When Mayor Alvin Brown announced last week that he wants to invest $11 million in newly found money on Downtown revitalization and other economic development efforts, it probably caught some of you by surprise.
According to the mayor, the $11 million is a result of debt refinancing that can be put into the 2012-13 budget and continue to save money in future budgets.
The mayor said $9 million of the fund will be put into an economic development trust fund to be used by the Downtown Investment Authority for Downtown revitalization.
This money helps us put up that sign announcing Downtown is open for business.
In the mayor's proposal, $9 million is to be used to leverage private investment in Downtown.
That means this money is to be used to prime the pump so private investors and companies will spend their own money to grow jobs and help us build a stronger city.
We can back up the claim that we're ready to move forward when we tell developers, investors and entrepreneurs who are looking for a great city in which to spend their capital and unleash their creativity.
As a member of the DIA, I am someone who deeply believes we have major projects in Downtown that, when addressed, can have a positive impact on all of Jacksonville. I'm excited about the prospect of having $9 million to invest.
But, as a realist, I know that the mayor, members of the DIA and others have a lot of convincing to do before you'll concur with the mayor's proposal and turn over $9 million to the authority.
I enthusiastically accept that it's our responsibility as DIA members to show each of you how we'd spend these funds, demonstrate the benefits of the investments and confirm your confidence that the authority is up to the task.
I know that many of you have projects in your districts you consider important and you have your eyes on the $11 million, hoping you can get your hands on some of it.
With all respect, I want to discourage you from treating this "windfall" like a feeding frenzy. Instead, I want to encourage you to look at the bigger picture.
• Where can this money be invested to have the best return, create jobs and elevate our quality of life?
• Investments in Downtown produce jobs and return tax revenues that help pay for the services that all of us use — no matter where we live in Jacksonville.
• Downtown is owned by all of us.
• We've invested hundreds of millions of dollars over many years in infrastructure for roads, water and sewer facilities.
• We've built public buildings such as EverBank Field, Veterans Memorial Arena, the Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts and the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville.
• A lot of people are now living Downtown.
• Thousands of people come Downtown to work each day and thousands more come at night and on weekends to be entertained.
• Downtown is the center of Jacksonville's cultural, business and transportation universe.
But even with all of our positives, we need to continually improve.
Downtown has empty buildings that must be filled or removed.
One great example is the Bostwick Building sitting like a hollow shell at the corner of Ocean and Bay streets, at the entrance to Downtown off the Main Street Bridge.
Solving the Bostwick Building dilemma should be low-hanging fruit that can be a great and inexpensive way to show the community that the mayor, DIA and Council are serious about making a difference for Downtown.
We have to build on public-private partnerships and grow capital and develop more human investment, the very reason the DIA was created by the mayor and approved by you.
We have many special events that bring Downtown streets alive, but we need more that will introduce more people to Downtown.
Before the economic bubble burst, the City had development plans to bring 10,000 residential units to Downtown.
Once our economy fully recovers, Downtown will attract new residents, especially if gasoline prices continue to rise and if we build on Downtown's livability.
We have a lot going for us — but we have a way to go.
While it is far from scientific, a Jacksonville Community Council Inc. voluntary survey of 14,000 people revealed improving Downtown as the most important issue facing Jacksonville by a 2-1 margin.
This most recent survey is a reminder and confirmation of what previous studies and surveys have said.
In a city with so many assets, people who care about Jacksonville and our future know we will not arrive there without a strong and vibrant Downtown.
As a Council member, it means to support moving Downtown forward by investing this $9 million you don't have to swim upstream. You'll have a lot of company.
I look forward to personally meeting with each of you in the near future to discuss this great opportunity.