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Jax Daily Record Thursday, May. 1, 201412:00 PM EST

DIA wants $13.4 million Shipyards settlement

by: David Chapman

Last year, City Council took $5 million slated for Downtown economic development and applied it toward holes in the city budget.

Now, the Downtown Investment Authority would like that money back — and a lot more.

The authority’s board Wednesday passed a resolution staking its claim for the entire $13.4 million settlement set to come from the developer of the failed Shipyards project, which is in Downtown.

The resolution asks for $5 million taken last year be restored. The other $8.4 million would be used to remedy any environmental concerns, with the rest placed in the authority’s economic development fund.

Early sentiment was mixed on whether the group should ask for the entire balance or just the $5 million taken last year.

“I’m very much of the opinion that every dime and every square foot of the land should be under, at least the influence, if not the control of this board,” said board member Mike Saylor.

The city was given back the land in 2011 in lieu of foreclosure, with the estimated value being about $20 million at the time.

Board member Jack Meeks, who proposed the resolution, agreed that the board should seek the settlement in its entirety, saying that doing so would send the right signals to potential investors ready to spend Downtown.

Board Vice Chair Jim Bailey said asking for it all “seems to be a little greedy.” He based the idea on upcoming budget talks council will have this summer and how being given the sum might influence how the authority is treated about funding.

“Just restoring the $5 million will be a tough task,” said Bailey, publisher of the Daily Record.

Though there was no hard-set use included in the language, board members offered possible suggestions on how the funds could be used. They ranged from funding residential enhancement — a key component of redevelopment plans it is crafting — to completing the Northbank Riverwalk to reducing debt on projects like 11E and The Carling.

When the settlement was announced April 22, council members had early ideas of their own on how the money could be spent if unencumbered.

That included council member John Crescimbeni, who said consideration should be given to restoring the authority’s development fund.

Any use of the funds would require additional legislation.

While the hefty check has yet to be cashed, board chair Oliver Barakat said the resolution would be a way for the board to “put our stake in the ground” for the funding.

Authority CEO Aundra Wallace said that if council was approves the settlement and any Office of General Counsel opinion allows the funds to be spent, then he would begin to lobby for the funds coming to the authority.

“What the board did Wednesday was proactive,” he said.

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