DIA votes to spend $18M for land for private development

1 city councilman says wants tough questions answered before approval

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A major decision taken Wednesday to spend millions of dollars of taxpayer money to help a major private development planned for the Southbank to get off the ground.

The Downtown Investment Authority gave its approval to spend $18 million to buy land owned by JEA that is to be developed into The District.

The proposed $433 million development will build homes, apartments and businesses along the riverfront focused on healthy lifestyles on the site that was once the JEA's Southside Generating Station.

The developer, Elements of Jacksonville, spearheaded by prominent businessman Peter Rummell, still plans to purchase the property, but some years down the road. It is asking the city to buy the land now so Elements can spend $18 million on site improvements prior to construction.

UNCUT: Drone video of land set to become The District

"The economics of this deal, when you pay $18.5 million for the land, and you have to do what we have to do, doesn't stand up if you don’t have some municipal help. The numbers just don’t work," Rummell said.

Despite controversy about the city buying property for a private developer, DIA board members voted unanimously to approve the complicated mortgage deal with JEA.

Skeptics fear the city could get burned again, as they did when a 2001 plan to develop the shipyards property across the river failed, costing the city millions and prompting a grand jury investigation. 

Those involved with The District deal said there are protections in place to keep that from happening.

At least one councilman said he needs some answers before he would vote to spend public money on land for a private project.

"I've asked the council president to set up a special committee to actually ask the hard questions and get those answers," Councilman Matt Schellenberg said. "I don't think that a four-hour DIA meeting has satisfied me in getting the details that are required.

The District land and mortgage deal could go to City Council in March. 

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