In her first address to the NAIOP Commercial Real Estate Development Association Northeast Florida Chapter as mayor-elect, Donna Deegan said June 8 that neglected infrastructure and slow permitting should no longer be a barrier to private development in Jacksonville.
Deegan told the private-sector development professionals at The River Club Downtown that she wants to increase the number of employees in the city’s Office of General Counsel focused on permits and contracts, as well as fix the city’s roads, sidewalks and drainage.
“I feel like we really have done a disservice to our commercial developers by kicking the can down the road on a lot of infrastructure that we should be doing,” Deegan said.
“It’s hard to convince folks to come in and build if they’re dealing with drainage issues and flooding issues and issues like sidewalks that are cracked and bulkheads that are falling apart. And we need to make sure we’re taking a close inventory of all those things.”
Elected May 16 and taking office July 1, Deegan repeated what she said on the campaign trail: Her economic development policy will be tailored to growing small business, which she says makes up 80% of the city’s employment base.
Deegan said she spoke with other mayors at the recent U.S. Conference of Mayors in Columbus, Ohio, about ways to streamline construction permitting using technology.
She said she has not reviewed staffing in Jacksonville’s permitting office, but she would consider more staff or shifting existing personnel in the general counsel’s office to focus on the issue.
Deegan said she was surprised that city attorneys only had one person dedicated to permitting and development contracts.
“That’s not going to do it for a city of our size,” Deegan told news reporters after the event.
“There needs to be more than one person writing contracts.”
Stadium and the Downtown jail
Deegan didn’t offer many new details about two of the largest upcoming infrastructure projects facing the city — the proposed TIAA Bank Field stadium renovations proposed by the Jacksonville Jaguars and relocating the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office Pre-Trial Detention Facility - the jail - out of Downtown.
The Jaguars announced a $2 billion public-private investment plan June 7 to renovate the stadium and build a mixed-use neighborhood in the sports district.
Deegan said she had been briefed by the Jaguars and outgoing Mayor Lenny Curry administration officials on the stadium “footprint” before it was released earlier this week.
“I have to say that, all of the talk about they’re trying to put her (me) in a box, I just think they were ready to release this and they did.”
Deegan praised the Jaguars for honoring her request to have “community huddles” to share the plans with the public. The NFL team intends to hold 14 events throughout the city beginning June 12, according to the Jaguars development website, 1stDowntownJacksonville.com.
Deegan said the pending stadium negotiations would likely mean the jail will not be a first-year priority. She said City Council will be conducting a study on how to move and pay for that project.
Incoming Council President Ron Salem told Daily Record news partner WJXT TV-4 News4Jax.com on June 7 that moving the jail will be one of his budget priorities, and Deegan’s transition team said June 8 they have had budget conversations with Salem.
Curry included a $244.59 million line item for the relocation in his five-year, 2023-27 Capital Improvement Plan under a “beyond 5” year category.
Deegan told NAIOP members these projects “shouldn’t be about political infighting.”
“I would like to disabuse any of you of any idea the Democrats do not like to know about or do not care about development,” she said.
“It is a big priority for me.”