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Jax Daily Record Thursday, Sep. 7, 201707:00 AM EST

The Cawton Report: ‘State of Downtown’ shows billions in projects

Downtown Vision report took longer to put together “because there’s so much going on.”
by: David Cawton Associate Editor

The Downtown Investment Authority has provided $30 million for Downtown projects in the past 18 months, according to a report released Wednesday by the nonprofit Downtown Vision Inc.

“The State of Downtown” gives a snapshot of progress in the urban core.

From January 2016 through June 2017, DVI found that 33 projects have been completed with a private investment of $84 million.

Another $826 million in “active” projects, or those under construction, also were started.

DVI is a nonprofit that markets and represents property owners in the 90-block Business Improvement District in Downtown Jacksonville.

The report also lists 13 proposed projects with an estimated investment value of $1.12 billion.

Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan’s Shipyards proposal and The District, proposed by developers Peter Rummell and Michael Munz, account for most of that.

“This report took us much longer to put together this year because there’s so much going on,” said DVI CEO Jake Gordon. “That’s a sign of progress.”

He said projects that have been in the works for years finally are starting, such as the Laura Street Trio and Barnett Bank building development.

“You don’t get much more transformative than that,” Gordon said.

DIA is an economic development agency that oversees planned development for Downtown. It’s made up of seven board members appointed by the mayor and the City Council president.

The DIA along with council approved $9.8 million in local incentives to push the $90 million Trio and Barnett project into production after years of planning.

DIA CEO Aundra Wallace called the incentives package a shrewd business investment by the city, and a necessary step to get the project going.

In June, council approved the incentives that hinge on developer Steve Atkins’ ability to finish the project within 60 months.

“Most if not all cities are providing that push on some level,” said Wallace. “We’re making the investments where we’re not putting public sector dollars at risk to do so.”

Those incentives are typically tied to the completion of a project or paid out over several years in the form of grants or property tax rebates.

Part of that development will address one of the biggest needs in Downtown outlined in the report — housing.  

There are 4,100 residential units in the urban core, with another 500 in development according to the report. Another 2,800 units are projected.

Gordon said growing Downtown into a residential neighborhood will be what drives more retail and amenities to the area.

“Developers want to make sure they can get their return on investment if they open a drugstore or a grocery store,” said Gordon.  

While housing continues to flourish on the Southbank and in the Brooklyn area of Downtown, Gordon said he’s confident the Northbank will catch up.

The city also is trying to entice local universities to move some of their programming Downtown, too.

Jacksonville University will soon offer courses Downtown and Florida State College of Jacksonville is renovating the historic Lerner building into student housing and use for its culinary program.

Wallace said his next goal is to lure the University of North Florida to do the same.

‘Selling Jacksonville’

Gordon said the report will be used as a marketing tool to recruit investors.   

“We created this to educate people in Jacksonville and to educate people who may not know anything about Jacksonville,” Gordon said.

The report includes statistics about Downtown’s workforce, population and proximity to other parts of town.

For the DIA, recruiting investors to the urban core is a priority as is selling the idea that now is the time to invest in Jacksonville, “before it gets too hot.”

“What you don’t want to do as a developer is be in a situation where you’re trying to get into a market that’s already hot and you can’t get in,” Wallace said.

He said outside investors are starting to notice Jacksonville.  

“We have a sound, stable, public sector government that likes working with the development community,” said Wallace. “That goes a long way.”

Wallace also cautioned those who will try to compare Jacksonville to other cities, saying no two are identical.

“There is no silver bullet that you can use in one particular city and produce the same results as you did in another place,” he said.  

Wallace said Jacksonville is somewhat similar to where Detroit was a few years ago, in the sense that the DIA is trying to induce new development in the urban core.

“If you’ve been to Detroit recently, you’ll see things are moving, things are bustling again,” he said. “That wasn’t overnight.”

Jacksonville is no stranger to waiting for big developments to come to life, including Khan’s $500 million Shipyards proposal.

“It’s proceeding at the pace that I knew that it would and as I told the public that it would,” said Wallace.

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