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The ambassadors in their bright orange shirts are a familiar sight in Downtown. They are part of Downtown Vision Inc.'s effort to make the urban core clean, safe and a better place to live, work and invest.
Jax Daily Record Wednesday, Aug. 12, 201512:00 PM EST

Slow start to DVI's request for additional payments

by: Max Marbut Associate Editor

Ask and you shall receive.

At least sometimes.

That’s been the experience for Downtown Vision Inc. after letters were sent to 17 owners of property exempt from a 1.1 mill additional ad valorem tax that was approved by commercial property owners in 2000.

In the letter, Jake Gordon, DVI CEO, asked the property owners to make a voluntary contribution equal to 1.1 mills of the assessed value of their property. The total value of the exempt property is $134.2 million. If all of the owners remitted the donation, it would yield nearly $148,000 for the nonprofit Downtown organization.

“If we have more, we can do more. And we need to do more,” Gordon said.

When he presented the letter and list to DVI’s board of directors July 22, Gordon made it clear he wasn’t expecting checks to start showing up in the mailbox.

The letter would serve as a “conversation starter” with the owners, he said.

As of Tuesday, only one property owner responded to the request with a donation.

The Diocese of St. Augustine sent DVI $248.59, equal to 1.1 mills of the assessed value of a parking lot the diocese owns along Ocean Street.

“We didn’t even call them,” Gordon said. “They just sent us the check.”

Diocese spokeswoman Kathleen Bagg said the church has been a mainstay in what would become North Florida since 1565. Beginning in 1829, three years before Jacksonville was chartered as a town, priests on horseback visited the area to celebrate Mass.

In 1854, a small wooden church building was constructed at Duval and Ocean streets. It evolved into the present Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, which was dedicated in 1910.

“The Catholic Church has always seen itself as part of the community and we will participate with the community,” Bagg said.

Gordon said while $250 isn’t a “huge amount of money, it helps us.”

Of DVI’s $1.3 million operating budget for 2014-15, nearly $700,000 came from the additional assessment on commercial property. The city contributed $311,660 based on the value of municipal property within the 90-block Downtown Improvement District.

The Police and Fire Pension Fund and Duval County Public Schools responded by confirming their exempt status and declining the donation request.

The Police and Fire Pension Fund was asked to contribute $6,400 based on the $5.8 million assessed value of its office building and parking garage along West Adams Street.

Fund administrator John Keane said he spoke with Gordon and told him the fund is a “component of the city” and the city already contributes to DVI.

In addition, Keane said, “I explained that we are a trust established under state law and our costs are limited to costs associated with the fund.”

Duval County Public Schools declined a request for $9,600 based on the $8.7 million assessed value of the district’s administration building along the Southbank.

Paul Sores, assistant superintendent of operations, explained that school districts, like DVI, are funded with public funds derived from tax assessments.

Soares also stated the school district expenditures are “specifically limited to educational purposes for the direct education of our students” and “as such, the district does not have the ability to contribute.”

Gordon is no stranger to raising funds for an urban core improvement organization. Before becoming DVI’s chief executive, he had a similar position in Camden, N.J.

The Camden Special Services District also operated a $1.3 million annual budget — entirely funded by voluntary contributions.

Gordon said DVI’s objective is to make Downtown a better place to live, work and invest and it’s a comprehensive effort that’s not based on who is contributing part of the budget and who isn’t.

“You can’t exclude an individual property owner when you’re improving Downtown,” he said.

The letters to exempt property owners was not designed to be an aggressive campaign, but rather a way to make the owners aware of services they are receiving each day from DVI such as the clean and safe Downtown Ambassador program.

It’s also a good way to get all Downtown property owners involved in the organization’s work and make them more aware of issues facing all of Downtown.

Over a period of time, Gordon expects there will be more financial participation from the exempt property owners.

“We have to demonstrate our value,” he said. “It’s a standing ask.”

[email protected]

(904) 356-2466

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