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Mayor Alvin Brown's administration has recommended the Gateway Shopping Center, where the center has been housed since 2006.
Jax Daily Record Friday, Aug. 2, 201312:00 PM EST

SOE site process 'out of control'

by: David Chapman

Mayor Alvin Brown's administration and the Supervisor of Elections Office issued differing opinions last week regarding the best location for the elections center, an issue that has been much debated for several months.

"The process is out of control," City Council Auditor Kirk Sherman said.

Sherman's office has been reviewing the figures within the deals, as proposed through three pieces of legislation representing three proposed locations.

Since the deals have been proposed through legislation, they can be amended, making the auditor's office's work difficult — if not impossible.

"The deals keep changing, they keep evolving," Sherman said.

Some Council members have openly questioned why a Request for Proposals was not submitted for the issues, but Chris Hand, Brown's chief of staff, told members of the Council Finance Committee on June 19 that leases are not typically handled through that process and the situation has been "contaminated" by outside involvement.

He instead offered Council the option to have the administration and City Real Estate Department review the deals and corresponding pieces of legislation and return with an opinion no later than July 23, the first Council meeting of the Council year.

Through a July 23 memorandum, Brown's administration selected the Gateway Shopping Center, where the warehouse and elections center functions have been since 2006. The center is at 5200-2 Norwood Ave., north of Downtown.

In a release the same day, Supervisor of Elections Jerry Holland announced One Imeson Center was his recommendation. The location is at 1 Imeson Park Blvd., a former Sears catalog distribution center, in North Jacksonville.

Both notices state the favored site would save the City more money over the length of a 10-year lease.

According to the administration memo from Jim Robinson, City Public Works director, Gateway "has offered the lowest rent rate over the lease period" at $2.8 million, less than One Imeson's $2.9 million.

It also touts a lowest early termination risk, $750,000 compared to $865,000 at One Imeson, major improvements to the facility at no cost to the City and free rent the first six months and final three months of the lease.

In its rationale for selecting One Imeson, Holland's office said that $3.3 million will be saved over a 10-year term, about $372,000 more in savings than Gateway. That includes savings of $573,000 within the first year among other benefits, it said.

Also included in the recommendations were figures for a proposal from Demetree Brothers Inc. for space at the Southgate Shopping Plaza along Beach Boulevard.

The current rent at Gateway is about $51,000 a month, or about $612,000 a year.

Sherman said his office analyzed the proposals as of 11 a.m. July 23.

The financial difference in the figures can be attributed to amended proposals.

"Something came in after 11 a.m.," Sherman said.

The auditor's office 11 a.m. July 23 side-by-side comparison shows One Imeson as financially the lowest at close to $2.9 million over the 10-year period, followed by Southgate at almost $3 million and Gateway at $3.2 million.

Gateway's proposal in the comparison appears to not include the six months of free rent at the beginning and three months free rent at the end of its lease.

Sherman said his office doesn't solely take into account the financials of a deal and reviews aspects such as overrun procedures and non-renewal payouts.

Council President Bill Gulliford deferred action on the three pieces of legislation and referred them back to the finance committee for further review. He said the matter would be taken up Aug. 13, the next Council meeting.

That left the two-week span for the deals to potentially change and the reason Sherman said he is stopping the review from his department.

"I could have someone spend a bunch of time analyzing, but I am not going to waste my people's time on constantly evolving deals," Sherman said.

Legislation to keep the site at Gateway was filed in February, followed by One Imeson legislation in March and Demetree Brothers in April.

All three bills were introduced after Council member Clay Yarborough filed legislation in December to authorize the design and construction of a consolidated elections office in LaVilla, which Brown opposed. The price was $8 million and later amended to $6 million before the measure was withdrawn.

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