City Council member Matt Schellenberg says the transfer of the properties, whose assessed values total $69 million, would go toward paying down the $1.7 billion unfunded pension liability. He said more properties could be added to the list.
"There is no reason why these properties that are underutilized shouldn't be looked at," he said.
He said making the deal will lower the pension liability in the short-term, by substituting cash for real estate, and in the long-term when the fund develops the properties and sells them.
Fund Administrator John Keane said Thursday that profits from any sales would be applied toward that obligation and the fund.
The Jacksonville Civic Council suggested real estate be a part of a pension solution. Keane worked with the council and is also the author of the legislation.
The costliest item on the list is the Shipyards, valued at more than $29 million combined for two parcels. Keane says the fund would hire a developer for the property, which in the past has been discussed for condominiums and commercial purposes.
Or something bigger.
Keane confirmed one of many developers in discussions is Ponte Vedra Beach-based Killashee Investments. Representatives have made the rounds to council members, pitching a project that potentially incorporates tourist-driven elements, such an aquarium, convention center and tower attraction similar to Seattle's Space Needle.
Mark Farrell founded the company in 2007 after a 25-year
financial career. The company includes former council President Elaine Brown.
A phone call to the company for comment on the plan was not returned Thursday or Friday morning.
Council member Richard Clark called the group's presentation of ideas a "true mixed-use" that incorporated residential, commercial and tourism but that did not know what it would result in at this point.
Council member Lori Boyer said, "It's an interesting idea."
As for the former courthouse and City Hall buildings along Bay Street, Keane said that because of environmental and safety concerns, the buildings likely would need to be demolished.
He notes that Downtown supporters have in recent years indicated the spot would be ideal for a convention center.
But, as Boyer and City Council President Bill Gulliford said, taking away the Downtown land also hinders the work of the Downtown Investment Authority.
"Some of these parcels are some of the most significant that the city owns," said Boyer, who serves as the council liaison to the authority. "By doing this, you take all the decision-making away from the DIA … not just proceeds, but how it becomes implemented in the bigger Downtown plan."
"To surrender control could have a heck of an impact on future development," he said. "That's a huge consideration. If you ceded ownership to them with certain controls, that would be one thing. But to just give the property, you'd have no control over how it would be developed or if it would be developed at all."
Authority CEO Aundra Wallace did not return a call Thursday afternoon or Friday morning.
Gulliford and council member John Crescimbeni also questioned whether it was wise to give such a hefty chunk of real estate to the fund, when past results have been spotty.
"The Police and Fire Pension Fund historically has done a miserable job on return on investment," Gulliford said. "Why would I want to see them take on something this significant when they have not yet distinguished themselves as great custodians?"
Other than Schellenberg, each council member interviewed Thursday showed concern the matter is pushed as an emergency, with the word "premature" commonplace.
"That's a big number in one year," said Clark, who serves as the council liaison to the fund.
Gulliford said he does not consider the bill an emergency and if he has any control over it, the bill won't be voted on Tuesday. He said much more debate is needed.
Boyer and Crescimbeni said the idea of real estate being part of a comprehensive pension solution has merit, but at this stage it's only part of any deal.
"And I don't think that we should offer partial solutions," Boyer said.
Susie Wiles, Civic Council interim executive director, said simply offered a framework on how to address the pension problem and had no opinion on Schellenberg's list.
Also working on pension is the Bill Scheu-led task force that could have the assistance of the Pew Charitable Trusts.
Chris Hand, Mayor Alvin Brown's chief of staff, in a statement Thursday said that any legislation should come after the task force completes its work, not before.
"Perhaps Councilman Schellenberg is not aware that the Mayor and Council President have empowered Chairman Bill Scheu and the Jacksonville Retirement Reform Task Force to review the City's pension challenges, including ways to address the unfunded liability issue," said Hand.
The task force meets at 1 p.m. today to weigh in the Pew assistance.
Properties on list
Here are the properties and their assessed values that City Council member Matt Schellenberg wants to give to the Police and Fire Pension Board as a way to reduce the unfunded pension liability.
Shipyards, 950 E. Bay St., $17,058,103
Shipyards, 750 E. Bay St., $12,442,082
Old courthouse, 330 E. Bay St., $18,452,566
Old City Hall, 220 E. Bay St., $8,955,385
Main & Forsyth garage, 28 W. Forsyth St., $1,033,981
Water Street garage, 541 W. Water St., $9,815,078
Former 1st DCA block (vacant lot), 501 W. Adams St., about $1,630,500
Cecil Field timber, valued to be determined
The Shipyards, old courthouse, former City Hall and several Downtown parking facilities could be off the city's hands and into the Police and Fire Pension Fund's to help lower the city's unfunded pension liability.