The taxpayers of Duval County were sucker-punched yesterday by the big news that the $2.5 billion Shipyards Master Developer Agreement with Shad Kahn/Iguana was invalidated. Yes, invalidated by the DIA’s leader, Lori Boyer.

There was no warning about this big news. Let’s just say this, “When the people are surprised, the leaders have done a pathetic job and should be investigated. They work for us and manage our money.”

The investigation should include the following:

  • In 2017, the city and Shad Khan made a deal and now three years later, why wasn’t a deal finalized? What has taken so long? What could possibly take 3 years to finalize one of the most premiere projects ever in our city? Who dropped the ball and why? Why put it out for bid AGAIN instead of working out the deal with Mr. Khan?
  • Why would we spend $25.4 million to demolish the overhead Hart Bridge Expressway ramps BEFORE the deal was finalized? If this deal changes, then why would we waste this money? Why would we tear down ramps if there was no need to do so? Did that decision to go ahead with the ramp tear down have anything to do with Sam Mousa who is highly involved with J B Coxwell who got the deal to tear them down?
  • This seems to be a normal business for the DIA and in 2018 Jacobs Engineering 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. After they spent nearly $1 Million to put the proposal together, Mayor Curry decided the city wasn’t ready for a convention center and he put a No Go on the project. That decision made Jacksonville look like a joke. What a waste of time and money on the part of Jacobs and what a waste of time, money, energy and enthusiasm for the taxpayers.
  • And what happened with The District project — another prime piece of waterfront property that included a deal with JEA. This included a large handout of incentives at a price tag of $79 Million. The project is not underway yet and it’s two years later. Eye asked Lori Boyer about this and her reply was, “The District requested additional time to close on the bonds under the force Majeure terms of the contract relating to the pandemic. We are discussing the need to get back on track, and they have completed all site design.” If The District gets a pass because of the pandemic, why not the Shipyards development? Is favoritism applied at the DIA?
  • Who oversees the decision-making on these deals AND who audits them to see if they are on track and/or staying true to their promises and contracts? Are reports provided to the taxpayers on each of these projects so we an keep track of our money hand outs to developers?
  • Where is the business plan for the DIA? Where is the organizational chart for this entity? Handing out money requires business acumen – where is it? Are the board members fully informed as to decisions made by the DIA staff? DIA Board Governance Policies need to be put in place and used to run the DIA. Remember what happened at JEA with the board members and the staff!
  • In a nutshell, is the DIA another layer of bureaucracy? Is it needed?

Here are a few more items for taxpayers to keep their eye on where the DIA is concerned:

  • What will happen to Metropolitan Park? Who wants that land candy?
  • What other groups will come forward with a new Convention Plan?
  • What will happen to The Landing — now grassy area on the riverfront?
  • When will the people be given the template for the Master Plan of Downtown Jacksonville?
  • In the next Mayoral election will we finally get someone who can cast a vision for our city, lead with integrity and not rely on the same money players behind the scenes to win the office? Will that person step forward?

Jacksonville deserves and demands a beautiful downtown located on the St. Johns River where visitors and boaters can access entertainment, restaurants, homes, and parks. Why can’t that happen? What is holding us back?

I have my thoughts and believe it’s mismanagement, incompetence, poor leadership and cronyism — that’s my opinion. What’s yours?

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

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