Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Steakhouse Investor's Beef with City Goes on; Mayor Steps into Building Issue Rift

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Steakhouse Investor's Beef with City Goes on; Mayor Steps into Building Issue Rift

Article excerpt

Byline: David Bauerlein

The long quest to turn a century-old, downtown Jacksonville building into an upscale steak restaurant called Cowford Chophouse has gone through Historic Preservation Commission meetings, City Council sessions, courthouse hearings, and construction delays.

The action moved last week to a City Hall conference room, where Mayor Lenny Curry convened a meeting of top officials from his staff, JEA, and the investor behind the multimillion-dollar renovation to work through the latest flare-up.

The gathering came after Jacques Klempf, whose group bought the abandoned building in 2014, fired off emails to Curry that accused JEA of being a "total detriment to downtown redevelopment" in his dispute with JEA over whether its underground utility equipment poses a risk to the foundation of his building.

The oven-hot rhetoric cooled somewhat in wake of that meeting.

"Everybody is working toward an amicable solution," said Natalie DeYoung, spokeswoman for Cowford Chophouse.

Taxpayers have a financial stake in the place. The city provided a $500,000 grant and a $250,000 loan in 2014 for the work. Cowford Chophouse LLC is pouring millions of its own money into the renovations.

Curry said when Klempf sent him the angry emails, he decided to get everybody in the same room because the city needs to do what it can to promote private investment, whether it's in downtown or elsewhere.

"We want government to be an ally, not an obstacle," he said.

The meeting, whose attendees included JEA Chief Executive Officer Paul McElroy and city Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa, didn't entirely resolve the dispute. But Curry said the meeting put a framework in place for further talks while the renovation stays on track.

The original target date for opening the restaurant was summer 2016, but the renovation is taking far longer. …

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