Council members: Use vacant buildings first

Members draft legislation to recycle city-owned buildings before building more


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – At a time when the city is making major cuts, some council members are trying to make sure the city isn't wasting a dime.

They want to make sure no new buildings get built when there are plenty of old vacant city buildings that could be used instead.

The issue is being brought to light by plans for a new Supervisor of Elections office. Some want to see a new building built on a site in LaVilla, while the mayor and others are pushing to use existing space.

Throughout Jacksonville, there are a number of buildings owned by the city that are sitting vacant, such as the old armory near downtown. The building has been suggested as a site for a new homeless shelter, but that was turned down when people in the neighborhood objected.

It's just one of many buildings the city has on the books that is not being used.

That's one reason why two City Council members drafted legislation to make sure these buildings will be recycled in a way. The legislation says council shall approve no appropriation for construction of a new public building or facility if there is an existing vacant public building or which is suitable for the proposed use.

City Council members want to make sure the city is exploring all options.

"It is something we ought to be doing anyway, identifying any vacant space or unused building in the city," councilman Clay Yarborough said in a phone interview. " We want to make sure we have them filled and occupied and all of that."

Supervisor of Elections Jerry Holland is pushing to move from the current site and says the city can save millions either by building a new building or using an existing building.

He says this legislation is a no-brainer.

"Well, I definitely support the legislation. It is just common sense," Holland said. "If you have buildings that are suitable, use those before you build something. Do I think it is necessary? Well, again, it's common sense. I don't think you need to legislate common sense, but maybe they need to."

That is the concern: to make sure the city is aware of what is actually available.

It's obvious the city owns the courthouse and it's vacant. But many may be surprised to know the city owns hundreds of other buildings that it is not aware of that are vacant. So it's trying to change that.

The city is planning an audit for later this year that will identify what is actually available and what is being used. Bottom line: it's a way to save money.

Holland says sometimes a new building can do that.

"If you can build a building that is actually cheaper and saves taxpayers money, less than a lease, then it's make sense to do it," Holland said.