JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – As contractors prepare to implode the former City Hall building on Sunday morning, scores of people are reminded of their experiences in the 15-floor building that was the seat of Jacksonville's government for nearly 50 years.
Many of those with strong memories are three of the city's former mayors: Jake Godbold, Tommy Hazouri and John Delaney.
Jake Godbold (1979-1987)
Of all the elected officials in Jacksonville, Jake Godbold probably spent more time in the East Bay Street City Hall than anybody. He served two terms on the pre-consolidation Jacksonville City Council, then time as an at-large councilman after 1968 before serving 8½ years in the mayor's office.
The city grew rapidly under Godbold's leadership. The Mayo Clinic opened in Jacksonville, the old train station was converted into the Prime Osborn Convention Center, The Jacksonville Landing opened on the Northbank and the Southbank Riverwalk was built.
One memory may stand out above all the others: trying to convince the Baltimore Colts to relocate to Jacksonville.
"Colt Fever almost accidentally, and it turned out to be very, very important to Jacksonville," Godbold said. "At the time we were making it happen, I had mixed emotions about whether or not we ought to do that."
Neither Godbold nor anyone else would have predicted that more than 50,000 people would turn out in the old Gator Bowl in August 1979 to try to convince team owner Robert Irsay that "We want the Colts." It wasn't in the cards at the time, but the event got national attention and set the stage for Jacksonville's long march to win its own NFL team.
"I went to the White House about three or four days after this happened. They came in and I was going to talk to them the People Mover project and they said, 'No, no. Before we talk about anything, we want to know how in the hell you got over 50,000 people ... to come down and say, 'We want the Colts.' It kind of put Jacksonville on the map."
Godbold's most painful memory was when his administration was investigated by the U.S. attorney.
"That was a hard time. I always felt like the Unites States government vs. Jake Godbold, little guy from the Brookwood project. I couldn't understand it," Godbold said. "It turned out OK, I still believe in the justice system. I believe in the FBI. I believe in the federal attorney's office, but it was a bad time."
Tommy Hazouri (1987-1991)
Hazouri's experiences in the building began when he was still a student.
"When I was at JU, I was student body president and I was interning for Mayor (Lou) Ritter," Hazouri said. "I always wanted to be a mayor, but I didn't know if I ever would be. It's not easy to get elected mayor, but it is an honor. We have several from Jackson High School. I stayed on with him, helped him write some speeches. I stayed on when he left and Tanzler was elected and stayed on with him for a while."
Hazouri said when he entered the office again after being elected mayor, one of the first people to speak to him was WJXT's investigative reporter Ernie Mastroianni.
|Jacksonville mayors who occupied riverfront City Hall|
"Everybody was giving me their advice at the time," Hazouri said. "Councilmen didn't hesitate to come up there."
Hazouri said many famous people came to meet him during his term, including former Vice President Walter Mondale, Al Gore's father, who was a U.S. Senator from Tennessee, Wayne Weaver when he was thinking of moving his shoe factory to Jacksonville, and even Henry Winkler -- "the Fonz."
Hazouri said the idea to move City Hall off the valuable riverfront land came up during his administration, but it didn't make financial sense at the time.
But the building's high-profile location was useful to celebrate the removal of tolls from Jacksonville's bridges. They put up a huge sign and changed it every day counting down the days until Aug. 12, 1989.
John Delaney (1995-2003)
Delaney was the seventh and last mayor to occupy the 14th-floor executive office of the building since it was dedicated in 1960. Elected just over two years before the City Hall relocated to the renovated St. James Building on Heming Plaza, Delaney said he was glad to get out of that building.
"Good riddance," Delany said. "You couldn't really renovate it. It has asbestos in it. The floor plates were very small. It just didn't work very well, from a layout standpoint."
Did he miss anything after the city offices moved?
"The view from that top floor, especially in the winter months ... when we'd see (the sun) set over the St. Johns River. Just spectacular sunsets," Delaney said. "Elected office, in the executive office, it can be a little lonely ... so it can be a little solace in looking at the gorgeous view of the river."
Delaney said many of his strongest memories of being in that building were from the major City Council votes while he was Mayor Ed Austin's chief of staff.
"One of the bigger ones in Jacksonville's history ... that was the vote that secured the lease for the Jaguars. That was the final step we really needed to do prior to the NFL awarding the franchise," Delaney said. "It was just tense lining up all those votes. We were ready for a long night; I think we'd ordered pizza. And there was a long pause before the debate and (Councilman) Eric Smith called the question -- boom -- there was a vote; no debate, because everything had been debated prior to that."
The stadium lease passed 14-4.