Legislation reduces SOE LaVilla building cost to $6 million
Legislation for a potential new Duval County elections center in LaVilla will be reviewed by City Council committees in two weeks, but a substitute measure approved this week lowers the anticipated appropriation from $8 million to $6 million.
The original legislation filed in December by Council member Clay Yarborough sought $8 million for construction of a facility, but he told members of the Council Finance and Rules committees it could be done for less.
The main change was about $2 million less from the banking fund, he told the finance committee Tuesday.
"With the market being the way it is, we believe that number was fairly high and could be done for less," he said.
The elections office has two buildings — its main Downtown office at 105 E. Monroe St. and an elections center at the Gateway Mall at 5200-2 Norwood Ave. A newly constructed LaVilla site would be at least 65,000 square feet and consolidate operations.
Several Council members showed support for a new center and voiced concern about the state of the Gateway Mall facility.
"In short, it's disgraceful," Council member Stephen Joost said Thursday.
He said broken escalators and air conditioners and an unlit parking lot were among the problems and he supported the substitute because it allowed facts to be gathered for a decision.
"I want to do what's best for our employees," Joost said.
Council member Johnny Gaffney called the conditions "deplorable" and said the facility is "embarrassing and counterproductive" while agreeing that a new location is needed.
Council Vice President Bill Gulliford called the Gateway Mall situation a compromise the City made and said the next solution should "make it right" for the long-term benefit of the elections office.
Yarborough told the committee with the new figures, the new building could be paid off in fewer than five years. His estimate factored in the Gateway rent savings, the sale of the Downtown office and the LaVilla site not requiring acquisition because it is City-owned.
The Rules and Finance Committees approved the substitute and referred it back to committee.
Though several Council members agreed with the legislation, at least one member does not.
Council member Reggie Brown filed legislation that will be introduced Tuesday to amend the ordinance code and prohibit the construction of new buildings when vacant public buildings exist and are suitable for proposed uses.
The whereas portions of the ordinance state there are currently numerous vacant public buildings and facilities and that Council has determined their vacancy amounts to a waste of public resources.
The policy would make the City "utilize the existing, vacant public building inventory prior to constructing any new public building or facility for public purposes" and Council would not be allowed to approve appropriations if suitable buildings are available.
"Suitable" in the legislation refers to factors like size, scale and location, the legislation states.
Mayor Alvin Brown also has opposed the LaVilla site at 816 W. Union St., commonly referred to as the Sax Property, for the elections center.
He has said he would be more supportive of using the Yates Building at 231 E. Forsyth St. Downtown as an option. A report issued by his administration in response to the issue recommends the City and supervisor of election work toward a solution.
Among concerns about the Yates Building are lack of a sufficient loading dock to accommodate operations and lack of a freight elevator large enough for office needs.
The Downtown Investment Authority at its Dec. 12 meeting also approved a resolution asking the mayor to issue a request for proposals to evaluate the commercial interest of the Sax Property.
Paul Crawford of the City Office of Economic Development told the authority there has been commercial interest in the property from restaurant and gas station operators.
According to the administration, preliminary numbers showed the property valued between $11.2 million and $16.2 million.
Yarborough told the finance committee his legislation does not attempt to circumvent the administration and is intended to keep talks about the elections center moving in anticipation of elections in fall 2014.
In other action, the Council Finance, Rules and Recreation and Community Development committees passed amended legislation to establish criteria the City Downtown Investment Authority will use to find its first executive director.
Legislation was deferred in the last cycle of 2012 and could be approved Tuesday.
As amended, the criteria will now be a minimum of five years of "progressively responsible experience in downtown redevelopment or similar capacity," which is down from the originally required 8-10 years, which Council members said would allow for hiring flexibility.
In addition, the candidate must have a bachelor's degree or higher in a related field, such as city planning, real estate, finance, architecture, urban design or public administration, according to the legislation. A master's degree in a related discipline is a strong preference, it says.
With the amendment, the criteria also are included in the City code.
Council will not vote on the hire, who will lead the authority's mission in assisting Downtown economic development and growth.