Mayor: Spend $9M on downtown Jacksonville

City Council will have say in how extra money is spent

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - At a time when the city has been talking cuts, it's now saying spend.

In a way, it is a windfall of money. The mayor's office refinanced some city loans and found $12 million in savings. The mayor wants to spend $9 million downtown.

On Tuesday, City Council members got a look at the plan and are beginning to have their say.

The ideas on how to improve downtown include bringing in new business and parking to make it a destination for a place people want to go.

Mayor Alvin Brown hopes putting the $9 million into his new Downtown Investment Authority will do that.

Several council committees, including the finance committee and recreation and community development committee, and took up the issue Tuesday, focused on technical matters like transfer of funds. In the end, once it's eventually approved, the move will make sure City Council will have some say on how the money will be spent.

RIght now, there are no set ideas, and council members told the new committee, the DIA, to give them something soon.

"It's tough to know how long it will take us," said Oliver Barekat, who's on the DIA committee. "A lot of us on the authority have preconceived notions on what directions we would like the funds to go and where downtown. We need to develop a consensus."

The most likely way the money will be spent is to use the money to entice developers to build new projects, but it could also go to improve what is already there.

"We are a new authority and we need to build trust with the public," Barekat said. "And I think these baby steps are a good story to tell."

If the City Council doesn't like the story or the direction the DIA is going, the council can make changes. Some members were concerned that the money should just go into a general fund and used where it's needed most, not just downtown.

Finance chairman John Crescimbeni said there is the option to do that.

"If you are asking me should they spend on some other non-downtown priority that may arise in the future, if that is the case, we have to evaluate that," he said. "And if we need the money to make that happen and it's a priority, we go into our own account and spend it on that newly identified priority."

Right now, all sides believe this will work. They say it will let developers know the city is serious about downtown.

The issue will go before the full council next week, when there's expected to be more debate on how that money will be spent.

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