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Jax Daily Record Wednesday, Aug. 7, 201904:14 PM EST

DIA approves $29.9 million Project Sharp development agreement

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A $3.5 million grant for Florida Blue to build a 750-space parking garage could make its existing riverfront lot available for Sharp’s headquarters. 
by: Mike Mendenhall Staff Writer

The Downtown Investment Authority unanimously approved a development agreement Wednesday between the city and code-named Project Sharp worth $29.9 million in state and city incentives.

Legislation must be approved by City Council.

The agreement, Resolution 2019-08-01, would bring Sharp’s corporate headquarters to riverfront property on the Northbank, shown in a DIA aerial photograph as a surface parking lot at 323 Riverside Ave. owned by insurer Florida Blue.

Also in a 7-0 vote, DIA approved a second resolution to provide the insurance company a $3.5 million grant to build a 750-space, $22.5 million parking deck on city-owned property at Magnolia, Park and Forest streets two blocks west of the Riverside Avenue lot.

The agreement with Florida Blue in Resolution 2019-08-02 could open its Riverside Avenue parking lot for development. The resolution states the deal is “necessary” to facilitate an increase in the number of employees at a “nearby office building,” and “comply with other redevelopment goals such as eliminating surface parking lots, especially on the waterfront.”

Florida Blue would retain ownership of the riverfront parking lot but could choose to sell or redevelop the site.

The lot is near the campus of Fidelity National Financial Inc., known as FNF, and related companies, including Fidelity National Information Services Inc., known as FIS.

A new headquarters

Sharp would create 500 jobs with an annual average salary of $85,000 and build a 300,000-square-foot, $145 million headquarters office building and parking. 

Described as an international financial technology services company, Sharp matches the needs of Jacksonville-based FIS, a Fortune 500 company. The agreement states Sharp would maintain its existing 1,216 jobs in Jacksonville, which matches the FIS workforce.

In exchange, Sharp would receive $23 million in a Recapture Enhanced Value grant from the city over 20 years for its property improvements.

The city and state also will offer a Qualified Target Industry Tax Refund of $3 million, or $6,000 per job. The state would pay $2.4 million ($4,800 per job) and the city would pay $600,000 ($1,200 per job). 

The incentives include a city closing fund grant of $3.5 million that Sharp would receive when the project is completed. 

The DIA approved a deal that would bring a 750-space, $22.5 million parking deck to what is now a retention pond at Magnolia, Park and Forest streets. (Google)

FIS completed its acquisition of Cincinnati-based payment services firm Worldpay on July 31, creating a combined company with more than $12 billion in annual revenue and 55,000 employees worldwide.

DIA CEO Lori Boyer instructed board Chair Craig Gibbs to sign the agreement so companion City Council legislation could be filed Wednesday. The agreement will not be certified until it’s approved by the full council and signed by Mayor Lenny Curry. 

Board member Oliver Barakat said the development agreement has “the right incentive package.” 

“A lot of us have stared at that vacant parking lot on the river for many years in frustration,” he said. “These types of jobs will have a multiplier effect into the residential and the retail the city has incentivized in that area of town.”

A term sheet included in the resolution says  Sharp “must invest or cause to be invested” at least $130 million to remain eligible for the REV grant, which indicates a developer might be involved that would buy the land and build the structure for the company. 

Parking garage details

The DIA board voted 7-0 to approve the Florida Blue parking garage agreement. The $3.5 million grant to Florida Blue won’t be distributed until construction of the parking garage is complete. 

The city would donate the land to Florida Blue at the assessed value of $3.17 million and Florida Blue would own the garage. The vacant city-owned property does not currently generate tax revenue but the improved property is expected to bring in $5.1 million over 20 years once privately owned.

The deal also allows the city to lease space in the garage after 6 p.m. for public use. Florida Blue will be responsible for maintenance of the garage. 

DIA officials said the parking will meet demand and support existing and proposed retail businesses and restaurants on Riverside Avenue and nearby Park Street. 

Construction will begin no later than March 1 next year and be completed by March 31, 2021.

Old Fire Station No. 5

While the city moves to make riverfront property available for Project Sharp, adjacent land owned by FNF is closer to being owned by the city.

The council Finance Committee approved Ordinance 2019-527 in a 7-0 vote Tuesday that would allow the city to purchase 1.21 acres at 347 Riverside Ave. and along Alfred Dupont Place, bordering the Florida Blue parking lot. 

The property holds the 1910-built Fire Station No. 5, not designated as historic.

City officials want to realign Forest Street across Riverside Avenue with the two parcels, providing access to the Florida Blue property as well as visitors to Sidney J. Gefen Riverwalk Park. The fire station likely would be demolished.

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