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Jax Daily Record Thursday, Sep. 18, 201412:00 PM EST

'Operation Dolphin' tax fund proposed


Operation Dolphin has surfaced.

The long-awaited efforts to redevelop the Arlington area around and including Jacksonville University are on what some city officials hope is a fast track.

“It is a really, really fast pace,” said Karen Nasrallah, redevelopment manager at the city Office of Economic Development.

That pace is based on creating an official Community Redevelopment Area that would be completed in time to start capturing the tax-increment funds generated by what Nasrallah said is $9 million in construction projects expected at JU.

The so-called TIF financing would allow the defined redevelopment area to use increased property taxes generated by construction to invest in projects identified in the CRA plan.

Nasrallah said at a public meeting Wednesday about Operation Dolphin, also referred to as Project Dolphin, that a $9 million private investment by JU could generate $84,000 to $90,000 for the tax-increment fund.

Operation Dolphin has been expected since Jacksonville University President Tim Cost took the job in February 2013 and started talking about the need for JU to help rejuvenate and rebuild Arlington, where JU owns more than 200 acres along the St. Johns River.

The JU mascot is the dolphin.

Since Cost took the job, JU has invested in a new College of Health Sciences building and other campus projects, as well as acquired property south of the campus and is working with a private developer for construction of dorms north of the campus.

Nasrallah said the additional taxes generated by those dorms possibly could be invested in retail development at the site.

The proposed Community Redevelopment Area involves more than the area immediately around JU.

As tentatively outlined, it stretches from the Arlington Expressway north along University Boulevard to JU and to Fort Caroline Road, and along Merrill Road east to the Interstate 295 East Beltway.

The area primarily involves the business properties along University Boulevard and Merrill Road, although the area around JU also includes privately owned apartments that are considered in need of assistance.

The area at I-295 also includes additional property.

“The boundary is very preliminary. This is something we did in-house that could change,” Nasrallah said.

Florida Statutes allow for Community Redevelopment Areas, such as those created for Downtown Jacksonville, in the Jacksonville International Airport area and at KingSoutel Crossing.

Nasrallah explained to the almost 30 people at the meeting, including Arlington business owners, community supporters, city officials and members of the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, that creation of a Community Redevelopment Area requires steps that she hopes can be completed concurrently.

First, there must be a determination the area meets the statutory definition of a blighted area, meeting at least two of 14 established conditions of blight. The definition must be documented by statistics.

The document of the “findings of necessity” requires City Council approval.

Then a redevelopment plan must be created with specifics: The boundaries with legal descriptions; the size, number and proposed use of buildings; the number of dwelling units; and any project or program the area wants to undertake.

“If it’s not in the plan you can’t do it!!!!!” emphasizes the presentation Nasrallah gave at the meeting.

She wants to complete the findings of necessity and community redevelopment plan concurrently.

The plan then requires public hearings and proper notices and approvals.

Nasrallah asked the participants Wednesday for their help in moving forward with the possibility of creating the Community Redevelopment Area.

“You could see change out there very quickly. It’s a poster child for CRAs,” she said.

“If it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be.”

City Council President Clay Yarborough said Wednesday he believes Operation Dolphin “has the potential to make positive ripple effects throughout the Arlington community.”

Meanwhile, students at JU also want the city’s water taxi service to make the campus a regular stop for special events.

JU Presidential Fellow Clayton Levins told the meeting participants, which included city Chief Financial Officer Ronnie Belton and city Budget Officer Glenn Hansen, that the water taxis connected JU to One Spark. The students considered that “absolutely phenomenal,” he said.

He asked that the taxis connect at JU for events such as Jacksonville Jaguars games, Art Walk, One Spark and concerts at the Jacksonville Landing.

“We think you all could be great partners for us,” he said.

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