Council member suggests capping the Downtown Investment Authority’s funding and giving it autonomy

“Other downtowns don’t have 19 people weighing in on every deal,” Rory Diamond says.

  • By Ric Anderson
  • | 6:04 p.m. June 10, 2024
  • | 4 Free Articles Remaining!
Jacksonville City Council member Rory Diamond is vice chair of the Special Committee on the Future of Downtown.
Jacksonville City Council member Rory Diamond is vice chair of the Special Committee on the Future of Downtown.
  • Government
  • Share

The vice chair of a Jacksonville City Council special committee on Downtown redevelopment is proposing giving the Downtown Investment Authority a set amount of annual funding and granting it more independence to reduce layers of government involved in project approvals.

At a June 10 meeting of the Special Committee on the Future of Downtown, Council member Rory Diamond said he envisioned the DIA becoming an organization like the Jacksonville Transportation Authority, Jacksonville Aviation Authority and JaxPort.

Under its current structure, the DIA is semi-autonomous. It has its own board but requires Council approval for some of its actions, such as granting multimillion-dollar incentive packages to developers of large projects. 

Diamond said he envisioned the committee recommending omnibus legislation to reorganize the DIA.

“You can give it a budget, but not have politicians having their fingers in every decision they make,” he said. “That’s what I would like to do, to get the politicians and lobbyists out.”

Diamond said he believed too much public funding had been provided to developers of Downtown projects. 

“At least let’s cap it to a budget unless something really extraordinary happens,” he said. “Because then the DIA will allocate based on what they think is the highest priority without a bunch of politicians and lobbyists telling them what to do.” 

Diamond said granting autonomy to the DIA would shorten the time needed to get projects off the ground. DIA CEO Lori Boyer told the committee that it takes an average of four to seven months to move a deal from the starting point through the Council. 

“Time kills deals,” Diamond said. “Other downtowns don’t have 19 people weighing in on every deal.”

Council member Matt Carlucci, a non-member of the committee who sat in on the June 10 meeting, warned that giving the DIA a capped budget could “box them in” if a developer came forward with a project after the authority had spent down its annual budget. 

Diamond dismissed the concern.

“You can always come back to City Council if you have to have more money, but the whole point of giving them a low budget is to live within your budget,” he said. 

As is, he said, the approach is “just come to City Council and have them whip out the checkbook and they’ll give you whatever you want. And that’s not going to work.” 

The June 10 meeting yielded another possible recommendation for shortening the approval process. Boyer said bringing a staff attorney to the DIA would allow the authority to handle contracting and other legal issues involved in projects itself without having to rely on the city Office of General Counsel. She said delays often come during the period between the DIA board approving term sheets and fully drafted contracts being filed with Council.

“The Office of General Counsel has many clients and gets pulled away for other things,” she said. “Recently it’s been the stadium deal, but sometimes it’s something else. And that is an issue for us.”

A dedicated on-staff attorney also could help by becoming involved early in discussions with developers, said Boyer, an attorney who began her legal career specializing in land use and environmental law.

“When I was a practicing attorney, I always thought if I could understand what my client’s goal was, and understand what the other side’s goal was, it was much easier to get to the finish line than if all you understand are the terms that are written on the term sheet and you don’t know what they’re trying to achieve.” 

Council President Ron Salem formed the special committee to examine the DIA and elements involved in the progress of Downtown revitalization, which he described in a memo as “at best, debatable.” 

It first met on May 13. Committee chair Kevin Carrico said at the June 10 meeting that it was unlikely another meeting would be held until after the Council’s summer break during the first two weeks of July. 



Special Offer: $5 for 2 Months!

Your free article limit has been reached this month.
Subscribe now for unlimited digital access to our award-winning business news.