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Jax Daily Record Thursday, Jul. 31, 201412:00 PM EST

DIA sends master plans to City Council

by: David Chapman

After more than a year of meetings, discussions and fine-tuning, two key Downtown Investment Authority plans are done.

The authority’s board Wednesday approved its Community Redevelopment Area and Business Improvement District plans and ultimately will have legislation submitted to City Council next month for review. The vote was 6-0, with members Jim Bailey, Rob Clements and Kay Harper not in attendance.

If council signs off, the authority truly will be independent the way it was envisioned in 2012. Board leadership and Executive Director Aundra Wallace would be able to negotiate Downtown deals on their own and be able to invest without council approval each time.

Board Chair Oliver Barakat said it was “huge” that the plans were now out of the hands of authority members and on their way for approval. The crafting of the plans has “taken so much energy” over time, he said, but once finalized the board can focus on implementation and deals for the betterment of Downtown.

He called the Downtown-specific incentives the board can offer developers as being one of the more significant achievements in the bill. The board had just more than $4 million last year for investment, while Mayor Alvin Brown has included $1.2 million in his 2014-15 budget proposal for the authority’s investment.

Much of Wednesday’s discussion involved slight language changes within the plan’s goals. Those goals include reinforcing Downtown as a business hub, increasing and attracting housing and maintaining a clean and safe neighborhood.

The two filing deadlines for legislation next month are Aug. 6 and Aug. 20. Depending on when filed and reviewed, a normal cycle could put implementation about the start of the fiscal year Oct. 1.

Outside of the plans, the board also signed off on two parking deals for Downtown.

The first is a discounted rate up to 50 percent off for city employees on city-owned parking lots.

Some members questioned whether a sunset provision should be included. New member Doris Goldstein questioned how such a policy would promote biking and public transportation for Downtown. She was the lone dissenting vote on the resolution.

The other resolution dealt with giving up to 200 free parking spaces to the Jessie Ball du Pont Center at the Yates Building Parking Garage for five years.

The group is spending more than $20 million to renovate the former Haydon Burns Library into office space for nonprofits.

Goldstein suggested that the language be changed to allow the developers to sell the parking spots instead of being required to give them away.

The money raised could offset expenses or even serve as a bonus, of sorts, to those who use public transit or bike to work. Again, her rationale was incentivizing more than just drivers.

The idea didn’t gain traction with the board, which approved the resolution as it was submitted. Goldstein supported it for the greater good it will bring Downtown, she said.

Both deals must still be approved by the full council.

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