Downtown Plan Nearing Fruition Council Expected to Close Deal

Article excerpt

JACKSONVILLE BEACH -- Breathing life into blighted downtown

Jacksonville Beach may soon depend on a redevelopment plan that

some are selling as a last, best opportunity, while others

complain much more could be done.

The City Council is expected to take its first official action

to close a deal that has been two years in the making and

follows decades of false starts. The council was scheduled to

meet last night in a workshop session to discuss the proposal.

The downtown redevelopment project involves a $5.75 million

investment in a new city hall, police station and festival are

-- and carry the promise of oceanfront restaurants and lodging

-- aimed at spurring development in the neglected business

district.

Mayor Bill Latham recalls past redevelopment plans that did

everything from threaten condemnation on downtown property

owners to sending city officials in pursuit of a gold mine.

"That made us look so foolish," Latham said of a proposed 1993

deal that offered the city $38 million in collateral backed by

unrefined gold concentrate. "We don't want to fool around with

anyone like that anymore."

Two firms -- The Haskell Co. and Sleiman Enterprises --

represent a development team that can be trusted, Latham said.

The two companies submitted the plan being considered by the

council.

"We wanted some firms that were capable," Latham said.

Others, however, say the city could do the development without

committing to a deal that gives the Haskell/Sleiman group

options to purchase city-owned property at Beach Boulevard and

Third Street.

"Basically, there's no redevelopment going on except the city

building some buildings and trading some land to have a festival

or whatever," Councilman Wilmer Clark said. "We need to get out

of the redevelopment business."

As part of the deal, the city is getting a $1.8 million police

station at Shetter Avenue and Penman Road, and a $2.2 million

city hall and $329,000 plaza in the downtown while paying other

costs in a deal that offers roughly seven acres of land to

Haskell/Sleiman at current appraised values.

"It's some of the most valuable land in North Florida," said

Clark, who has announced plans to run for mayor in the fall.

And Clark said, Jacksonville Beach had to finance the deal.

Money to pay for the construction by The Haskell Co. …