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I just returned from a meeting of the Downtown Investment Authority where a local developer received approval for a a large sum of taxpayer dollars. The next piece of the the actual “getting the money” will rest with the City Council. I am writing this blog so you can be aware of this huge ASK and pay close attention in the next two months regarding this deal.
About a year ago, I moved from the Southside of Jacksonville to the San Marco area. I am so thankful that God has given me a beautiful place to live overlooking the St. Johns River and I enjoy daily walks along the River Walk.
As I’ve walked I have enjoyed the beauty of the river and the well-maintained Southbank. What I have not enjoyed is looking across the river at the boarded up and unfinished buildings on the other side. It makes me sad. It shows a real lack of concern for our image and is a waste of the resources along the river.
The iconic Landing property has also been a sad one for me. I love the Landing and have many lovely memories of taking my children there to eat and shop in the mall. Especially the toy store! Remember that?
What saddens me is how downtown has become so rundown. The Landing has been a victim to that and I wish it wasn’t caught up in political fights. Even today at the meeting, there were snickers going around the table about The Landing. That was a very sad moment because this is the very agency that is suppose to help redevelop downtown and should not be snickering at this iconic building. The reason it is in disarray is because the city “leaders” have not fulfilled their obligations to provide parking for The Landing and without that — of course it will become a problem property.
The Landing is THE building you see in most photographs of Jacksonville and my heart hurts for it and for what it can be if politics were set aside. The docks at the Landing are in disarray and that is the responsibility of our city government to fix. It’s a shame and I lay the blame of that problem at the feet of every Mayor since the developer of the Landing, The Rouse Company, closed up shop, handed off the beautiful building and ran out of town due to political struggles with our city government. Nothing has changed politically about downtown development which is why our downtown looks the way it does.
Politics has gotten in the way or progress.
As I walked along the River Walk yesterday, I thought, “Our city seems to fall into the same trap as the DC Swamp. The political “leaders” choose winners and losers and if you help them in their campaigns, they help you. And if you don’t…well…you are the enemy and they make things difficult for you. It’s truly sad.”
Speaking of sad, this is the deal that happened today at the DIA and it deserves a stink from Eye on Jacksonville.
A local development company, Elements of Jacksonville, LLC, is asking for – are you ready for this – nearly $94 Million of taxpayer money. Yes you read that right – $94 Million.
And get this – it is FREE money to the developer. Yes, FREE.
The project is known as The District and will be located on a parcel of land owned by JEA. That parcel of land is near my condo and I walk there frequently. It’s tucked away near the School Board building and was once the home of the JEA Southside Generating Plant.
JEA decided to sell the property after it put millions into cleaning it up. They put the land out for bid and Elements won the bid. That was 3 years ago and as of today, nothing has gone vertical on the property. As I understand it, JEA has given many extensions to Elements and there is something holding Elements back from finalizing the deal. The last extension takes them to July 18.
Last week I attended a workshop about this project. I heard some disturbing information and have delved into the documents they handed out.
Before I share that information, I’d like to make this statement with my friends reading this…
As an Executive Coach and Strategic Planner, I fully understand it takes tax incentives with developers to build our city. I applaud them if they make sense and are FAIRLY distributed to local first and then out of town second.
What doesn’t work and what we at Eye On Jacksonville look out for is Cronyism, Favoritism and Unfair deals
We are a better city than that. We deserve better leadership than that too.
Here’s the heart of the ASK by Elements
They have requested a subsidy of $93,400,000 to be handed out in this manner:
- $26.4 Million Direct INVESTMENT by the taxpayers into land infrastructure
- $56 Million in Rev Grants See more about Rev Grants here: DIA Rev Grants
- $11 Million for the City to maintain public areas, bulkhead, marina, and trails without contribution from Elements
NOTE: 2 months ago Elements asked for $45 Million and now the ASK has more than doubled.
QUESTION: Why has the request doubled in less than a month?
Value & Cost of Project
- Total assessed value for this property will be $216 Million – yet Elements stated on many previous occasions the project would be in excess of $450 Million.
QUESTION: Why the big change in assessed value in one month?
I’m totally confused by this. The ASK for more money is greater but the assessed value is less. Head scratcher for me. Maybe someone can straighten this out for us?
- The subsidy requested will represent 43% of the project value. YIKES. This is where Eye on Jacksonville QUESTIONS if this is fair to other developers?
QUESTION: Most projects receive subsidies of between 10%-20% of a projects value. Why are we giving 43% for this project? Fair?
- Elements is putting in $20 Million which represents only 10% of the project. Taxpayers are putting in the rest.
QUESTION: Is this fair?
- Elements has not released a Proforma or Budget.
QUESTION: Is that responsible leadership by the DIA and our City to give Millions upon Millions away without the proper underwriting?
- This is not a loan. It is a gift. If Elements fails, we can’t get our investment back. If Elements is successful, we don’t get it back either.
QUESTION: Why is there not a clawback provision to protect our investment if the project fails?
My friends, there are so many QUESTIONS and the lack of answers sends a message that something is up. Something isn’t transparent. Something stinks.
The next steps in the project are: 1) May 8 – Introduce to City Council; 2) June 4 – Elements goes before Committees to pitch the deal; 3) June 12 – City Council will take it up at their meeting; 4) upon approval by City Council, Elements will close on the JEA property July 18.
If that doesn’t happen, JEA will have to decide if it will once again — after 3 years — extend the contract.
To give you more insights to think about:
- Elements developer, Peter Rummell, is the #2 donor to Mayor Lenny Curry. That may have nothing to do with this and we will leave that to you to decide.
- JEA: The parcel of land could be of much higher value three years later due to the Economic upswing across the country and here locally. If the deal doesn’t close, we the taxpayers, may have a better chance to get even more money for that property in a rebidding process. JEA could get more and the city could as well. Just something to consider.
- Another Southbank complex will open this summer. It is directly next to this proposed development. The project, Broadstone River House, is being developed by Alliance Residential Co. and the entire project is estimated at $26.6 million. No taxpayer dollars were given to this development. It will have a public plaza and two public-access bridges to the River Walk. We appreciate the developer spending their own money for this project and adding value to our City,
- Presently there are approximately 200 abandoned sites in downtown Jacksonville. Those sites do not generate any tax revenues and create an eye-sore for the beautiful city of Jacksonville. We wonder why the monies for this development on the Southbank are not being used to fix this problem. We hope the DIA will think about that and focus their attention to this sad issue.
There are so many questions about this development and the biggest issue is this: Is this the best use of our taxpayer dollars? Are other areas of Jacksonville going to suffer? Will the DIA and City Council continue to ignore the eyesores in downtown?
I hope The District is successful. It will be a beautiful development and my walks will certainly have a nicer view. I do not, however, think we should be involved in this project at such a high level of risk. I also think we should treat this developer like any other and remove any hint of favoritism from the equation. On the surface, it absolutely does not seem fair and I pray the DIA, the City Council, JEA and our Mayor will do the right thing with our dollars and review the questions in this article before handing out $94 Million taxpayer dollars – your money to a private developer.
For more information, check out this article in the Florida Times Union. The District: It’s Showtime Again