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- 2013 - December - 19th -

Downtown stores could get money for makeovers

By Carole Hawkins, Contributing Writer

The Downtown Investment Authority approved a plan Wednesday to jump-start retail in the city's Northbank core business district by offering matching grants to businesses that plan to renovate.

The authority will ask City Council's permission to allocate $750,000 from its $4.1 million budget for the Downtown Jacksonville Retail Enhancement Plan enough money to help at least 15 businesses.

Authority board member Tony Allegretti said. "I know we'll get a tremendous amount of interest in it."

Under the plan, restaurants, retail and "creative office spaces" businesses involved in incubation, education/academia, information technology, art and entertainment can be awarded up to $20 per square foot of occupied space or $50,000 to make improvements.

The grants would be recoverable, with a portion returned if an applicant defaulted on the agreement within the first five years.

Authority CEO Aundra Wallace said the program is intended to expand the Downtown's tax base, attract and retain businesses, and encourage the modernization of older commercial buildings.

Also at the meeting, the authority deferred a decision on whether to allow a digital billboard to be installed along Interstate 95 at the south end of Downtown.

The Downtown Development Review Board, which oversees zoning in the core, had three months ago denied the billboard request, on the basis that it did not meet aesthetics criteria for Downtown development and would adversely impact nearby properties.

The applicant, CBS Outdoors, appealed the matter to the authority. The proposed billboard would replace one taken down by the Florida Department of Transportation as part of the Overland Bridge project to widen the interstate.

After two hours of presentations and discussion, board members said they needed more time to understand the issue. They voted to hold a fact-finding workshop and to make a final decision at a later meeting.

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