A popular downtown city park will likely be renamed in honor of the late Mayor Justin Flippen, pending a Sept. 22 public hearing.
Flippen, 41, died unexpectedly of a brain aneurysm on Feb. 25 en route to a City Commission meeting.
Under the proposal, Jaycee Park at Wilton Drive and Northeast 21st Court would be renamed “Justin Flippen Park” in the late mayor’s memory.
The burly, ever-smiling mayor was a big presence on the Commission and his absence has left a noticeable gap.
“The one thing that was so great about Justin is he just made everyone feel like you were one of his very best friends. He did this for large numbers of people,” said Acting Mayor Tom Green, his voice cracking with emotion. “He did love our city very much and loved parks very much.”
Commissioners voiced unanimous support for the renaming but didn’t agree about when it should take place. Commissioner Gary Resnick wants the city to delay the renaming until Flippen’s birthday on May 6 so the issue doesn’t become politicized before the Nov. 3 election. In Wilton Manors, the mayor’s seat and two commission seats are up for grabs. Resnick also believes the city could more easily hold a dedication and celebration at the park in May in light of the ongoing pandemic.
Green and Vice Mayor Julie Carson disagreed that the renaming might become politicized.
“I think it is absolutely not a political issue. If you want to poll everyone who is running for office, I think everyone is in support of it,” Carson said. “I am stunned that Commissioner Resnick would say that we need to wait to do it.”
Residents sent in more than a dozen emails supporting the renaming, with a few exceptions. One resident called it “fitting.” Another called it “appropriate” and “truly splendid.”
“We definitely feel Jaycee Park ought to be renamed in honor of and in remembrance of our deceased and much loved Mayor Justin Flippen,” wrote Roger Wilson and Maurice McDonald in an email. “He loved our city and hosted many festive holiday events at the park that should be renamed after him.”
But not everyone was so enthusiastic.
Aimee Ballantyne, CEO of Friends In Stitches Recovery, sent a scathing email to the city saying she would “emphatically vote against this proposal.”
“He led the city in a purely gay-centric direction, not spending enough time on the nuts and bolts issues which would have made our city cleaner, safer, more grounded in reality and better prepared for the future,” Ballantyne wrote.
The park was named after the Jaycees in the 1950s because the organization took over maintenance of the park at the time. The name stuck long after the organization had relinquished its park maintenance duties, said City Manager Leigh Ann Henderson.
Stephanie A. Flippen-Chandler, Flippen’s mother, said the park renaming would honor her son’s life of service.
“I believe this will further and positively memorialize Justin, his work and his memory which are all rooted in strong public service to the City of Wilton Manors,” his mother wrote in an email.