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JAX Chamber urges City Council to back $11.8 million to redevelop the Jacksonville Landing

Chamber president calls remaking the Landing the "critical first step" for downtown

Posted: August 21, 2014 - 8:21pm  |  Updated: August 22, 2014 - 8:05am
Kids, counselors and staff from the City of Jacksonville's Camp Oceanway spent a June morning touring the Public Library Main Branch and the Ritz Theater before stopping  at The Jacksonville Landing. After eating their lunch several kids could not resist the temptation to play with water from the fountain in the courtyard., Times-Union file photo
Kids, counselors and staff from the City of Jacksonville's Camp Oceanway spent a June morning touring the Public Library Main Branch and the Ritz Theater before stopping at The Jacksonville Landing. After eating their lunch several kids could not resist the temptation to play with water from the fountain in the courtyard.

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JAX Chamber is throwing its support behind redevelopment of The Jacksonville Landing, urging City Council members to approve $11.8 million for the complete makeover of the downtown riverfront site.

Of all the downtown projects proposed by Mayor Alvin Brown’s budget, the landing is the most important, JAX Chamber President Daniel Davis said Thursday.

SLIDESHOW: A look at the history of the Jacksonville Landing

“It’s the epicenter of downtown redevelopment,” Davis said. “It sends a strong message to our community.”

The $11.8 million for the Landing is part of the $235 million in new debt that Mayor Alvin Brown wants City Council to authorize for dozens of projects across the city.

City Council leaders have said they will scale back the debt but have not determined an amount yet, or what projects would go into the 2014-15 budget. JAX Chamber officials have begun meeting with council members to say the Landing needs to make the cut.

The council’s finance committee will continue its budget review during a Friday workshop.

Brown is proposing about $23 million for a variety of downtown projects — The Jacksonville Landing, razing the old county courthouse, environmental cleanup of the old Shipyards property, a study for a new Metropolitan Park amphitheater, converting some streets to two-way traffic, and improved signage and street lighting.

Davis said he agrees all those projects have merit, but he said the Landing is the most important step forward.

“I think all of those are noteworthy and things we need to do,” he said. “My only question is can we take all that at one time and ask the City Council to be okay with that. Honestly, you’ve got to start prioritizing, just like I used to do on City Council, with limited resources.”

David DeCamp, spokesman for the mayor, reiterated Thursday that Brown has “strategically identified the best opportunities to invest in downtown” and all of them “are vitally important to the quality of life and economy of our city.”

However, Councilman Richard Clark, who chairs the council’s Finance Committee, said Brown should have better prioritized the projects.

“If everything is number one, then nothing is number one,” Clark said. “That’s not a way to build a capital project list.”

Clark said he hopes the finance committee will decide Friday how much new borrowing the city can afford and decide how it will judge whether a project is worth investing in.

When it comes to investing in downtown, he said now isn’t the time to stop. Instead, he said council needs to choose projects that “move the needle.”

“What you don’t want to do is stop investment in its tracks,” Clark said. “What can we do that continues the momentum? And you can’t do it all.”

Last week, the city’s finance department presented a study supporting the city’s ability to handle Brown’s borrowing proposal.

However, council committee members responded with skepticism, and Councilwoman Lori Boyer said she hopes to hear the council auditors’ opinions on the study on Friday.

Boyer said she believes the Landing project is a critical element for redeveloping downtown. But she said council doesn’t have nearly enough information about the project to fully authorize it.

“i think its really premature,” Boyer said. “It’s not ready for a full-fledged sign off.

She said if the project is authorized, there’d need to be a stipulation that no money would be spent until council sees a firm plan and approves it.

Downtown Vision, the nonprofit representing property owners in the core, has urged City Council to approve Brown’s budget.

Council members also have gotten emails in support from the Hyatt Regency and the restaurant Olio, which are near the old county courthouse.

In regard to the Landing, Davis said the $11.8 million could go into a City Council contingency fund that would be a “lockbox” until there is a viable plan for private construction of new buildings on the site. The $11.8 million from the city would be for improvements to public spaces on the city-owned site.

“Before you get a key to the lockbox, you prove that the vertical development is legitimate and financed,” Davis said. “That way you prove to the community that you’re willing to do this, but you’re going to force the private sector to show that it’s able and capable to do it.”

Sleiman Enterprises owns the two-story riverfront mall. Toney Sleiman and Brown have both said the time has come to tear down the mall and build anew on the site, which the Downtown Investment Authority also supports. (904) 359-4581 (904) 359-4272

Comments (6)

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AbiGezunt 08/23/14 - 05:29 pm
I have to agree with previous

I have to agree with previous posters. Why should tax dollars go towards this project? Why should the public's taxpayers be saddled with this commercial risk?

Sleiman's plan cuts off citizen access to the current beautiful view of the river that the current 'Landings' affords. Where are the boat slips? Where will the small, local bands play on a Saturday afternoon or July Fourth? Where will the new 'Landings' offer the yearly traditional lighting of the Christmas trees and Chanukah lights? Where are the landings for the 'Landings'?

At the moment, it appears that just making the changes will be sweet deal for Mr. Sleiman. Even more so if the community pays for things that reap more financial rewards into his pockets.

johnctaughtme 08/22/14 - 06:14 pm
Premium Member
Here's an idea. Put this

Here's an idea. Put this issue on the same referendum ballot which is being suggested by City Council, to deal with the police and fire pension issues, residency requirements, and the friends of the libraries seeking funds for that worthy cause. Some Council members are fond of passing off issues with "Let's see what the voters think.", but only when they think that the outcome will suit their own opinion or agenda.

PhDBlack 08/22/14 - 12:16 pm
Premium Member
Put some national shops in

Put some national shops in there and it will work......start an event each week.....

Hoosier1945 08/22/14 - 09:25 am
Premium Member
This not a public utility

This not a public utility like a bridge or a road. This is a private commercial investment. If it is such a good idea, then private investors will finance it. If it requires taxpayer money to do it, then that means the market is saying that the returns are not there. The city should not fight the market. Taking money from everyone to finance a downtown to which they will rarely go is only going to get them to move to a surrounding county where they will not have to pay for it.

HAPPY JACK 08/22/14 - 09:00 am
Premium Member
Why should the citizens of

Why should the citizens of Jacksonville pay $11.8 million to improve a privately owned property?

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