Council is set to vote on a $9 million transfer from City savings to the Downtown Investment Authority to use for Downtown rejuvenation and $2 million for countywide economic development.
Two Council committees met Tuesday and approved transferring the $9 million to an economic development fund for the authority and $2 million in the countywide development fund for the City Office of Economic Development.
Both committees unanimously passed the legislation. The full Council can vote on it Tuesday.
Pending Council approval next week, the question becomes the timeframe when the authority can access those funds — and if the allocated $9 million will still be intact.
Before it can operate independently, the authority, created in August, still needs to hire an executive director and present a development plan for Council approval.
Until those two items are in place, the authority must ask for Council approval for projects.
The executive director search has begun. Authority Vice Chair Oliver Barakat told the Finance Committee that Mayor Alvin Brown signed the Request for Proposals on Monday for the authority to hire a search firm for candidates.
Barakat expects the search to be completed in "no later than 120 days," which would be in July.
The development plan is expected by Sept. 30, the close of the fiscal year, Barakat said.
Brown announced in January that he wanted to allocate $11 million in funds to Downtown and Duval County development. The funds came from savings in refinancing the City's more than $1 billion in bonds.
Next year, an additional $9 million is scheduled to be available from the refinanced savings, with the returns diminishing in subsequent years.
During the Finance Committee meeting, several Council members said they wanted to see more of a plan from the authority before the money was turned over.
The plan would focus on the authority's priorities and mission but does not need to include specific projects.
"I would like the plan, the priorities, not what might be," said Finance Committee member Stephen Joost. "My sense of it is the committee is open-minded, we just want to know what it is."
Barakat said naming specific projects could artificially increase the real estate value and services for those projects. Council member Lori Boyer and others agreed.
Boyer said she was "very concerned" asking for a list of specific projects before the committee could establish one because otherwise, the list would come from Brown's administration.
"I don't want to see it be an OED list," Boyer said, referring to the City economic development office.
Authority members have provided individual priorities, but the panel as a whole has not established a set list.
Barakat told the committee a special meeting could be arranged for that discussion.
Several Council members also expressed reluctance to allocate the $9 million, or any portion, to the authority.
"I don't know what the right number is," said Council President Bill Bishop, later saying he could potentially support the entire allocation should the authority return with a plan. "Get it done," he said.
Council member Robin Lumb said the $11 million allocated for economic development should not be spent until later in the budget year and he vowed to not raise taxes or cut public safety.
Finance Committee member Clay Yarborough called the funds "an awful lot of money" and cited a University of North Florida poll that said only 6 percent of respondents cited improving Downtown as the top priority.
The top priority of that poll was economy and creating jobs, according to 37 percent of respondents.
Yarborough said he would support "some amount" of the money, but did not know about the entire $9 million for Downtown.
While he did not suggest how much to pull, Council member Bill Gulliford pitched that some of the funds, combined with savings from money not spent for matching grants, should be spent to purchase the Jake Godbold City Hall Annex Building.
The building, at 407 N. Hogan St., is owned by the Police and Fire Pension Fund and leased to the City and available for purchase every four years.
Purchasing the building saves $1.3 million in annual rent for four years, according to a handout Gulliford distributed.
If not purchased, the City is giving the fund a 13.33 percent return on its investment and "The City is doing the pension's fund's investment work for them," Gulliford's handout states.
If purchased this year, the price would be $14.3 million. The figure jumps an additional $1.4 million for May 2017.
Gulliford also offered an amendment that the $11 million should be placed in a Council contingency fund, but the amendment was defeated.
Downtown revitalization funds are now in City Council's court.