Have you noticed over the past week, there have been several announcements and discussions around some pretty big thinking that also includes some pretty big spending?
As a member of the Downtown Investment Authority (DIA), I listened with great interest as our CEO Andre Wallace began the conversation about a long-anticipated draft study that’s designed to guide the DIA in setting priorities for the city’s core.
There is a goal of expanding the number of Downtown residents by another 7,000 units over the next two decades. As DIA Chairman Oliver Barakat said, 350 resident units a year at first may not be difficult but it could be ambitious to keep up that pace long-term.
It’s also expensive.
If you use as a barometer what the city has invested in incentives for Downtown housing projects since 2000 — $60,000 per unit — you are talking about $420 million.
Is it doable? That’s a good question.
Then there’s the Jacksonville Landing, which the study said is key to the future of Downtown.
Red Rock Global LLC and Urbanomics Inc., which did the study, said the Landing is “the most critical component of any plan to redevelop Downtown.”
That should please Landing co-owner Toney Sleiman, who has pushed some exciting new plans for the almost three decades-old riverfront center.
The Landing is really the centerpiece of it all, according to the study, which proposed activating the riverfront with a plan to “connect, captivate, celebrate.”
The Landing is the “captivate” portion with the notion to “connect” the area west of the Fuller Warren Bridge to Downtown.
Long-range, the study says we should “celebrate” with “world-class design, development” and “international capital” to transform the Shipyards and Sports Complex sites.
Connecting Riverside/Brooklyn to Downtown is already underway with the new residential and retail development going on there. It just needs to be stepped up as we move forward.
But back to the Landing. It’s pretty obvious that any notion to put the Landing at the center of Downtown’s redevelopment hopes is going to cost money.
The study says a national retailer needs to have a
presence as the center’s anchor and predicts that incentives could cost as much as $3 million to make that happen.
Big thinking usually requires big spending.
Port gets long-awaited good news about deepening project
Some more big plans that cost big bucks got a shot of positive news last week when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers gave its OK to the Jacksonville Port Authority for its plans to deepen the river channel so it can accommodate bigger ships.
The cost is $684 million, with $313 million coming from federal funds.
You can bet U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown will be all over whatever it takes to make sure Water Resources Development Act is passed
Another piece of good news for those pushing channel deepening is the signing of an executive order by President Barack Obama that sends the Corps report straight to Congress rather than taking the normal snail’s pace route of going first to the assistant secretary of the Army and then to the White House Office of Management and Budget.
The price tag to deepen the channel is huge, but the payoff for Jacksonville and Northeast Florida will be enormous if we are able to accommodate bigger ships that can be anticipated when the Panama Canal’s deepening and widening project is complete over the next two years.
Even with all of this assistance, if everything moves smoothly, it could be 2020 before JaxPort’s deepening project will be completed.
Council preparing for anticipated heavy lifting of budget
Speaking of costing money, Sheriff John Rutherford told the City Council budget subcommittee last week he needs an additional $8.1 million next year to help combat escalating crime in Jacksonville.
The committee has started the process of hearing from city department heads and others about their anticipated needs for 2014-15.
Rutherford wants an additional 40 police officers and 40 community service officers he says his current $390 million budget cannot afford.
Because of serious city revenue issues, the community service officer program was eliminated in 2012, and last year the police force was reduced by nearly 150 officers.
The sheriff told the committee that 85 percent of his budget is eaten up by salaries and benefits. Twenty percent of that goes to pension costs.
By getting an early start, it seems many members of the council are anticipating that when they receive Mayor Alvin Brown’s budget they will once again have to do the heavy lifting.
One question making the rounds in City Hall is when Brown submits his budget, whether or not he will recommend rolling back the millage rate by the amount it was increased last year by the council to meet this year’s needs.
If the mayor does that, we can expect another summer of contentious debate.
Auction should bring movement on riverfront eyesore
Finally, Berkman Plaza II, the riverfront skeleton tower on Bay Street between Catherine and Liberty streets will go on the auction block April 29.
Hopefully, the auction will draw a bid of at least $10.2 million so Choate Construction Co. can get out from under a foreclosure judgment and lien it secured on the property.
If no one bids as much as $10.2 million, Choate will own the structure, which has been sitting as a shell off Bay Street since 2007.
If someone is willing to pay full-market value to develop the neighboring Shipyards property, maybe the unfinished Berkman Plaza tower could be thrown in.
I hope whoever gets Berkman Plaza II will implode it and start anew.
If not, at least finish the project and rid our skyline of what is both a riverfront eyesore and a reminder of failure.