City Council makes 'triple play' for Downtown

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Before the City Council embarked Tuesday evening on the marathon two-hour public hearing concerning the proposed 2011-12 City budget, the 19 members enacted three ordinances that paved the way for Downtown enhancements.

On the agenda was bringing a new “green” business to an empty retail space, an ordinance making it easier for businesses to enliven the streetscape in the entertainment area and an agreement to replace an unpaved surface parking lot with a new multilevel garage near the SunTrust Building and the Landing.

“It’s big,” said Downtown Vision Inc. Executive Director Terry Lorince of the “triple play.”

Ordinance 2011-494 authorizes the City to lease retail space for five years in the City-owned parking garage along West Adams Street near the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Main Library to the North Florida Chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council.

The not-for-profit organization intends to construct a sustainable building practices showroom, classroom and resource center in space on the ground floor.

The original proposal was for the organization to pay no rent or utility cost, but the agreement was amended to include a payment for utilities not to exceed $350 per month.

“We’re very happy,” said Sarah Boren, executive director of the council’s North Florida chapter.

She estimated the cost to completely build out the space at $500,000, not including in-kind donations for building materials that have already been committed.

Boren said the space will be constructed to LEED Platinum standards with no-emission and recycled materials.

The design concept for the facility will be established through a charrette today at the Ed Ball Building. The plans then will be submitted for review and approval to the Jacksonville Economic Development Commission’s Downtown Development Review Board, she said.

“We want to get rolling quickly and get the center to the community,” said Boren.

Asked about the choice of location for the center, Boren said there was never a question that it had to be Downtown.

“Downtown is inherently green because of its density. We couldn’t be in the suburbs or at the beach. We can create a destination Downtown,” she said.

Council also enacted legislation to change the name of the “Bay Street Town Center Entertainment Zone” to the “E-Town Zone” and to allow outdoor seating in the public rights-of-way in the designated area.

The affected area is along Bay Street from Ocean to Liberty streets; along Forsyth Street from Main to Liberty streets; along Adams Street from Newnan to Main streets; along Ocean from Bay to Adams; along Newnan from Bay to Forsyth; and along Market from Bay to Forsyth.

The purpose of the ordinance is to allow bars as well as cafes and restaurants to apply for and be granted sidewalk cafe permits adjacent to their business.

The annual permit fee for operating a sidewalk cafe or bar within the zone was set at $250 to be collected by the Tax Collector and deposited into the JEDC’s revenue account to cover the cost of administering the ordinance.

“We support anything that encourages people to come Downtown and enjoy the street,” said Lorince.

The third ordinance enacted authorizes the execution of an economic development agreement between the City and Parador Partners LLC for the construction of a 500-space parking garage on the southeast corner of Bay and Hogan streets.

Also included is a grant from the City to Parador for $3.5 million and the requirement that 200 of the parking spaces be designated for the use of patrons at the Landing. The grant will not be released until the garage is open.

Also included is a “parking validation program grant” from the City to Parador of up to $132,250 per year beginning in the sixth year after the opening of the garage and continuing until March 13, 2031, for a total maximum City grant of $1,587,000 for the parking validation program.

That part of the agreement is contingent upon the approval of Jacksonville Landing Investments LLC, owners and operators of the Landing, and JLI’s release of its present right to construct its own parking garage and receive similar City incentives.

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