Renew Arlington will pump money into community, 'bring life back to an area that really needs it'

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On a spring day in April 2014, just 14 months after taking the presidency of Jacksonville University, Tim Cost divulged after a business-club meeting on campus that he had a bigger vision for Arlington.

That vision was to play a role in revitalizing the long-established but struggling area surrounding the then 80-year-old liberal-arts college.

Cost, a JU graduate with executive global experience and an energetic local drive, acknowledged he had been working for some time with Mayor Alvin Brown, Office of Economic Development CEO Ted Carter and other agencies to develop the vision.

The collective mission even had a name — “Operation Dolphin,” reflecting JU’s mascot and the marine life in the St. Johns River that bordered the campus.

This morning, Operation Dolphin formally surfaced as “Renew Arlington.”

Brown, Cost, City Council members and others announced that Brown’s “Renew Jax” initiative, launched in November, would be expanded to Arlington and an area including the JU campus at 2800 University Blvd. N.

“Arlington still has a lot going for it,” Brown said this morning, referring to an area considered Jacksonville’s first suburb for young executives, thanks to the completion of the Mathews Bridge in April 1953.

“Arlington has all the ingredients to build a better future,” he said.

The goal is to parlay redevelopment of taxable property within the area into community improvements.

To do that, a part of Arlington will be designated as a Community Redevelopment Area with a Redevelopment Trust Fund.

Over 20 years, new revenues generated from increased property values in the redevelopment boundaries would be dedicated to economic development, housing, infrastructure and other projects that benefit the area.

The “University Boulevard/Merrill Road Corridor Redevelopment Area Plan” would create a Tax Increment Financing District.

The proposed boundaries include the 200-acre JU campus and surrounding area, stretching south along University Boulevard to the Town & Country Shopping Center and the Arlington Expressway and east along Merrill Road to the Interstate 295 East Beltway.

State law requires a specific process to create a CRA. The city expects City Council approval of the study by year-end.

City spokesman David DeCamp said the baseline property values are set when the CRA is established. If the CRA is established in December, then the increase in the taxes due for 2016 would be the increment.

That means the incremental dollars for investment back into the CRA would be generated after the first taxing year.

Brown’s office said the city will fund the development of the CRA plan, which will incorporate past studies and efforts to create a blueprint for roadway improvements, sidewalks, landscaping, lighting, utilities, signage, retail revitalization and housing redevelopment, according to the project’s outline.

The city said it is in the planning and engineering phase of the study.

Paul Crawford, deputy director of the Office of Economic Development, said the city has issued a Request for Proposals for a consultant to develop a plan.

Renew Arlington will be more than TIF financing. Along with the city and JU, the work will include the Jacksonville Transportation Authority, JEA, Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office and Florida Department of Transportation, along with community leaders, businesses, residents and the faith community.

“The city can’t do it alone,” Brown said. The goal is to “bring life back to an area that really needs it.”

Renew Jax is designed to empower and revitalize key Jacksonville neighborhoods and corridors through public-private partnerships, according to the city. Brown said Renew Arlington is the culmination of 12 months of work and community input.

Council President Clay Yarborough, whose district includes the area, said the CRA is a partnership with JU, the city and Arlington stakeholders. “It really has the potential to start a positive ripple effect throughout the community,” he said.

Council member John Crescimbeni, an at-large member and Arlington resident, said he moved to town in 1965, when University Boulevard was a strong residential and commercial corridor.

“The families that have been in Arlington for decades have seen their communities change,” he said. Renew Arlington is a step toward returning the CRA part of the area to its former glory, he said.

“Don’t think the folks that live in Arlington aren’t proud,” he said.

Today’s announcement also is just several days past Cost’s second anniversary at JU’s helm as president. He took the post Feb. 1, 2013.

Cost has been busy.

He has launched more than $27 million in JU improvements already. According to the city, JU’s investments include completion of a 30,000-square-foot College of Health Sciences building on campus; a $1.5 million renovation of the new River House student center; current construction of a 277-bed student residence hall north of campus; the acquisition of about 40 acres of adjacent riverfront land south of the campus; and improvements to laboratories, campus dining amenities, study spaces and athletic facilities.

Some of those improvements could be included in the CRA. While JU is a tax-exempt organization, some of its developments or associated projects could be included, such as the residence hall, which is on private property.

Cost said Wednesday that JU’s investment in its campus could be the catalyst for more private development within the CRA, which then would contribute to the tax-increment fund.

“There are private investors who are becoming very interested in Arlington,” he said.

Because the residence hall is on privately owned property, its property tax increases above the baseline value could become part of the increment.

Karen Nasrallah, redevelopment manager at the city Office of Economic development, said the Dolphin Residence Hall conceivably could generate $90,000 or more a year for the Tax Increment Financing fund.

Also, the residence hall is being developed within a larger piece of property privately owned by a JU trustee, Greg Nelson. That site is expected to be developed for more university-related uses.

Meanwhile, a JU capital campaign is designed to continue funding more improvements.

JU was founded in 1934 in Downtown as a junior college offering night classes. It soon became a four-year, co-ed institution and moved to Arlington in the early 1950s. It now has more than 4,000 students.

Upon taking the JU presidency, Cost announced the $85 million ASPIRE campaign to raise funds for campus improvements, scholarships and an endowment. That was reset to $120 million because of expanded priorities.

“Jacksonville University is committed to Arlington. We’re investing in Arlington,” he said.

Cost, who several speakers at a morning news conference referred to as “dynamo,” said when he attended JU as a baseball player from 1977-81, he found Arlington to be “the most beautiful area.”

By the time he returned 32 years later to take the presidency, Arlington had changed.

He pledged to work with the city and community to improve the area.

“I have been surprised how receptive people are to the concept that Arlington can be great again,” he said.


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