Investment board OKs millions to support Southbank 'District'

Jacksonville would pay $26M for infrastructure; give $56M in tax breaks

By Jim Piggott - Reporter, Allyson Henning - Reporter, Crystal Chen - Assignment editor/reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The Downtown Investment Authority on Wednesday unanimously approved "The District," a large-scale mix of homes, businesses and parks proposed for vacant JEA property on the south side of of the St. Johns River.

The 30-acre development is proposed to become a major downtown destination, with a hotel, housing, retail and office space, and a 125-slip marina. The project would house the first hotel to be built on the St. Johns River since 2001.

As part of the plan, the DIA board approved spending up to $26.4 million to build infrastructure on the site next to the Duval County School Board building. The developer, Elements of Jacksonville, would pay $18 million to buy the land from JEA.

This is the second time the board approved this plan. In January, the DIA approved a plan that calls for the city buy the land and eventually be paid back for it, but that deal was thrown out.

In this plan, the city would agree to fund the riverfront bulkhead and extension of the Riverwalk, roads, drainage and other infrastructure. In a second piece of the puzzle, the DIA also paved the way for the city to use money from a special tax district designated for Southbank development projects.

Elements of Jacksonville would begin repaying that money to the city once the first properties are occupied -- sometime after 2020.

RENDERINGS: What developer projects The District will look like

The developer would also get up to $56 million on property tax rebates over a 20-year period.
The City Council now must approve the proposal. It is expected to be introduced next month, reviewed in committees in early June and could be voted on as early as June 12. The purchase agreement with JEA requires the sale to close in July.

Some council members are already asking if taxpayers would be footing too much of the bill. Others are skeptical, remembering a failed development of the Northbank shipyards property in the early 2000s that cost the city millions.

"The protections are put in place, as was discussed today, that the city does not put any money forward until we put our money first in closing on the land, and then getting the bonds in place for us to do our part of the infrastructure," said project spokesman Michael Munz. 

The developer could end up donating four acres of parks and roads to the city. Elements has received state approval for a marina and environmental approval to build on the land, which was once the site of the Southside Generating Station. 

If the project is approved, roadwork and other site preparation could begin as early as next year.

"You just don’t flip a switch and have 30 acres developed overnight," Munz said.

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