It can be difficult to distinguish between coincidence, conspiracy and crony capitalism.
Having never been much of a conspiracy theorist, I still have to note an amazing coincidence.
Two big-time developers want to make big bucks via “partnerships” with the city and – suddenly out of the blue – local politicians develop an interest in selling the JEA in the hope it will put several billion dollars in their hands.
At the same time businessmen have their hands out, insiders say Mayor Lenny Curry is having trouble putting together a budget for next year that is balanced. Curry denies being behind the push to sell the JEA.
At one time the JEA operated a power plant in a riverfront site on the Southside. It was closed because it was old, inefficient and in a bad location.
Peter Rummel, former head of the St. Joe Co., a huge paper company that morphed into a huge development company, acquired the property with the intention of building a large residential and commercial site.
He proposed a “partnership” with the city that requires a huge chunk of cash from the taxpayers.
Not to be outdone, Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan, who owns the old shipyards site on the Northbank, just announced a plan for $2.5 billion in development around the stadium where his NFL team plays.
It is seeking a partnership also.
The city government has a history of being in business, and it isn’t a great one. In the past it ran golf courses and a radio station, and even owned a restaurant.
But it is a government entity, not an entrepreneur or venture capitalist.
The two sites are prime waterfront property. There is no question that some profitable development could be done on them. But the city’s legal obligation is only to provide infrastructure required by the development, such as water, sewer, electricity and streets.
It is not uncommon for local governments to offer some small tax discounts when large businesses are proposed that will substantially increase property and sales tax revenues.
In the case of Khan’s proposal, which the developers say is dependent upon public funds, Curry says any participation by the city will be based on the return on its investment, according to the Daily Record.
Taxpayers need to keep an eye on both of these proposed ventures to make sure their money is invested wisely.