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Downtown Investment Authority Chief Executive Office Aundra Wallace
Jax Daily Record Friday, May 8, 201512:00 PM EST

LaVilla next on Wallace's agenda for Downtown Investment Authority

by: David Chapman

Sure, developing the Shipyards and redesigning the Jacksonville Landing have been at the forefront of Downtown redevelopment the past year.

But Downtown is bigger than that. And while seeing those two headline projects progress is a priority, Downtown Investment Authority CEO Aundra Wallace has many others planned.

He laid out some of those Thursday for two DIA board members reviewing the proposed budget.

One of those is having a proactive discussion on LaVilla, a neighborhood he considers the “next frontier” and another gateway into Downtown.

Townhomes, starter homes and retail are ideas he has, all with a nod to the area’s history in keeping with a “Harlem of the South” vibe.

Wallace said he’d like to spend up to $75,000 next year for planning services in the area.

“Let’s not wait two to three years and then the market comes in and they don’t have any guidance,” said Wallace.

He also has an eye on a parcel the DIA owns in the Brooklyn area, one that has a little history but has been neglected.

Old Fire Station No. 5 sits vacant in the shadows of big business offices and the nearby Brooklyn developments, but Wallace said he can see it becoming a stand-alone restaurant or retail with the right plan. That is, if it checks out environmentally.

“It has a lot of value to the Brooklyn area,” he said. “We need to check.”

But while those are smaller projects in the planning stages for next year, another possible large-scale project may or may not take off.

The DIA has about $5.6 million in its Downtown Historic Trust Fund, some of which is being spent on projects like the Cowford Chophouse and 120 E. Forsyth building.

Another project like the Laura Street Trio redevelopment could utilize it, too, but the developer is still seeking private financing, Wallace said.

The DIA, like much of the city, didn’t receive funding for capital project improvements this past year. Wallace said he is resubmitting his projects within the authority’s budget, with converting Forsyth and Adams streets into two-way thoroughfares as his top priority.

If accomplished, then additional lighting and wayfaring signage could be implemented to help people feel more comfortable coming Downtown.

Overall, board members Jack Meeks and Jim Bailey, publisher of the Daily Record, signed off on the DIA’s proposed $1.2 million operating budget for next year.

That’s a $40,000 bump from its current-year $1.16 million budget, with the increase largely attributable to bumps in staff salaries and internal service charges. Wallace said he’d like to spread no more than $15,000 among staff, given that some are being recruited by the private sector.

“There are people knocking on the door,” he acknowledged of his staff. “We just need to make sure we can be as competitive as we can.”

The entire budget will go to the full board for consideration at the end of the month. From there, City Council has final say.

If it goes as he hopes, he’ll have the resources to keep growing Downtown in smaller ways that add to the whole — while those large projects keep moving ahead.

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