Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Jones, Lee Back Hotel for Future

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Jones, Lee Back Hotel for Future

Article excerpt

Jacksonville taxpayers who are uneasy about spending $17.7

million to back a convention center hotel downtown should

imagine how longtime City Council representatives Denise Lee and

Warren Jones feel.

After all, they are playing with their constituents' money,

too.

Some of the neighborhoods that Lee and Jones represent just

north of downtown are among the city's poorest, with

unemployment rates that top 8 percent.

Of the $17.7 million for the hotel, $2 million came from a

trust fund earmarked for entrepreneurs or business redevelopment

within those areas. Another $1.5 million came from federal funds

that could have been used for drainage and street repair.

But Lee and Jones rolled the dice anyway. They voted last month

to include those funds in the package that developer Bucky

Clarkson and Interstate Hotels Corp. will use to build a

400-room hotel near the Prime Osborn Convention Center.

For them, the bigger picture buried any butterflies.

Both Lee and Jones know that much of the neglect that began to

plague neighborhoods in their districts accelerated when

downtown began to decline in the late 1970s.

The jobs left, and the people who were able to leave followed.

If the hotel, with its promise of at least 400 jobs and the

possibility of spin-off businesses such as restaurants and

shops, can begin to reverse some of the blight and its

accompanying social ills in the area, then all city taxpayers

will win big, they say.

"There are those [constituents] who have expressed that

[concern] to me, of why we are paying for a hotel when they have

drainage problems," Lee said.

"But everyone knows that a hotel can provide the kinds of jobs

that all people can aspire to, from lower-wage to management

jobs.

". . . I am hoping that the owners of the hotels will be

partners, and will help to revitalize some of these

neighborhoods."

Jones said that history fueled his decision.

"Those of us who know Jacksonville historically know that

Brooklyn, LaVilla, Springfield, and other areas flourished, in

large part, because of jobs downtown," Jones said. …

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