Finance committee OKs $2M more for Riverwalk

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Amid criticism of Jacksonville's mayor for leaving City Council in the dark about lack of funds to build the last 900 feet of the Southbank Riverwalk, the finance committee on Tuesday morning unanimously approved increasing the budget to $17 million.

The authorization must be approved by the full City Council next week.

In 2010, the city set aside $15 million for the project replacing the crumbling wooden structure built in the 1980s with a concrete structure. That price tag is now at $17 million.

Last summer, Channel 4 reported the city did not have funding to rebuild about 900 feet of the Riverwalk leading to the Duval County School Board building. The City Council was never informed about that change, even after Channel 4's reports.

Council members recently caught wind of that and had the city find an extra $2 million to finish it.

"I think all of my colleagues are ready to get this thing done," Councilman Don Redman said.

Last week, Councilman John Crescimbeni had plenty of questions for the builder and the city's Public Works Department. He said he was very upset by what he's hearing about the price tag changing.

"What I am most concerned about is a complete breakdown in the city operations of how all of this happened," Crescimbeni said Tuesday. "A breakdown in the mayor's office from moving forward when they knew they did not have enough money to complete the project; a breakdown in the Public Works Department, including the director to communicate not only to the finance committee but the full City Council what the total cost was to finish the project."

"It's difficult  to keep everyone up to speed all the time," said Jim Robinson, the head of Public Works. "We have learned some lessons from this. And I know in Public Works we are augmenting some of our project communications procedures to address some of the criticism received."

Other council members don't blame Public Works. They are pointing fingers at the mayor and the fact that his office decided to cut back on the project.

"What he did is cut out 900 feet," Councilman Matt Schellenberg said. "What he should have done is taken a leadership role and said we need this and find the money to extend this and make it what it should be -- a beautification of the river. And I'm disappointed that we have to take the leadership role and find the money to actually do it."

The mayor's office issued a statement to "further address your question about interactions with certain council members and city staff today."

"We appreciate the partnership to complete the enhanced Southbank Riverwalk displayed by Council members Denise Lee, Reggie Brown and Don Redman. The destructive approach by a few other Council members provides little benefit to our residents and quality of life," said spokesman David DeCamp.

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