by Max Marbut
With three meetings down and three to go, unless there’s a major change in direction, Mayor-elect Alvin Brown’s Downtown Revitalization Committee will send to the City’s new chief executive a recommendation to create an independent authority for Downtown development.
Committee member Roland Udenze said Downtown needs an independent authority to promote and market the urban core and develop economic impact by attracting more businesses and residents Downtown.
“We need a group of folks who wake up every day, thinking about Downtown, with funding and tools,” said committee member Carlton Jones.
Several possible organizational structures were discussed, including making a new Downtown entity part of the Jacksonville Economic Development Commission.
The former Downtown Development Authority was abolished through legislation and its responsibilities were consolidated into the JEDC in 2005, said Bob Rhodes, committee co-chair.
Rhodes said he believes there’s groundwork to be done before proposing the creation of a new group or staff position to advocate for Downtown.
“The case for any new Downtown entity can’t be brought to the City Council by the mayor until the community understands the importance of Downtown,” he said.
Overall interest and leadership in terms of Downtown revitalization also were discussed.
“A fair amount of the electorate doesn’t work, live or even come Downtown very often,” said committee member Oliver Barakat. “There is, at best, ambivalence among City Council members.”
Committee member Jim Bailey, who publishes the Daily Record, said leadership will be the key for revitalization.
“We haven’t had bold leadership for Downtown since Jake Godbold was mayor. Without bold leadership at the top we will continue to push the chain up the hill,” he said.
“We don’t need to create a new wheel. We need bold leadership. Downtown is the easiest thing to fix in this city,” said Bailey.
Co-chair Dr. Chester Aikens agreed. “What we don’t want to do is create another level of bureaucracy. We need to reorganize what we already have.”
Aikens suggested making the JEDC “the DDA with the power to deal with Cecil Field, but place priority on the development of Downtown.”
Jones said the new entity should be structured legislatively similar to JEA, the Jacksonville Transportation Authority and the Jacksonville Port Authority so that it could “survive a new mayor.”
Independent authorities generally are better designed to survive the political process.
During the public comment period after the agenda was completed, Steve Atkins, managing principal of Linea LLC, presented a proposal for the redevelopment of four buildings along Laura Street.
On May 25, 2010, Atkins had presented the plan at a news conference in the mayor’s office to convert the former Barnett Bank Building and the Laura Trio into a mixed-use retail, residential and boutique hotel project.
He said the project has been “continually evolving” during the past year and that he has been working with the JEDC to draft new legislation for a development agreement that would allow the proposal to proceed.
“We have to have incentives for the project to work,” he said, then explained the proposed agreement includes $5 million from the City’s Historic Preservation Trust Fund for restoration needed on structures.
Other sources of funding for the project include federal historic tax credits and a “private equity source” in California, said Atkins.
“The buildings are deteriorating rapidly. The Bisbee Building will collapse in a couple of years” if the water intrusion in the basement is not corrected, he said.
Another part of the proposed agreement is for parking spaces in City garages to accommodate valet parking for the hotel element of the development. Atkins said when the parking is available, Marriott Corp. has expressed interest in operating the hotel.
He said that a former Winn-Dixie executive wants to open a small grocery store in one of the buildings and that he is talking to several restaurant operators about leasing retail space, including Panera Bread.
“This is the catalyst project for Downtown. I sat down with Mayor-elect Brown before the election and he’s very excited about this project,” said Atkins.
The committee will meet at 8:30 a.m. Thursday at the Ed Ball Building. Scheduled agenda items include a discussion of organization and performance standards for a Downtown development entity and review of the legislation that created the DDA and JEDC.
The Landing launched its annual summer lunch promotion Tuesday.
Through August, many restaurants, food court vendors and Dipper Dan’s Ice Cream will offer a buy-one-lunch, get-one- lunch free deal on the second day of each business week.
After their midday meal, guests can present their receipt at a booth and spin the prize wheel to win a Landing T-shirt, can holder or other souvenir. (Pictured) Landing Marketing Intern Samantha Collins and Events Assistant Brittany Gadt were handing out the prizes Tuesday.
Also each week, a grand prize will be raffled, beginning with free lunch for a year.
For all the details, visit www.jacksonvillelanding.com.