Could the DIA be our next JEA?

The Downtown Investment Authority (DIA) was formed in 2013 to revitalize Jacksonville’s urban core. The DIA is the sole development and community redevelopment agency for Downtown. It is guided by a nine-member board of directors appointed by the Mayor and the City Council and maintains a highly paid, un-elected staff. Lori Boyer, a former City council member, is the Director of the DIA. The governance is very similar to JEA and its success lies in the laps of those who run it and those who guide it.

Independent Agencies can be a good thing because it means they are “independent” of politics (or so they say) yet it can also mean “independent” of oversight if people have personal agendas in play, i.e., the messy JEA story.

Today we are shining a light on the DIA and believe it needs a review of its policies and procedures for various reasons which we will go into in further articles about the agency. For today we are shining a light on the Convention Center proposal and the Ford On Bay project. There are many moving parts to this issue and we will only cover a few here. We are asking the DIA board to delve into this issue and understand why this is not being handled properly. Here’s the story:

  • Jacobs Engineering properly submitted and documented an Unsolicited Proposal for a new Convention Center and Hotel that included a unique and very attractive total wraparound financing of the project. The proposal should not be ignored and for some reason it is.
  • As we understand it, the proposal has never been given to the DIA board for their consideration. Since the DIA board is responsible for ensuring the highest and best use of all downtown projects — it does not make sense they are being left in the dark. Leaving a board in the dark was one of the issues at JEA and created personal issues for the board members and JEA executives.
  • Yesterday the Jacobs team re-submitted its proposal AGAIN. Their hope is the process will be fair and they will have a chance to explain how important it is to use the City Hall Annex property for a Convention site vs. the proposed Ford on Bay Apartment complex.
  • The comparison between the two projects is mind-boggling and it needs a thorough review by the DIA board. Here are a few reasons why this proposal needs to be reviewed:


In 2018 Jacobs won unanimous approval by the DIA Board on their design and plans for a world class Convention Center after an expensive and long bidding process.

Mayor Curry put a halt to moving forward with the building of it stating, “The timing was not yet right for such a facility.”

Eye questions “Why would we request a Bid for Proposal, ask companies to spend millions of dollars answering them and then stop the build-out because timing wasn’t right. If it was time for a proposal — why wouldn’t it be time for the build out? Could it have something to do with deal making with others who didn’t win the Convention proposal?”

One can only imagine and one thing we do know — it is embarrassing to have such a poorly run Request for Proposal system that gives Jacksonville a bad name across the country. This RFP process needs to be reviewed soon!

A convention center in downtown Jacksonville would be the catalyst for us to become a World Class Destination City. We have heard the statement, “If you build it, they will come.” So why aren’t we building it?

Jacobs is an expert in building convention centers and their proposal is a “no brainer” — so what’s up? Who has an agenda to build an apartment complex on the most valuable piece of land in downtown instead of a money making convention center for our city? Who will dig into this and find out what’s going on? Our city needs transparency in all we do and the DIA is not absolved from that. It’s still a baby agency in comparison to the others so it needs to stop, think, and re-evaluate their processes before they get too big for their britches — like JEA got before the Feds came to town.

Eye is highly impressed by the Jacobs proposal. Why? Because we care about our city and if a developer is willing to invest their dollars into a major project that will not require any capital investment from the city plus it will bring new jobs, new visitors and an annual economic impact of $162,000,000 why the heck wouldn’t we build it? Inquiring minds want to know.

Take a look at this video showing you how Jacksonville can become a pretty lady downtown.

The taxpayers of Jacksonville have waited way too long for downtown to be built. We’ve mastered the art of tearing down buildings and ideas. It’s time to do some building and build up the hope of its residents.

Billie Tucker Volpe Founder of Eye on Jacksonville and Leadership Consultant to CEOs/Executives

Billie Tucker Volpe

Billie Tucker Volpe Founder of Eye on Jacksonville and Leadership Consultant to CEOs/Executives.


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