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Jax Daily Record Tuesday, Oct. 10, 201707:50 AM EST

Bill would require Community Redevelopment Agencies get Legislature’s approval

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City has four such agencies designed to focus money on blighted areas.
by: David Cawton Staff Writer

Parts of Downtown, North Jacksonville and Arlington could find themselves the last of a line of Jacksonville redevelopment areas if a bill introduced last month is approved by the Legislature.

House Bill 17 was introduced Sept. 18 by Rep. Jake Raburn, a Tampa-area Republican. It could  spell major policy changes for Community Redevelopment Agencies.

If the 21-page bill becomes law, a municipality would need approval from the Legislature if it wanted to designate another area of town as a CRA. The existing agencies in Jacksonville would sunset by 2038.

The legislation also would require more oversight on CRAs by the local governments that maintain the existing agencies.

CRAs are special funding districts created to spur economic development in blighted areas of cities or counties.

Jacksonville’s four CRAs include the 1,941-acre KingSoutel Crossing CRA in Northwest Jacksonville, the 14,245-acre Jacksonville International Airport CRA in North Jacksonville and the 1,239-acre Renew Arlington CRA. Additionally, the Downtown Investment Authority acts as a CRA for an area on the Northbank and Southbank.

The Jacksonville International Airport CRA

The 19-member City Council comprises a board of directors with oversight over the CRAs. Council President Anna Lopez Brosche serves as chair.

With a CRA, revenue generated from increased property values within the redevelopment boundaries is dedicated to economic development, housing, infrastructure and other projects that benefit the area.

Among other changes, HB 17 requires an annual audit detailing current or completed projects and their costs, vacancy rates for housing and commercial properties, as well as each agency’s total assessed property value and code enforcement violations.  

Council member Reginald Brown, whose District 10 includes the KingSoutel Crossing CRA, doesn’t agree with the bill.

Brown said he believes in home rule. “I don’t think our legislators are in a position at 10,000 feet up to look down and decide what should happen in those areas,” he said.

Brown said he understands the need for more scrutiny, but said state laws already governing CRAs “are rigid enough.”

“I’m sure there are some in the state who feel differently since initial funding typically comes from a general fund,” he said. “But it’s not like we’re talking about a lot of money here.”

The KingSoutel Crossing CRA will have a budget of about $639,000 this year, while the Renew Arlington CRA will have $589,000.

Brown said both areas “need more attention from our economic development agencies.”

The Jacksonville International Airport CRA has a $9.8 million budget this year. In 2015, council members approved $13.4 million in city incentives to bring an Amazon.com fulfillment center to an area near JIA in exchange for 500 jobs paying an annual average salary of $50,000.

Mercedes-Benz USA also expanded its facility in the JIA CRA that year.

Brown argues that not all CRAs are created equally, citing the involvement of job recruitment efforts by the JAX Chamber and the city Office of Economic Development.

“A lot of it has to do with the relationship we have with the chamber and the economic development office,” Brown said.

“If they’re not focused to drive business there, then how can you make significant gains?” he said.

Brown said the Costco Wholesale Corp. store under development at Collins Road and Interstate 295 in Southwest Jacksonville is an example of a lost opportunity for Northwest Jacksonville.

“That Costco could’ve been built within the CRA, down the interstate at Pritchard Road,” Brown said. “But I don’t think they even considered that,” referencing Costco.

The Pritchard and Collins roads exits are 15 miles apart, with the Collins location closer to denser residential and retail developments, such as a Wal-Mart Supercenter-anchored shopping plaza.

Brown also takes issue with part of the bill declaring any CRA “inactive” if it doesn’t report financial activity for four years.

“Sometimes you need that money to grow over time before you invest it,” Brown said. “These are areas of need that require some heavy investment.”

Brown said he’ll ask the local delegation of state lawmakers in a meeting next month to reject the bill.

Renew Arlington CRA

With the state Legislature not in session, bills like HB 17 begin their evolution in committees.

House members in the Government Accountability Committee, which includes Rep. Jay Fant, R-Jacksonville, will take up HB 17 first.

A similar bill introduced in both state chambers died in committee last session.

“Last year there were some concerns with accountability, how the funds were used,” Fant said. “I suspect this is a result of that.”

Fant acknowledged a criticism of CRAs that there isn’t enough oversight by local governments to ensure tax dollars are spent properly and not on unnecessary projects

“If we’re talking about more accountability, then I’m OK with that,” Fant said. “But I don’t know if it’s appropriate to take away that power of creation from the local bodies.”

Fant declined additional comment on the legislation until the bill comes before the committee.  

The Government Accountability Committee is scheduled to meet Tuesday for the first time since the Legislature adjourned in June.

“I’ll have a much better idea of what this means for Jacksonville by then,” he said.

 

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