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Jax Daily Record Thursday, Oct. 24, 201905:10 AM EST

The Mendenhall Report: Historic Preservation and Revitalization Trust Fund debated

Council member wants to replenish the fund while DIA chief says a finite balance sends "a bad message."
by: Mike Mendenhall Staff Writer

Since 2017, the Downtown Historic Preservation and Revitalization Trust Fund has operated like other city-backed financial incentives programs. 

The grant money is not awarded until the developer satisfies the terms of its redevelopment agreement with the city after project completion.

Like a completion grant or Recaptured Enhanced Value grant, money is not set aside and earmarked for the project the day a historic preservation grant is approved.

But when City Council created the historic preservation trust fund in 2002, $10 million was set aside for adaptive reuse projects in Downtown.

Today, that money is nearly gone and a debate is unfolding about the “award now and find the money later” policy.

Group 4 At-Large City Council member Matt Carlucci wants to replenish the fund and sequester the dollars awarded to Downtown historic adaptive reuse projects.

Council member Matt Carlucci

“Refreshing the fund lends credibility and public policy to our commitment to Downtown,” Carlucci wrote last week in a letter to Downtown Investment Authority board member Oliver Barakat.

Carlucci filed Ordinance 2019-747 on Oct. 8 that would shift $1.55 million from the General Service District fund into the trust, which had a $820,000 balance at the end of fiscal year 2018-19.

The bill also lists Council members Michael Boylan and Randy DeFoor as co-authors, and members Ju’Coby Pittman, Joyce Morgan, Brenda Priestly Jackson and Council Vice President Tommy Hazouri as co-sponsors.

DIA CEO Lori Boyer thinks setting a finite trust balance would send “a bad message” to developers and the marketplace.

She said it creates a perceived limit of the program’s capability to finance projects and deters developers from taking on adaptive reuse projects.

“I definitely think those are important to us and some that we want to encourage and see happen to the maximum degree possible,” Boyer said during the Oct. 16 board meeting.

She solidified her position in an Oct. 15 memo to the DIA board and the Council.

“I am concerned that any specific allocation at this point may communicate a limit to what is available for projects in a given year,” Boyer wrote. “I want to encourage all potential developers who may want to renovate a historic building to apply for whatever amount of funding they qualify for under the guidelines in the code.”

As Council president in 2001, Carlucci organized a task force to address vacant and deteriorating Downtown buildings, which led to the trust.

“When you don’t have money in that trust fund it signals to me that our city is uncertain on the value we place on these historic buildings,” Carlucci said.

In his letter, Carlucci said the 2001 task force knew “the initial appropriation had a finite life and would need to be refreshed time and time again to attract new opportunities to restore our historic buildings.”

Bryan Greiner is president of Augustine Development Group Inc., the parent company of Axis Hotels LLC., which owns and intends to redevelop the Ambassador Hotel Downtown.

Built in 1922, the Ambassador Hotel will undergo a $6 million renovation to become a 127-room La Quinta Inn & Suites hotel. The six-story, almost 60,000-square-foot building will benefit from a $1.5 million Redevelopment Completion Grant from the trust fund. 

The deal involves demolishing a former bank building next door at 404 N. Julia St. for construction of 220 apartments.

 Greiner said Tuesday he thinks replenishing the fund would be positive for developers.

“Without that grant, I don’t think the project would have been viable,” he said.

Greiner said the city approved his building permit request, and the hotel redevelopment has received approval from Florida’s State Historic Preservation Office and the U.S. Department of the Interior.

He said hazardous mitigation and asbestos removal are complete and interior demolition is finished on the first through fifth floors.

Greiner hopes to begin primary construction within 10 days with a goal to reach substantial completion by September.

In January when Council approved the project’s redevelopment agreement, Greiner expected construction to take 14 months. 

Boyer said Oct. 16 that project schedules and the completion timeline can change and she worries that money kept in the trust could be perceived as earmarked and “encumbered” for previously approved projects, “implying an available amount.”

“I do not want a project or group of projects to be limited by a specific cash balance and believe it is important that the DIA be allowed to bring projects to Council for consideration on their merits,” Boyer wrote.

A public hearing for the bill at Tuesday’s Council meeting generated no debate. 

 “I thought this was a bill that would at least prime the pump. I’d like to see at least $10 million, but I don’t think the fund needs to have a set amount,” Carlucci said.

DIA adds two employees

The Downtown Investment Authority hired two employees after restructuring its staff positions in July during the 2019-20 budget process.

Boyer hired former City of St. Marys, Georgia, planner Lori Radcliffe-Meyers as DIA’s redevelopment coordinator.

Ina Mezini, former Pond & Company Inc. architectural and engineering firm marketing coordinator, is the DIA’s communications coordinator. 

Before her six months with St. Marys, Radcliffe-Meyers was a land use environmental planner with San Diego County, California. She replaces longtime city employee Jim Klement, who retired in May.

Both employees were offered a $51,539.59 starting salary, approved Oct. 7 by the Mayor’s Budget Review Committee.

A city document states Boyer is searching for a director of development, which will fill the DIA’s open staff positions.

The DIA board eliminated vacant planner and market analyst positions when it approved its 2019-20 administrative budgets and created the communications and real estate director positions.

Before the hires, DIA administrative staff operated with three people after Klement’s retirement — Boyer, Operations Manager Guy Parola and Executive Administrative Assistant Karen Underwood. 

Lot J environmental work wins approval 

The DIA approved a 60-day license Oct. 16 that allows developers to collect groundwater and soil samples from the TIAA Bank Field parking lot in preparation for Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan’s $450 million Lot J development.

The tests will allow developers to identify contaminants at the site.

The proposed development will include a 300-unit residential tower, a 200-room boutique hotel, a 120,000-square-foot Class A office tower and a Live! Entertainment District.

Before the project can begin, a development agreement with the terms of a $233.3 million city-backed incentives package must be approved by the DIA board and City Council.

Lot J developer Jacksonville I-C Parcel One Holding Company LLC expects to break ground on the project in January.

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