Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

New Focus for Northwest Jacksonville Loans; 'Micro' Funding Designed to Stretch Resources for the Challenged Area

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

New Focus for Northwest Jacksonville Loans; 'Micro' Funding Designed to Stretch Resources for the Challenged Area

Article excerpt

Byline: David Bauerlein

In the past decade, the Northwest Jacksonville Economic Development Fund used a $25 million infusion from taxpayers to undertake big projects such as shopping centers and manufacturing operations in hard-pressed neighborhoods.

But with money in the fund dropping to less than $5 million, the city froze taking applications last year and is retooling the program so it will offer "micro loans" of $25,000 to $50,000.

The slimmed-down loans would diminish the impact of any single project. But the micro-loans would stretch the money left in the fund while seeding business growth, said Terrance Ashanta-Barker, director of the Neighborhoods Department.

The goal is "sustainability in the program for years to come," he said.

Established in 1986, the Northwest Jacksonville Economic Development Fund is aimed at sparking economic activity in a section of the city that suffers from high unemployment and poverty rates.

But some of the most costly deals flopped.

The latest blow came in 2012 when Wells Fargo foreclosed on the Shoppes at Norfolk, a shopping center at the corner of Soutel Drive and Norfolk Boulevard. In 2007, the City Council approved giving the developer, Kmack LLC, a $584,952 grant and $877,429 loan to renovate the rundown shopping center whose only tenant was a nightclub.

The cornerstone of the redevelopment was the opening of a Bravo supermarket, but it closed in 2008 after being open just 10 months. The shopping center's current tenants are a Family Dollar, a beauty supply store and a pharmacy. Two-thirds of the 52,500-square-foot center is vacant.

The city is seeking to recover the loan it made to Kmack.

City officials have been reviewing the fund since last year when they suspended taking new applications.

City Councilman Warren Jones, who met with city administrators about the freeze, said the program has been a valuable tool for northwest Jacksonville.

"My biggest concern was that nothing was happening," he said. "Nobody was getting anything."

The micro-loans will be ready to launch by the fall, Ashanta-Barker said.

The $2. …

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