Plan would relocate City Hall and the Public Safety Building from a busy dining and entertainment area with limited parking.
Neptune Beach would be a city on the move if Mayor Elaine Brown’s vision for the central business district becomes a reality.
Brown, serving her first term as mayor, said she is investigating whether to relocate City Hall and the Public Safety Building out of the central business district, also known as the Beaches Town Center, to a central location along Third Street.
Former Mayor Harriet Pruette also considered moving the city’s operations in 2016, but couldn’t gather enough support.
Now Brown is giving it another shot.
The city-owned properties are in the center of a flourishing dining and entertainment destination, where Atlantic Boulevard and Lemon and Orange streets meet First and Second Streets.
City Hall, built in 1998, is at 116 First St.
“We’re going to have to make some decisions here soon about how we want to invest in our community, and whether it’s financially beneficial to relocate or repair our existing facilities,” Brown said.
Brown said the 9,875-square-foot City Hall building needs repairs and the 70 full-time staff members need more space.
The Public Safety Building, home to the Neptune Beach Police Department and Animal Control, is at 200 Lemon St. in a 15,518-square-foot building.
Brown said moving the city operations would open the properties for private development, giving Neptune Beach another source of revenue.
“We’re sitting here with both of these buildings off the tax rolls in prime locations,” Brown said.
“I think there’s an opportunity to bring in some more revenue in the form of property taxes and sales taxes,” she said.
Brown said she had the buildings appraised and will present the findings to the Neptune Beach City Council in the coming weeks.
According to City Attorney Patrick Krechowski, the City Hall building was appraised for about $1.6 million. The Public Safety Building, built in 1996, appraised for about $2 million.
Brown said the land would probably sell for more, since the demand for space in the area is so great.
“I think that this is one of the hottest spots in Duval County,” she said. “We’ve got the ocean, shops and restaurants, and a great group of people living here to support new opportunities.”
Potential new locations for City Hall
Brown said City Manager Andrew Hyatt is looking at properties where the city could relocate along Third Street, near Jarboe Park and the Neptune Beach library branch.
She said the preference is to use city-owned properties but private properties also might need to be sought.
The move, she said, also would enhance the public’s access to city services, which she said is hurt by a lack of city-owned parking spots.
“The biggest complaint we have is that there isn’t anywhere to park when people want to do business with the city or to attend a City Council meeting,” Brown said.
She said a central location with more parking “would be a tremendous value to the public.”
Parking, she said isn’t just an issue for those doing business with at City Hall, but a “crisis” for the entire area.
“More people are visiting from other parts of Jacksonville, and it can be very difficult for them to find a spot,” she said.
While new development could further strain the area’s limited parking, Brown said her vision includes adding spaces by working with landowners to use two privately owned parking lots nearby for green space and a parking garage.
Brown said she would like to see the 90-space parking lot between Atlantic Boulevard and Lemon Street turned into a green space and promenade.
That lot, at 233 Atlantic Blvd., is surrounded by restaurants, the police department and City Hall.
The city owns six parking spaces there. The rest are owned by Southcoast Capital Partnership Ltd.
Southcoast also owns the parking lot at the corner of Second and Lemon streets, which Brown said could be turned into a parking garage.
“We’re also considering some metered parking,” she said.
Brown said she’s had “very preliminary” talks with the area’s larger property owners, but nothing official has been discussed.
Council members, land owners to weigh in
Edward Skinner Jones, who owns other developments in the area, said he’s not sure what to think about the idea.
“I’m all for the concept of making the area more pedestrian-friendly with less cars, but I’d need to see some more detailed plans to really give an opinion,” Jones said.
He said the mayor shared her concepts with him a few months ago, but that “without a plan of action, it was hard for me to react one way or another.”
Jones said he’s also not sure a parking garage is necessary, given that younger people are using other means of transportation to come to the area.
“You can ride your bike, use a golf cart or any of the driving services to get here,” Jones said. “I think instead of looking for old solutions to this problem, we need to look at new ideas, and those don’t seem to require a big parking garage.”
Jones said he has confidence Brown would take everyone’s opinion into consideration, and added that “she’s a great person who supports the business community.”
Neptune Beach City Council members would need to weigh in as well.
Brown said she previously shared her ideas with council members and that “they’ve been open to the ideas.”
Seat 4 council member Richard Arthur said he could see the vision take shape, “but only under the right circumstances.”
“This is going to take private developers to buy in and it would need to be a consolidated effort,” he said.
Arthur said if the city wants to move forward it would need to do so with the guidance of private developers.
“We would need to get an RFP (request for proposals) out there to make sure it’s done right,” he said.
Arthur said an RFP would ensure that the city “isn’t in the business of designing private development.”
He’s also skeptical about how much revenue would be created in the long run by selling the city-owned property.
“Some see it as an underperforming asset, but I don’t,” he said.
He said Neptune Beach only receives a minimal amount of property taxes, since most of it goes to Duval County.
For every dollar the city collects in property taxes, 43.7 percent goes to the city of Jacksonville, 36.5 percent to Duval County Schools, and 18.1 percent stays in Neptune Beach.
The remaining 1.7 percent goes to water management and Florida inland navigation.
Moreover, Arthur said he would prefer City Hall stay put or else relocate near Jarboe Park or other city-owned facilities.
“I definitely don’t want to see City Hall moved into a random strip mall with no character.” he said. “That’s not a good idea.”
Brown said a plan could be developed over the next 18 months, but that any real movement is years away.
“We may find out that, economically, it’s too expensive to relocate the buildings,” Brown said.
“If we can provide better services for the people who live here, and not raise taxes to do so, then I think people will support it.”
Brown said any plan would need the support of council members and private developers.
“We’re going to get good advice from commercial developers who are familiar with the area to make sure we’re doing this the right way, if in fact that is what we end up doing,” she said.
It’s “just a vision for now.”