Hurricane-damaged Jacksonville neighborhood gets help from UAE

$1.4M of disaster relief grant will help rebuild Ken Knight Drive area

By Jim Piggott - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A Northwest Jacksonville neighborhood struck hard by Hurricane Irma will get a $1.4 million boost to its repair efforts.

The money is part of a $2.7 million foreign aid donation to Jacksonville from the United Arab Emirates. That's part of a larger relief effort from the UAE that will award a total of $10 million to storm-ravaged communities throughout Florida.

The $1.4 million going to the Ken Knight Drive area will be used to help repair homes and make the area safer for children by building a waterfront community center: $800,000 will be set aside for the restoration of Charles Reese Park and infrastructure along Ken Knight Drive, and an additional $650,000 will be divided among HabiJax and Builders Care to repair and restore homes in the neighborhood.

“Any type of attention is good, especially when it’s helping the children and the people around here,” said Nathan Thomas, who lives in the neighborhood.

The remaining money from the UAE donation will go to schools and various charity groups.

The Sulzbacher Center would receive $900,000 for mobile medical clinics, while Duval County Public Schools would get $425,000 for a construction and architecture career academy, as well as computer labs, to serve students at Raines High School and Ribault High School.

“We are accepting money in order to invest in our children and invest in vulnerable populations and invest in those that were damaged by the hurricane,” Mayor Lenny Curry said.

Yousef Al Otaiba, the UAE ambassador to the United States, said the money comes with no strings attached.

“If you look into our track record, we do this everywhere we go, and it actually starts relationships between other institutions and businesses,” Al Otaiba said. “This is actually in a very different way a way to introduce ourselves to the people of Jacksonville and to see what those relationships develop in common.”

Al Otaiba declined to respond to questions about human rights in his home country, saying he was "here to talk about our gifts to Jacksonville."

The city was invited to apply for the grant, which was awarded after UAE representatives visited in March. Legislation has been drawn up for the city to accept the gift.

Few in Jacksonville avoided Irma’s wrath when its winds lashed homes and businesses and floodwaters swamped most of the city’s low-lying neighborhoods last September. The hurricane left roughly $144 million in damage in its wake.

Al Otaiba said the UAE is working on donations for Hurricane Michael victims as well after the storm devastated several towns along Florida's Gulf Coast.

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