Peter Rummell, a prominent Jacksonville developer and influential political donor, sent an email Friday to his high-placed friends in the civic and business community that blames the controversy surrounding his planned project in downtown, called The District, on a feud between Council President Anna Brosche and Mayor Lenny Curry, an escalation in political tension over the project.
Rummell is hoping to rally the business community behind a proposal that seeks to use millions of taxpayer dollars to aid his planned mixed-use project on the Southbank waterfront. The terms of the incentives plan have drawn criticism and pointed questions from some council members, who must ultimately sign off on the deal when legislation is given to them in February.
Rummell wrote in his email that Brosche’s creation of a special council committee to examine the development proposal is “one of the most outrageous political moves I have ever seen in Jacksonville” and that just as The District is coming into the home stretch, Brosche “has decided she wants to kill it.”
Rummell said he needs his friends’ help “to make Brosche see the light.”
“Without wanting to sound arrogant, this is one of the biggest, boldest ideas to hit Jacksonville in at least the 20+ years I have been here, and this ploy by Anna Brosche (City Council President) and Matt Schellenberg (City Council member) has to be politically motivated — she hates Lenny among other things — and we are caught in the cross-fire,” Rummell wrote.
Brosche and Curry’s office said they are committed to working together.
Word about Rummell’s email — which gives voice to political tension that is rarely put on public display — quickly circulated among figures in Jacksonville’s business community and government.
Brosche said she is not trying to undermine Rummell’s project.
“I understand that he [Rummell] has been working on this for quite some time and is clearly emotionally invested in the deal and Jacksonville, and I really appreciate that,” Brosche said.
“At the same time, the council and the public hasn’t been involved in the details of the deal,” she said. “If we want to put this in a football analogy, being in the red zone is the hardest 10 yards of the drive. I look forward to making sure we’re making wise decisions for the taxpayers.”
She also denied Rummell’s comments about a feud between her and Curry. “I regret that he [Rummell] has that opinion. Lenny Curry is our mayor and leading the city and getting a lot of things done for the city of Jacksonville. I don’t hate anyone,” she said.
Curry’s office released a statement saying he is committed to “working collaboratively with City Council leadership and members with the shared goal of moving our city forward through business and economic development, and job growth. This project is no different.”
The statement said Curry and Brosche “respect each other’s commitment to doing great things for the city of Jacksonville.”
Rummell is one of Curry’s most important political supporters and has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to him.
In an interview, Rummell declined to elaborate on his comment in the email about Brosche being politically motivated in opposition to Curry.
Rummell said he wants the review of The District to happen through the regular process of the City Council’s standing committees, rather than the special committee whose chairman will be Councilman Matt Schellenberg, an outspoken critic of the deal.
“It seems to me that they are stacking the deck against us before we even start,” Rummell said. “I want a fair process that is already built into the council’s process.”
Curry’s office has said the Downtown Investment Authority is leading the way on the proposal, though some of the mayor’s top officials have been directly involved in behind-the-scenes talks for some time.
Curry and Brosche, who are both Republicans, have not always seen eye to eye, and that has occasionally led to public rifts.
Curry’s office, for example, was frustrated by Brosche’s decision to inventory and then consider moving Confederate monuments in the city, a proposal that has not yet moved forward. Curry was also incensed when Brosche knocked one of his staffers for a lack of transparency during a debate about the formation of the Kids Hope Alliance — a newly reconstituted group to administer programs for at-risk children.
Under a proposal the Downtown Investment Authority approved Wednesday, the city and JEA would have a substantial financial role in breathing life into The District.
The city would pay up to $26.4 million for improvements that would be usable by the public. The city also would pay JEA, which currently owns the property, a total of about $18.6 million in annual installments through 2040. The city then would have Elements be the master developer.
The purchase of the land with payments stretching through 2040 would mark a significant change from JEA’s original intent to sell the land in a straight transaction. Elements offered to buy the land for $18 million three years ago, but the deal never closed.
The 30-acre site on the Southbank waterfront was once the site of a JEA generation plant. JEA put the land up for sale in large part because it was hoping to recoup the millions of dollars it spent demolishing the plant and cleaning the land.
Brosche announced Thursday she had formed a special City Council committee to examine the proposal with Schellenberg as the chairman.
In his email, Rummell said creation of special committee “says to the world — don’t come do business in Jacksonville. … There is a reason our city is stuck in the rut of little ideas and small-minded moves — because our leaders are small-minded and have no sense of the potential this city has.”
He wrote that Schellenberg “is anti-downtown based on his previous vote — he was the ONLY City Council member to vote ‘no’ on the DIA’s Downtown master plan to develop both the Northbank and the Southbank that many of you participated in creating in 2014 that drives the DIA!”
Schellenberg opposed the DIA legislation after City Council declined his request to postpone action for two weeks so he could get more information about private fund-raising figures for Hemming Park.
Schellenberg said Friday his concerns about The District are “not personal” but are based on making sure there is thorough vetting of the financial aspects of the project. He said in the three years since his vote on the DIA legislation, he has consistently supported legislation for downtown developments.
The District would have 1,170 residential units, 200 hotel rooms, 200,000 square feet of office space, 285,000 square feet of retail space, and a 125–slip marina. It also would extend the Southbank Riverwalk and have a public park on the riverfront. The total investment would be about $433 million, according to a DIA presentation to the board.
JEA is scheduled to vote Tuesday on terms for selling the land. Schellenberg said he plans to have the first meeting of the special committee on Thursday.
The proposed deal will go before the Mayor’s Budget Review Committee on Jan. 22. The legislation would be filed with City Council on Feb. 7 and could come up for a final vote on March 13.