfield Preservation and Revitalization Council. Now, she is the director of events and programming for Friends of Hemming Park.
“I found that I really loved this type of work. My new position with Hemming Park is similar to what we did with Springfield, and I couldn’t be more excited to get started with it,” she said. “Springfield really changed dramatically. Real estate there is going up. People want to live there. Hemming Park is very similar and is important to Jacksonville because it’s in the center of downtown. People who haven’t been there in a while don’t realize it’s a beautiful, safe place with a lot of things going on.”
For example, live music and food trucks are in Hemming Park every day of the week. Contrary to popular belief, there’s also more than enough parking for everyone who visits. Her goal is to change these negative perceptions (just like she did with Springfield) and get people from all over the city to enjoy Hemming Park.
The change that Springfield went through is noticeable. New breweries like Hyperion and Main and Six have opened there. Recently, even more small local businesses have opened, and there are plans to add more breweries and restaurants in the future. Parrish Stone hopes the improvement in these areas will help the city in multiple ways.
“You can see the attention that Springfield received over the last two years since Porchfest really took off. From our own residents to out-of-towners. People come from all over the South for that event,” she said. “We haven’t been a big tourist attraction because we don’t have the places and events that people from other cities recognize. I think we can be more and more mainstream, whether it’s the river and stuff to do, or a festival with our amazing performers and art.”
Parrish Stone said to be on the lookout for more festivals and events coming to Hemming Park as she continues her effort to get more and more people out there. Since so many people are already downtown each weekday, she wants to create reasons for people to visit Hemming Park and its surrounding areas.