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- 2011 - February - 9th -

Civic Council calls for Downtown Improvement Authority

Peter Rummell, chair of the Jacksonville Civic Council, and Downtown advocate Preston Haskell unveiled long-expected plans Tuesday to revitalize Downtown Jacksonville.

“We’re not here to make friends. We’re here to get something done,” said Rummell from the riverfront conference room at The St. Joe Building in Riverside.

Rummell, former chair of the St. Joe Co., made the remark during the presentation of the Northbank Redevelopment Task Force Final Report.

The figure of $29 million a year was presented as what it would take to implement the report’s findings.

“We’re talking about making an investment to give us the kind of Downtown we need,” said Haskell.

Haskell chaired the 11-member task force, formed by the Civic Council with the support of Mayor John Peyton to revitalize Downtown.

The report was released to the media Tuesday morning.

Haskell said the task force had been working on the project for almost a year, beginning after the Jacksonville Regional Chamber of Commerce Leadership Trip to Kansas City in 2009.

Rummell characterized the report as “the first real effort” from the council. “Downtown economic development is as important as moving a Fortune 500 company to town. Downtown is how we’re defined,” he said.

Haskell said the report is “different from what we’ve seen over the last 20 years,” in that it addresses not only land use, but other elements of developing Downtown as well.

“This is more comprehensive. It puts some real teeth into incentives, governance, implementation and an economic plan,” said Haskell.

Most important, he said, is to “have an agency whose sole focus is Downtown development.”

The report recommends the establishment of a “Downtown Improvement Authority,” with independence and authority similar to that of other local independent agencies. Members would be appointed by the mayor and City Council.

Rummell acknowledged Downtown development is now under the purview of the Jacksonville Economic Development Commission, which is part of the mayor’s office.

“Now, a developer goes to the JEDC, then has to go to the City Council,” he said. A one-stop Downtown Improvement Authority would be “a practical solution,” he said.

Haskell said the “first important piece” of the plan presented would be to build an exhibition hall, about 80,000 square feet, adjacent to the 966-room Hyatt Downtown. The hotel has about 90,000 square feet of small meeting and ballroom space, but lacks a large exhibit space.

“That would make us competitive with other cities of our size,” said Haskell.

Asked about the annual $29 million estimate, Haskell said it needs that level of investment “for the foreseeable future.” Rummell then said there had been considerable debate among the task force members over the amount of investment required.

Rummell said the $29 million figure was chosen to “show that it’s not $5 million, but it’s not $100 million either.”

Haskell said another area that must be addressed is bringing more residents Downtown. The resident population has remained at about 2,000 for several years.

“Without 10,000 or 15,000 residents, this will never work. It will require substantial and major investment if this is to succeed,” said Haskell.

In terms of funding sources for the proposed investment, the report states that “the City must consider multiple sources of funding.”

Among the recommendations in the report:

• Creation of a Tourism Investment District. “There is considerable interest within the hotel-motel industry in seeking state statutory authority to impose a tax upon certain revenues within its industry and within a specified jurisdiction, presumably Duval County. The proceeds would be used for purposes of promoting tourism activity within that district.”

• Special events management and production. “The City has a well-funded special events office, which should be shifted organizationally to fall under the management of DIA.”

• On-street parking enforcement. “Transferring parking en-forcement from the City to DIA would enable the City to reduce its cost of operating the parking program by shifting employee salaries and benefits to DIA. This will also result in greater efficiencies in operation of the parking meter network and enforcement of other parking restrictions Downtown.”

• Grants. “DIA should have the ability to receive grants from all levels of government as well as from foundations, philanthropies and private organizations. In particular, the DIA should be designated as the administrative entity for Downtown job creation investments, such as state Qualified Target Industry Incentives (QTI) grants.”

• Creation of a Utility Revenues Finance District. “This approach would establish a formula under which a percentage of the revenue from JEA sales Downtown would flow into a newly established Utility Revenue District and be managed by DIA for capital investments Downtown. Such investments could be made directly from revenues of the URD, or be bonded in the case of large-scale need.”

• The report also calls for proceeds from the existing Tax Increment Finance funding downtown be directed to the DIA.

“The Task Force acknowledges that raising new revenue is never an easy task, but Jacksonville is a low-tax city, and the case for greater investment Downtown is a clear and compelling one,” said the report.

The task force also made land use suggestions that included an interactive destination entertainment park at the Shipyards property. Features in such a park could include “a London Eye type wheel, a coaster, adventure golf, a zip line course and others.”

To read the entire report, visit http://www.jaxdailyrecord.com/Ta...

mmarbut@baileypub.com

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