DIA members Harris, Barakat urge Laura Street focus
Downtown Investment Authority leaders count Laura Street improvements among their top priorities.
Vice Chair Oliver Barakat told the City Council Finance Committee on Tuesday the corridor from the Landing north to Hemming Plaza and City Hall is "front and center" for revitalizing Downtown.
Barakat said the community "has spoken loud and clear" that a walkable core is important.
Chair Donald Harris prominently discussed Laura Street in a speech Wednesday to about 80 members of the Southside Business Men's Club.
He asked the group how to activate the Downtown riverfront, the Landing, vacant properties and the urban core.
"Where's the center? For myself, we have got to think it's the Laura Street corridor," he said, clarifying that he was not speaking for the nine-member board.
"How can we take Laura Street and stretch it out through the whole community?" he asked.
After the meeting, Harris said activating the storefronts and vacant land along Laura Street would create a "rippling effect" to "create more movement, more excitement."
He did not say any of the $9 million currently set aside for Downtown economic development would or should be allocated for Laura Street, declining to identify "any type of project" for the funds.
Harris said there were several projects pending and the funds could help "close some of the gaps to make those deals successful."
Ted Carter, City Office of Economic Development executive director, on Tuesday told the Finance Committee the Laura Street Trio project — consisting of the Florida National Bank, Florida Life and Bisbee-Baldwin buildings at Forsyth and Laura streets — has a bid placed on it and was under discussion.
Harris after his presentation repeated that he thought Laura Street was Downtown's core, but also said he wanted to see some "big building projects" throughout the district, not just around Laura Street.
On Tuesday, two Council committees — the Finance Committee and the Recreation and Community Development Committee — approved transferring $9 million for economic development Downtown and $2 million for the remainder of Duval County.
Mayor Alvin Brown said in January the more than $11 million came from savings by refinancing the City's more than $1 billion in bonds.
Until the authority has a CEO and Council-approved development plan, it must seek Council approval to spend money on projects.
It's a question whether the $9 million remains intact for Downtown. Several Council members said they wanted to see more of a plan from the authority before the funds would be used, while others voiced concern about $9 million being allocated to Downtown.
Council can adjust the amount and is scheduled to vote Tuesday on the transfer.
Harris said after his speech Wednesday that the Tuesday presentation to Council was "right on point" and that he and several authority members would attend the Council meeting.
Harris did not directly respond to a question whether he was concerned about Council lowering the $9 million allocation, but said the authority members would have to show they were "good stewards" of the funds.