Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Money for Downtown Faces New Challenge; Council Finance Committee Pulls Downtown Investment Authority's $9 Million

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Money for Downtown Faces New Challenge; Council Finance Committee Pulls Downtown Investment Authority's $9 Million

Article excerpt

Byline: Steve Patterson

A Jacksonville City Council panel acted Friday to take back $9 million the city earmarked this year for the Downtown Investment Authority, saying that money may be needed to cover big-ticket bills in the 2014 budget.

The council's Finance Committee also voted to strip $2 million from a countywide economic development fund and set aside the combined $11 million for capital projects, such as road paving. That would in effect reverse legislation the council approved in March, when it backed Mayor Alvin Brown's plan for using money that came from refinancing city bonds at lower interest rates.

Although the authority had used none of the money, and legally couldn't before completing a downtown plan that's still being drafted, boosters said that just knowing the cash was there had helped focus developers' interest.

"If you can, just let the money sit there, because it's creating some buzz," authority member Mike Saylor appealed to members of the council Finance Committee.

Saylor said later there had been "momentum building for a downtown renaissance," and that the authority couldn't let losing that money derail it. "The real end game is the strength of our commitment to succeed," he said.

Hours after the vote, authority chairman Oliver Barakat scheduled a special board meeting for 2:30 p.m. Wednesday at City Hall to talk through the decision, which still requires action by the full council to take effect.

Just the prospect of the council taking back the money could impair plans for some projects, Barakat said, giving as an example "detailed discussions" the city has held about the future of the Laura Trio, landmark buildings on the Northbank.

"Investors hate uncertainty. We don't know at this time what message to give to potential developers downtown," he said.

"If the City Council does end up ratifying this recommendation," Barakat said, "... one has to question the city of Jacksonville's sincerity in downtown revitalization. …

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