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Jax Daily Record Tuesday, Jun. 24, 201412:00 PM EST

Land swaps, coffee jobs and a leap of faith

by: James F. Bailey Jr.

It’s about connecting the dots.

Last week I wrote about JEA’s efforts to improve access to the 30-acre riverfront property that once housed the old Southside Generating Station.

The authority is hoping to get responses July 1 from developers to a Request for Proposal on the site.

To make the property more attractive, the public utility has proposed a land swap with the Duval County Public Schools, Jacksonville Transportation Authority and the city that would extend Prudential Drive through the school board’s parking lot to the JEA property and then merge with Broadcast Place and under Interstate 95 to Kings Avenue.

It’s a complicated process, but the proposal is a creative solution to improve access to what is the largest aggregated piece of riverfront property in Florida’s big cities.

There are indications that some of the groups involved are working together for a positive outcome.

The cost of the new road is estimated at $10 million, though JEA has not identified a source of funding. There is some discussion and hope the cost can be borne by the developer if JEA gives consideration to the price of the property on the front end.

While much of the discussion by the city has been about a possible commercial office park there, I envision a tremendous riverfront residential and retail development with a marina that connects to the newly rebuilt Southbank Riverwalk –– a 24-hour-a-day neighborhood.

I can see a place where people are employed, working at restaurants and shops and people come home to at the end of the day. A place that boosts Downtown and all of the property around it.

As for connecting the dots:

Years ago, it took Herb Peyton and others more than a decade to get improvements to Prudential Drive that were important to his Riverplace Tower and other potential development on the Southbank.

That was way too long, but as a result, we now have large residential properties on the north and south sides of Prudential Drive east of the Main Street Bridge.

There is much more that needs to be done there, and it can be accomplished now.

There is a plan on the drawing board called “Riverplace Boulevard Road Diet,” which will stretch from the Main Street Bridge to Hendricks Avenue and make that drive attractive for people who work and live there now, as well as for future investment.

It will create parking and open public access to the Southbank Riverwalk.

Right now, there is no funding for the $5.5 million project, but there is a way to get it done without having to wait.

Both the Northbank and Southbank have a Tax Increment Fund, or TIF, that is collected from the increase in the value of the property from development. The fund is meant for improvements within the Northbank and Southbank.

Currently the Southbank Fund has $1.7 million on hand for next year’s budget, if it is not swept into the city’s general fund by Mayor Alvin Brown’s administration.

Those funds should be encumbered now by the Downtown Investment Authority (of which I’m a member) to get this project moving so we can take full advantage of the money being invested into the Southbank Riverwalk, open it up to more residents and visitors and create an enhanced environment for residents and workers on that side of the St. Johns River.

The “Riverplace Boulevard Road Diet” also will connect and enhance any new development on the JEA Southside property.

Maxwell House part of our history

The iconic Maxwell House coffee facility on East Bay Street is ingrained into the fabric of Downtown.

Thousands of people entering the city every day smell the warm and inviting aroma of the coffee being roasted inside or see the sign of that big tilted coffee cup. It’s a Downtown greeting that’s expected, often anticipated.

The plant also is an important piece of Jacksonville’s connection to the rest of the world.

When there was a threat some 25 years ago that the plant and its employees might be relocated, Mayor Tommy Hazouri led a strong and successful community effort to “Keep Max in Jax.”

Now, with reports that another Maxwell House operation in California and a second facility in Pennsylvania are competing with Jacksonville for a project that would create a $16 million expansion, the Downtown Investment Authority has recommended the City Council approve $425,000 in incentives for the local plant.

To me, it’s really a no-brainer. This is a very positive private/public partnership.

The expansion will create 10 high-paying jobs to join the current 227 employees, bringing an additional $1 million annual payroll. That’s another $1 million that will be spent in stores, restaurants and real estate taxes.

By approving the $425,000 proposal, the council also will ensure Maxwell House and those employees remain in Jacksonville. The funds will come from a Recaptured Enhanced Value grant that will be equal to 50 percent of the incremental increases in taxes on the property.

Maxwell House is a good and important citizen of this city and many of its employees and their families are active in nonprofits and other community activities that help make us a better community.

Clements’ message for Downtown

When EverBank Chairman and CEO Rob Clements moved 1,600 employees from Southside to Downtown in 2012, it was a leap of faith in many ways.

Understandably, at the time, lots of those suburban workers had bought into the myths about Downtown: no parking, not safe and difficult to get into and out of the city.

Now, two years later, Clements is telling people his employees are enjoying their new home in the 30-story EverBank Center (formerly AT&T Tower).

Under Clements’ direction, EverBank is now a huge Jacksonville presence.

It’s hard to miss the EverBank brand with its name on the EverBank Center, EverBank Plaza in Riverside and especially at EverBank Field. When the Jaguars debut their new huge end-zone scoreboards, EverBank will have even more prominence.

Clements has become a true Jacksonville leader. Now he’s matching his very credible voice with the huge economic investment EverBank has made in Downtown and in Jacksonville.

When Clements spoke to almost 500 executives last week at a meeting of the JAXUSA Partnership, he said more businesses should join EverBank and move Downtown.

“We strongly believe that a vibrant, vital Downtown is absolutely essential to the successful Downtown,” he said.

Don’t underestimate the influence Clements can have. It’s another indication that Downtown is moving in the right direction.

Looks like an opportunity to connect some more dots.

[email protected]

(904) 356-2466

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