City makes a Fair deal

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  • | 12:00 p.m. December 11, 2001
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by Mike Sharkey

Staff Writer

The final pieces of the $150 million Sports Complex puzzle are falling into place.

All of the former residential property has been acquired and cleared. The new trolley lot is almost complete and demolition of the old lot and station will happen soon. Ground has been broken on the $125 million arena and today home plate was to be planted for the new $25 million baseball park.

For the most part, all of this has gone smoothly for Mayor John Delaney and the Better Jacksonville Plan team. Virtually all of the displaced residents are better off today than they were before the City started buying their homes. However, the folks with the Greater Jacksonville Agricultural Fair haven’t had it so easy.

The only real sticking point in the land acquisition process has been the Fairgrounds and the location of their warehouse. After months of negotiations, the City has reached an agreement with the Fair’s organizers to build the Fair a brand new warehouse in exchange for moving the new warehouse. The deal allows the City to acquire the last major parcel of land for the Sports Complex and the Fair gets a new warehouse.

Sounds like a win-win situation. It is, sort of. Fair General Manager Gary Roegner said he’s happy to be getting a new warehouse, but, truthfully, there’s no need for a new one.

“Certainly, we’d rather stay where we are,” said Roegner. “I guess progress dictates that change is coming. There is nothing wrong with the existing warehouse. If it was 100 years old, it would certainly be advantageous. But, it’s still a good, usable facility.”

The current warehouse was built 11 years ago and will remain at its present location until at least next fall. Today, it occupies space on the west side of A. Philip Randolph Boulevard. In a little over a year, it will move east, across Randolph Blvd. and closer to the Fair’s other facilities, and the old site will become either a parking garage or a surface lot for both the arena and ball park.

“We’ll probably build the new one after next year’s fair; maybe in November,” said Roegner.

The City’s Chief Administrative Officer, Sam Mousa, said the financial deal worked out satisfies both sides.

“We agreed to give them fair market value for the old one and we hope that’s enough to build a new one,” said Mousa, adding the deal was necessary in order to attain congruity. “It will keep the arena complex within its own envelope without any intrusion.”

The new warehouse will be very similar to the old one: a 12,000 square-foot facility that holds everything from chairs to booths to the Fair’s offices.

“It’ll be pretty much identical,” said Roegner. “We will build it ourselves, but I don’t know how much it will cost. We are in the process of getting the numbers together.”

“They can’t tear it down until the new one is built,” he said. “We don’t have anything in writing, but the City has allowed us to go through next year’s Fair. Construction of the new warehouse shouldn’t take long, maybe two to three months. It’s not elaborate construction; concrete block on a concrete slab and steel.”

Neither Roegner nor anyone else associated with the Fair wanted to give in to the City and tear down a perfectly good, functioning warehouse, especially since it was built long before the Better Jacksonville Plan was conceived. But, Roegner said, he’s okay with the decision.

“Overall, we are making the best of the situation,” conceded Roegner. “That’s what it amounts to.”