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Jax Daily Record Friday, Sep. 14, 200112:00 PM EST

Council approves Vestcor deal

by: Bill Johnson

Two days after terrorism prompted the postponement of their regularly scheduled meeting, City Council members put their feelings of horror and anguish aside Thursday night and went on about the business of democracy.

As well, Jacksonville residents, battered with unimaginable televised images of death and destruction, showed up in force to practice their freedom of speech and take part in a process born in America more than 200 years ago.

They came. They prayed. They pledged allegiance, and even gave a donation to the Red Cross. Then they moved on.

Perhaps embodying this unanimous spirit was Council member Jerry Holland, who, stranded away from home like thousands of other Americans, boarded a bus in Philadelphia for a bumpy 20-hour ride that brought him home in time for Thursday night’s meeting.

It was a ride he’ll not likely soon forget.

Rolling past the smoldering symbol of our nation’s military might in Washington, D.C., Holland said, “The bus came to complete silence.”

• • •

Council members passed the massive Vestcor deal, in which the City will make a $17.8 million 1.5 percent interest loan in order to purchase the Roosevelt Hotel and Lynch building and to transform the Lynch into residential apartments. The Roosevelt is planned to follow suit.

Several historic preservationists, such as Emily Lisska of the Jacksonville Historical Society and former City Historic Planning Commission chairman Jerry Spinks, spoke for the deal and the two historic properties it would save.

Council members were also complimentary of Vestcor president John Rood for working hard to close the deal. Council had approved a much less costlier version of the deal earlier this year only to have it fall through when certain increased costs were uncovered.

• •  •

There was anything but silence as Murray Hill residents made it clear they didn’t take lightly Council’s redistricting map that takes them out of District 14 and away from their affluent neighbors in Avondale and Riverside.

More than 20 of the area’s residents showed up to voice their concerns of being separated from neighborhoods they said shared similar values, such as rehabilitation.

One resident actually displayed a Murray Hill Preservation Association plaque that will be displayed outside that neighborhood’s restored homes, much the way Riverside Avondale Preservation Association’s RAP plaques are displayed now.

Council member Pat Lockett-Felder told the residents that the map would be revisited during a Rules Committee workshop, although she did not say it would be changed.

Council member Jim Overton, representative of District 14, has reportedly devised yet another proposed redistricting map that would address the situation.

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