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Mayor Alvin Brown (at podium) announces the city has come to agreement with Gateway Shopping Center’s owners to extend a lease for the Tax Collector’s Office branch housed there. Functions of the branch will be moved Downtown and in its place will be an early voting site. From left, Supervisor of Elections Jerry Holland, U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, Tax Collector Michael Corrigan, Brown and City Council members Johnny Gaffney, Robin Lumb and John Crescimbeni all took part in Tuesday’s announcement

Gateway gets early voting site, lawsuits dropped

By David Chapman, Staff Writer

After years of dispute, months of debate and a City Council decision that spurred two lawsuits, it seems the controversy surrounding an elections center move out of Gateway Shopping Center is finished.

Flanked by Tax Collector Michael Corrigan, Supervisor of Elections Jerry Holland, U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown and several council members, Mayor Alvin Brown announced a deal has been struck that will keep early voting in the Gateway region.

The multifaceted deal will relocate the call center and mail center portions of the Tax Collector's Office from the Gateway branch to the Yates Building in Downtown. In its vacated spot will be a 2,400-square-foot customer service and community center that provides voter registration, voter education and early voting.

As part of the deal, the city will extend its lease with Terranova Corp., Gateway's owner, for the mall branch for another five years at its current rate with no escalator clause.

Legislation was filed with council Tuesday and could be voted on in December.

The elections center, which served as an early voting site, was housed at the Gateway Shopping Center since 2006 before its lease expired and the city went to a month-to-month agreement.

Alternative sites were proposed, including one to build a new, consolidated office in LaVilla, causing debate as to whether a new building should be constructed.

Shortly after, legislation to keep the center at Gateway was filed, two other proposals were pitched and council through much of 2013 debated where to move the supervisor's warehouse functions.

When council decided in August on One Imeson in North Jacksonville, Gateway filed a lawsuit and a citizens group in October followed with another.

One of the main concerns in both was keeping Gateway as an early-voting site. One Imeson is not an early-voting site.

With council approving the deal announced Tuesday, those lawsuits will be dropped.

"This is what compromise feels like," said Corrine Brown.

She was one of the more vocal critics of council's One Imeson approval, saying she felt she had "no partners in the room" the night the group signed off on the deal.

Brown's administration also pitched Gateway as the best option.

The early-voting move into the 2,400-square-foot call and mail center is downsizing from the about 3,000 square feet in the former location.

"It's not as big as what we were using before, so we're committed to trying it," he said.

If it doesn't work, Holland said there was a bigger site about a block away that could work.

The tax collector's site needs slight improvements, including American with Disabilities Act modifications.

Holland said Corrigan wanted to consolidate his office Downtown and the idea originated as early as September 2012.

dchapman@baileypub.com

(904) 356-2466

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