Sons of Confederacy want to lease city building

City councilwoman proposes $1 lease in exchange for repairs, maintenance

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A city councilwoman wants to let the Sons of Confederate Veterans lease the old Duval County Armory on Market Street downtown for $1 per year in exchange for repairs and maintenance.

Councilwoman Kimberly Daniels sponsored an ordinance that give the group a 10-year lease on the building constructed in 1915-16, with the option for two five-year renewals. The agreement would have the group provide repairs and improvements, general maintenance, including mowing and landscaping, and providing insurance coverage as in-kind contributions in lieu of rent.

DOCUMENT: Ordinance 2013-384

The group is survivors of veterans of the Civil War who say they are not a racist group -- they have both white and black members and do community work around town.

Dave Nelson, who runs a Civil War shop on the Southside, is the past commander of the local chapter of the group. Nelson said the group is a civic origination and its goal is to maintain and defend Confederate heritage.

"There is no white supremacy there," Nelson said. "Our members are all good Americans and we do lots of good things, civic things for the city."

Nelson points to recent work at the old city cemetery, where the group was repairing grave markers for confederate soldiers and for others, black and white.

Nelson said the group would help keep the historic armory from falling into decay.

"We would have our meetings there," he said. "We would have exhibits there and it would be all militia pertaining to Florida as well as the U.S. It would not be all Civil War. We would also have World War II and so forth."

The idea is still troubling to some.

"I want that for any other organization but that," Gregory Williams said.

"It has political connotation," Claire Castellino added.

Some have concerns because the group's logo includes the confederate flag.

"We have no plans to put up a Confederate flag (at the armory), but if we did, I don't see that as a problem for those that understand what the Confederate flag is," Nelson said. "It's not a symbol of racism. It is not the symbol of the Ku Klux Klan. It's the battle flag of the soldier during the war carried. It's the cross of St. Andrew. It's a holy symbol. And what others have done to it, we condemn that."

Daniels has not responded to Channel 4's request for an interview. Council President Bill Gulliford says he has no problem with the group, but will look into the $1 lease agreement as the ordinance advances through council committees.

He said it's very interesting that a black councilwoman introduced the measure.

"I don't think that is the big issue," he said. "I think the big issue is, what is the city policy on allowing other entities using city property virtually at no cost?"

Historic building

In 1914 a $150,000 bond issue was floated to construct the Duval County Armory.. Upon its completion in 1916, the armory was reported to have Florida's largest military drill hall.

This fortress-like building was built to replace an armory destroyed in the 1901 fire.  It has battlemented towers and parapets, and a carved stone shield with the emblem of the Florida National Guard tops the central pavilion.

In 1962, the name of the Duval County armory was changed to the Maxwell G. Snyder Armory, honoring the commanding general of the National Guard's 48th Armored Division. In 1973 the city's Recreation and Public Affairs Department took over the old armory building next adjacent to Confederate/Klutho Park.

In the 1990s the city allowed emerging businesses and non-profit groups to use space in the building, but it was plagued by maintenance problems and occasional flooding.

The building has been vacant for many years. Last year, Mayor Alvin Brown briefly considering reopening a homeless center in the building.