Jacksonville’s motion to intervenein a residency challenge filed last month to a City Council appointment by Gov. Rick Scott, as well as a motion to dismiss the case by the plaintiff’s attorneys, were heard in a Duval County hearing room Friday afternoon by Judge Waddell Wallace.
The magistrate, appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush in 1999, has been tasked with deciding whether the city has legal standing regarding the case of Terrance Freeman.
The matter will come down to Waddell deciding which of two days Freeman was actually appointed. And deciding that, even if Freeman wasn’t technically a resident, if a potential “cure” of a re-appointment wouldn’t satisfy requirements.
Waddell promised a ruling “soon.”
Plaintiff Brenda Priestly-Jackson (a Democrat) says Republican Freeman, who established residency in District 10 by renting rooms in a private home the day he was appointed (July 10), was circumventing residency requirements.
The personal ties here illustrate this is a relationship business: Freeman was represented by Lindsey Brock, the husband of Council President Aaron Bowman‘s aide. Bowman, Freeman’s former employer, emphatically asserts the legality of the appointment, which he dates as being official on the date of the swearing in on July 12.
That arrangement, coupled with the involvement and shared interests of city and state attorneys, suggested the long odds Priestly-Jackson faces going forth.
Brock urged dismissal, as the case was a “political challenge disguised as a legal challenge.”
Brock contended that Freeman lived in the district once sworn in on July 12, two days after the appointment, and that the Governor had power to do what he wanted without “qualifications” when he suspended Democrat Reggie Brown.
Brock also contended that the judiciary can’t decide, based on separation of powers, and the state Constitution and charter both saying the legislative body has exclusive jurisdiction to decide — which it did before Priestly-Jackson’s filing.
Comparing the case to that of Jay Jabour, bounced from City Council years back for flouting residency requirements, Brock said that was an “election challenge,” which does require residency 183 days before qualifying for the ballot. In the case of appointment, no such requirement applies.
Gov. Scott‘s attorney, John MacIver, via the State Office of General Counsel, asserted the plaintiff claim lacked cause of action, and that state law was “unambiguous” in giving Scott jurisdiction to appoint as he saw fit.
“Could he appoint a non-resident, a foreign national? I don’t think so,” Waddell mused.
As well, the state attorney noted Scott could simply appoint Freeman again were he bounced, as Freeman has now established residency, and that the vacancy is still temporary as Councilman Reggie Brown‘s lawsuit is still live. [Waddell echoed that later, saying it was a potential “cure.”]
The Jacksonville Office of General Counsel also made its case for intervention, with attorney Jason Teal making the city’s case that “intervention should be allowed.”
The city’s case for intervention rests in its theory of judicial prerogative: Jacksonville contends that it has leeway to determine residency, and that Freeman is an active member of the City Council.
Plaintiff lawyer Leslie Jean-Bart made the contra case, rejecting the claim that the filing was “political.”
“We’re just trying to convey the will of the people,” Jean-Bart said, on “residency requirements.”
“If the Governor decides to reappoint Freeman,” Jean-Bart added, “it would be his decision to do so.”
Jean-Bart also expressed “concern” about the Governor flouting rules in a “minority-access district.” And rejected the claim that an appointment didn’t have to conform with the 183-day rule applicable to elected officials.
Jean-Bart offered no objection to the city’s motion to intervene.
We’ve hit the stretch of the primary season; where the money is being spent, not raised.
Where ads are cut, and voters engaged.
And where candidates know if they are still in the game.
No one comes out and says “well, it looks over.”
But losing candidates seem different.
We saw it with Adam Putnam, who won a Potemkin straw poll Monday in Jacksonville, but clearly seemed to be losing the war, even ahead of Wednesday’s debate.
We see it with Alvin Brown, whose campaign — and political career — seem to have gone up in smoke.
The Democratic candidates for Governor — well, four of them will lose, despite all maintaining a brave face in Thursday’s forum.
Optimism of months ago? Gone.
Soon enough, the cycle begins anew, with the necessary polarities of the general election.
But for now, we see the endgame of what has become a very long primary season.
Nelson, DeSantis win St. Johns straw polls
More than 550 votes were cast in straw polls from the St. Johns County Supervisor of Elections office during the St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce’s “Politics in St. Johns” series of events.
Candidate meet-and-greet style events were in Ponte Vedra on July 16 and St. Augustine on August 1.
While the polls were informal, there was at least one interesting result: Democratic incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson took a 19-vote victory over Gov. Rick Scott for the U.S. Senate contest.
In the race for Governor, U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis enjoys a 6-point lead, according to the straw poll, with 26 percent of the total vote. This result over Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam more closely reflects the nine-point lead DeSantis enjoys in a statewide done held by the Florida Atlantic University Business and Economics Polling Initiative.
The leading Democratic vote-getter — Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum — took 19 percent of the total vote, leading the next closest Democratic candidate Gwen Graham, who earned 13 percent.
Republican Congressman John Rutherford also led his Democratic rival, George “Ges” Selmont, by 40 votes. In Florida’s 6th Congressional District, former Ambassador Nancy Soderberg took a significant lead over the field, besting the next highest vote-getter, Republican Michael Waltz, by nearly 40 votes (96-47).
The Democratic challenger to incumbent Republican Rep. Paul Renner in House District 24 race, Adam Morley, also scored a 10-vote victory.
Combined, the Chamber estimates nearly 1,000 people attended Politics in St. Johns events in 2018, the largest attendance since the Chamber launched the series in 2012.
“I am very pleased to see how this series has grown over the years; it means that people are becoming more engaged. We are proud to be able to provide a platform that will help St. Johns County residents make an informed voting decision,” Chamber President Isabelle Renault said.
Just hours after U.S. Rep. Al Lawson and former Jacksonville Mayor Brown threw elbows in a meeting with the Florida Times-Union editorial board, the two Democrats made their respective cases at a Jacksonville AME political forum.
After the two sat patiently through almost two hours of forums for school board and tax collector candidates, they finally got mic time (along with Republican Virginia Fuller, who is the party’s nominee by default) as the 9 p.m. hour approached.
Judging from the mailed-in performances, it may have been past all of their bedtimes. There was no new ground in answers. No new attacks. Just sedentary pantomimes of the kind of fiery oratory seen more often in these candidates’ news releases than their live deliveries.
Neither Brown nor Lawson was on his game. Brown had the gaffe of the night, however, saying he backed a “living wage — 15 cents an hour.”
On Tuesday, the majority of the members of the Congressional Black Caucus endorsed Lawson ahead of the Democratic primary in Florida’s 5th Congressional District against Brown.
“I am honored to have the endorsement of so many of my colleagues in the CBC,” Lawson said. “They understand, as I do, the importance of fighting against some of the unfair policies of this current administration, protecting affordable health care for all Americans, protecting voting rights, ensuring access to quality public education, and strengthening marginalized communities all across the nation.”
Alvin Brown, according to sources who saw him in D.C. last year, was making the rounds of CBC members with former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown to solicit D.C. support. The en masse endorsement of Lawson suggests that strategy failed. Brown got one CBC endorsement, from Missouri U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver.
Brown has pilloried Lawson as “Trump’s favorite Democrat,” painting him as out of step with the Democratic Party on some issues. The two have jousted throughout the campaign, exchanging jabs on everything from Lawson’s positions on “Stand Your Ground“ and ICE, to Brown’s closeness to Corrine Brown and his alleged “failure” as Mayor.
Lawson’s endorsements include prominent names, some with connections to Brown’s political past. One such: CBC chairman, Rep. Cedric Richmond, is especially notable support given that Richmond campaigned for Alvin Brown in Jacksonville in 2015 when he lost his re-election bid for Mayor.
Still another endorsement for Lawson that must feel like a cruel cut: the backing of Brown’s former political mentor, Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, who Brown also namechecked during the Monday evening forum.
Bradley, Cummings back DeSantis
In a sign of the changing times in the Republican gubernatorial race, state Sen. Rob Bradley and state Rep. Travis Cummings endorsed U.S. Rep. DeSantis for Governor on Wednesday.
These endorsements, rolled out hours before DeSantis debated Putnam in Jacksonville, show the influential Clay County Republicans breaking with many Jacksonville elected officials and Republican activists, who fell in line behind Putnam when he seemed certain months back.
“I’m proud to endorse Ron DeSantis for Governor of Florida.” Sen. Bradley said in a statement. “Our state needs strong, dependable leadership and Ron DeSantis is a proven conservative who will make a great Governor. He’s an Iraq veteran with a solid conservative record and the support of our President.”
“He’s demonstrated a fierce commitment to principle in Congress, and he will bring the same values to Tallahassee. I look forward to working with him to strengthen our economy, improve our education system and bring accountability to our government,” Bradley, who serves as the Senate Appropriations chair, said Wednesday.
“Ron DeSantis is a proven conservative leader with a strong record of service to our country both in Congress and in the military.” asserted Cummings, who chairs Health and Human Services in the House.
The open question: Will other Jacksonville-area endorsements fall into line for DeSantis?
While many Jacksonville pols, including U.S. Rep. John Rutherford, state Sen. Aaron Bean, and Jacksonville City Council Vice-President Aaron Bowman, have backed Putnam, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry has — at least up until now — reserved an endorsement.
Bradley defends MMJ law
Despite a Tallahassee judge declaring significant parts of the state’s medical marijuana law unconstitutional, the law’s chief architect on Tuesday said he was confident the law would be affirmed.
“The trial court ruling injected unnecessary uncertainty into the emerging medical marijuana marketplace,” said Senate Appropriations Chairman RobBradley, a Fleming Island Republican. “I’m confident that our appellate courts will uphold (its) constitutionality.”
In recent months, however, judges have been chipping away at the law, beginning with Circuit Judge KarenGievers‘ ruling that Tampa strip club mogul JoeRedner can grow and make juice of his own marijuana.
In another case, Gievers struck down the law’s ban on smoking medical marijuana, saying that conflicts with the amendment. The state is appealing both of those rulings.
Bradley disagreed: “Medical marijuana is being grown, processed and sold in a safe, orderly fashion today in Florida,” he told Florida Politics.
“As more companies come online, and the Department (ofHealth) fully implements an integrated seed-to-sale system and a delay-free ID card system, the system will develop into a model for other states,” he added.
“Floridians rightfully expect to have access to safe, quality medical marijuana, and also expect that the product be regulated properly like any other medicine,” Bradley said. “SB 8-A accomplishes both goals.”
Senators’ green to keep Tallahassee red
Two influential Northeast Florida Senators, Appropriations Chair Rob Bradley and Regulated Industries Chair Travis Hutson, spent big in late July as part of an effort to maintain the Republican majority in the chamber.
On July 25, Bradley’s “Working for Florida’s Families” committee moved $150,000 to the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, the vast majority of the committee’s spend in the week between July 21 and 27.
Defraying much of that spend was $70,000 worth of contributions from six groups, including the Florida Medical Association PAC and Florida Power & Light.
Bradley’s committee has nearly $800,000 on hand, suggesting flexibility for further support to the FRSCC or other friendly interests down the stretch.
Hutson’s two committees, FCBF and Sunshine State Conservatives, have between them $371,761. Hutson also has another $67,000 in his 2020 campaign account.
‘SYG’ Special Session?
Senate Minority Leader-designate Audrey Gibson, a Jacksonville Democrat, submitted her petition to call the Legislature into special session to address problems with the “Stand Your Ground” law.
“Today I signed a letter to Secretary of State Ken Detzner to poll members of the Legislature for a special session to amend or repeal the ‘Stand Your Ground’ provisions in Chapter 776, Florida Statutes,” Gibson asserted.
“I signed the letter because a little boy watched his father be shot, and then die, after defending his mother from an irate man. The current statute has enabled murderous behavior, subjective interpretation, and questionable application by a sheriff, allowing an individual to potentially exact another murder in the same fashion as he roams free,” Gibson added.
“This presents a public safety hazard and is counter to the protections that should be afforded to all Floridians. While the Governor has the power to act through a Declaration of a State of Emergency in matters of public safety, his silence on Markeis McGlockton’s murder is clear indication that he is ignoring public safety and will do nothing.”
Michael Drejka killed McGlockton July 19 after a dispute over a parking space at a convenience store in Pinellas County got physical.
Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said Drejka’s response to the altercation conforms with his read of the “Stand Your Ground” statute: “I’m not saying I agree with it. I don’t make the law. I enforce the law. Others can have the debate if it is right or not.”
Worst Democrat in Florida?
One of the smartest electoral analysts in the state, Democratic analyst Matthew Isbell, isn’t stoked about Rep. Kim Daniels winning her open Democratic primary this month against Duval County School Board chair Paula Wright.
“On Aug. 28, voters will go to the polls in Florida to cast votes in the primary election. The gubernatorial primary and a slew of congressional primaries are dominating the news. In an era where a politician can lose a primary for either being ‘not conservative enough’ or ‘not liberal enough’ — despite no other scandals — it is a shame to see one Florida politician appearing to escape serious threat: Kim Daniels,” Isbell notes.
“The frustrating thing for folks like myself is that Kim Daniels appears set to win reelection despite years of controversy and unacceptable views. Daniels only got an opponent at the last minute, and the primary wasn’t closed, ensuring Republicans could play spoiler in a race between two Democrats,” Isbell adds.
“Meanwhile, as conservatives flood in to aid Daniels, liberal aid has been more modest. The race just does not appear to be on the radar of Florida’s left-wing interests. State Democrats do not like Daniels at all, yet little effort is being made behind the scenes to aid Wright. Wright is fighting an underfunded and uphill battle against an incumbent mired in scandal and controversy. Daniels may well win on Aug. 28, despite being the least deserving of reelection of any Democrat in the state,” Isbell notes.
Daniels has a fundraising edge and has been hard to beat in Northwest Jacksonville. In this case, she is positioned to end Paula Wright’s political career.
Jacksonville’s motion to intervene in a legal challenge filed last month to a City Councilman appointed by Gov. Rick Scott will be heard in a Duval County hearing room at 2 p.m. Friday.
Judge Waddell Wallace, appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush in 1999, will decide whether the city has legal standing regarding the case of Terrance Freeman, whose residency in District 10 is under challenge after the announcement of his appointment in July.
Filing the challenge is Brenda Priestly-Jackson, a Democrat and former Duval County School Board chair who was passed up for the appointment to fill the unexpired term of suspended incumbent Democrat Reggie Brown,
Priestly-Jackson says Freeman, who established residency in the district by renting two rooms in a private home the day he was appointed, was not a legitimate pick because he moved to Northwest Jacksonville solely to serve on the Council.
The city contends it has leeway to determine residency and that the suit names Freeman as a defendant in his official capacity.
“However, the city contends the controlling law clearly establishes that City Councilmembers’ terms in office do not commence until they have sworn the required oath, among other things. As such, application of city laws, policies and procedures will be a critical component of this litigation,” the filing contends.
“While Plaintiff purports to bring her allegations against Councilmember Freeman in his individual capacity, by alleging that he assumed his mantle as an active member of the City Council immediately upon appointment, Plaintiff has actually sued Councilmember Freeman as an active, sitting member of the City Council in his official capacity,” the filing adds.
Wallace to JAXBIZ
According to the Jacksonville Daily Record, Downtown Investment Authority CEO Aundra Wallace is on the move: he will be president of the JAXUSA Partnership starting in October.
He will replace outgoing Jerry Mallot.
Wallace, observed Daily Record commentator David Cawton, has been involved in much of the downtown development action the last five years — a time that included a drastic change in the Mayor’s Office.
However, Wallace was impervious, working well with the Curry administration on priority projects — most recently, the District development, which donor Peter Rummell will have city incentives to help him get going on the Southbank.
Man in the mirror
In 1984, there was no more prominent pop icon in the world than Michael Jackson. With the songs from 1982’s Thriller still resonating on the charts, he and his brothers thought the time was right for a family Victory tour.
The tour came to Jacksonville: a three-night Gator Bowl stint in a metropolitan area much less populous than it is today, with $30 tickets a measure of what a hot gig it was.
The concert was out of Jacksonville’s league, but proving that some things never change, the city spent $275,000 to make the gig happen.
That era is long gone now. The King of Pop has passed on. In a strange twist of fate, a small piece of his legacy will remain, to impact Jacksonville youth with musical aptitude.
Jacksonville Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa says Jackson “gifted the city $100,000 for music scholarships to deserving Duval County students seriously interested in and actively pursuing the study of music. The funds were placed in a City of Jacksonville Trust Fund; however, only the interest earnings therefrom may be spent on scholarships.”
“To the best of my knowledge and research,” Mousa asserted in an email last week, “no scholarships have been provided from the trust fund.”
The fund has earned $73,600 in interest, Mousa said. And while the $173,600 must remain in the fund, the city can use an anticipated $5,500 of projected interest this next fiscal year for scholarships, administered via the Kids Hope Alliance, Mayor LennyCurry‘s reformed structure for children’s programs that budget at $41 million this year.
Unlike the majority of Florida counties, the city of Jacksonville can’t figure out what to do about Airbnb taxes. A recent audit suggests missed opportunities, with Duval County losing out on $366,000 in taxes due to an inability to match municipal code with reality.
The losses, a recent audit showed, are substantial: “$366,000 in Tourist Development and Convention Development Taxes just from Airbnb in the calendar year 2017 alone.”
Additionally, there are other companies like Airbnb so that collections could be more.
The problem: Single-family homes, per the city’s zoning code, do not permit what one city councilor called “transient” housing.
However, finding a solution won’t be so easy, Mousa said, noting that the arrangement is fundamentally illegal in Jacksonville.
Mousa is “reluctant to chase tourist development taxes” of “rentals in violation of ordinance code.”
To “chase the tax,” Mousa noted, is to “validate their existence … like going to the corner to the guy selling marijuana and asking where’s my sales tax.”
Mousa did not elaborate on where such corners may be.
However, other counties have figured it out. A misconception expressed in Council committees was that Airbnb would be averse to audits and the collection of back taxes. However, other counties have negotiated such deals, and it’s a mystery why Jacksonville can’t figure it out.
Expect movement on this issue in the coming months from Council President Aaron Bowman. For now, however, the city is left out of revenue collection, much as is the case with vehicles for hire — another gap in the code that has been unaddressed for years.
“However, absent special circumstances, public policy considerations cannot override the clear and unambiguous statutory requirement that all of the candidate’s qualifying paperwork must be received by the filing officer by the end of the qualifying period.”
The court upheld a ruling by a trial judge from the 7th Judicial Circuit, who heard the case because it originated in a motion filed by incumbent Clay County Judge Kristina Mobley.
According to the court record, Lucy Ann Hoover arrived at the county supervisor of elections office at 11:55 a.m. on May 4, just shy of the noon deadline. She filed her qualifying check at 11:57, but her candidate oath at 12:01 and her financial disclosure form at 12:12. The office accepted the late documents, and certified Hoover as a candidate, under a policy of requiring only that prospective candidates be physically present and filling out their paperwork before the deadline falls.
Mobley is a Rick Scott appointee. Joe Mobley, her husband, is a member of the Fiorentino Group.
Downtown Jax plans $63M ‘innovation corridor’
Plans are emerging for a multimillion-dollar high-tech corridor to run through downtown via Bay Street, connecting Jacksonville’s budding transportation center to TIAA Bank Field. The Jacksonville Business Journal reported that a bid for federal grant funding by city agencies include a $62.9 million plan for an “innovation corridor” — with 15 autonomous shuttles deployed between the Skyway infrastructure to surface streets, as well as an array of sensors that could detect gunshots, flooding and more. The corridor would also provide an incubator for emerging technologies.
The joint proposal — from the Jacksonville Transportation Authority, the North Florida Transportation Planning Organization, JEA, the City of Jacksonville and Jax Chamber — is seeking $25 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation in a competitive grant program.
The innovation corridor is meant to be a proof of concept for two current initiatives: JTA’s Ultimate Urban Circulator (U2C) — the evolution of the Jacksonville Skyway system — and the TPO’s Integrated Data Exchange. A fleet of autonomous vehicles would descend from Skyway’s 2.5-mile elevated infrastructure via offramps onto surface streets throughout downtown and surrounding neighborhoods, transforming the people-mover system into a 10-mile network.
JIA speeding security with bomb-sniffing dogs
Beginning this week, bomb-sniffing dogs are being employed to help speed up security checks at Jacksonville International Airport.
Transportation Security Administration spokesperson Sari Koshetz told Jenna Bourne of Action News Jax, that the dogs are helping travelers get through security lines faster. Passengers standing in line who are cleared by the dogs could move into an expedited security lane, eliminating the need to take off shoes, belt or jackets and leaving laptops in bags.
Dogs will also sniff passengers and airport employees at the gate.
TSA K-9 handler Donald “Bubba” Deason told WJAX that travelers should not be frightened by his K-9, Boomer.
“Some people have a fear of dogs. And they look at the dog and then they get, ‘I don’t want to go near the dog. I don’t want to go past the dog,’” Deason said. “And basically, we tell them the dog’s not going to hurt you. It doesn’t attack. All it wants to do is sniff.”
JIA to welcome new VIP lounge
A new VIP lounge is coming to Jacksonville International Airport, Jacksonville Aviation Authority unanimously approved this week.
Will Robinson of the Jacksonville Business Journalreports that the Authority agreed to enter a contract to develop a premium lounge, which will be available to customers from multiple airlines and customers who are willing to pay for a day of access.
“I think we’d be the smallest airport in the country with two VIP lounges,” said JAA CEO Steve Grossman.
Club JAX will open February 2019. It will be a 2,726-square-foot facility featuring a buffet with menus from local chefs, restrooms with showers and a children’s play area.
Texas-based ALD Development Corp. will spend at least $1 million to develop, manage and operate the 49-guest lounge,” Robinson noted. ALD is the nation’s largest developer of independent shared-use lounges, with 18 airport lounges in 13 airports internationally.
First-class passengers can use the lounge as part of an airline or card member rewards programs. Day passes will also be available.
“We are very confident this will be a busy lounge even without Frontier, JetBlue or Allegiant,” Graham Richards, ALD director of strategic network development, told the Business Journal. This includes airlines that don’t yet have lounge reward programs.
JAA will receive part of the lounge revenue, or $80,000 for the first contract year, whichever is higher. The initial agreement will be for seven years, with options to renew every year.
CVM will help standardize frequent care conclusions — pairing antibiotics with certain infections, length of stay decisions and defining appropriate testing, among others.
Clinical variations make up as much as 30 percent of typical health care costs, according to the Institute for Medicine. AI examines big data, taken from electronic medical records, billing and more, to help lower costs.
“We are delighted to engage with Ayasdi on this mission-critical task of creating clinical pathways for our patient population,” said Flagler chief medical informatics officer Dr. Michael C. Sanders. “Our ability to rapidly construct clinical pathways based on our own data and measure adherence by our staff to those standards provides us with the opportunity to deliver better care at a lower cost to our patients.”
New way to watch Jags games this year
Per WJCT, for the first time this year, Jaguars fans can watch preseason games on their smartphones, simply by visiting Jaguars.com/live.
The technology was rolled out Thursday for the game against the Saints, and will be used for the rest of the preseason — a useful and long-awaited add for those who might not have access to television or radio.
“This season, the NFL has allowed us to expand access to our preseason game broadcasts via a digital stream, affording the Jaguars the opportunity to connect with more fans on multiple platforms and in more than one language,” said Jaguars President Mark Lamping in an email to WJCT News.
The Jaguars have been playing one home game in London since 2012. “The demand for NFL football continues to grow internationally, and the Jaguars have benefited from our aggressive support of the league’s global movement,” said Lamping.
Coaches get a good look at many players in preseason opener
The first preseason game brought excitement to fans, coaches and players for different reasons. Jaguars fans are looking to see those players who took them within an eyelash of last year’s Super Bowl.
Most of those in attendance knew that guys like quarterback Blake Bortles, running back Leonard Fournette and cornerback Jalen Ramsey were likely to play only the first quarter. Those watching on television knew the same thing leading some to go on to do or watch something else.
Doug Marrone and his coaching staff already knew what those three and other starters could do. They were anxious for the second and third strings to show why they should be on the team or on the starting unit.
Obviously, those players wanted to show the coaches what they could do.
Going into Thursday’s game against the Saints, one of the questions was who would be Fournette’s backup on opening day? Would it be T.J. Yeldon or fourth-year back Corey Grant?
Would backup quarterback Cody Kessler look like he could fill in if Bortles missed any time during the season? How about impressive rookie wide receiver D. J. Chark, who has looked great in training camp?
Bortles looked terrific in his brief appearance, leading his team on a 79-yard touchdown drive to start the game. For those who stuck around, Kessler was poised during his two-plus quarters of play.
Yeldon maintained his hold on the backup running back position, while Grant was only able to gain 6 yards on 8 carries. Third-string receiver Shane Wynn showed a lot of speed, meriting a closer look.
The Saints won the game, 24-20, but Marrone will consider the night successful, if for no other reason than avoiding major injuries. Next Saturday, the Jaguars travel to Minnesota to face the Vikings.
Despite the best efforts of four opponents, Gwen Graham goes into a televised forum Thursday evening in Jacksonville looking like the Democratic nominee for Governor.
The trend lines nationally point to a Graham win, another entrant to what is called in some quarters a sisterhood of gubernatorial nominees, in what seems like a year favorable to women running for office.
The most recent polls, meanwhile, say it’s not so much a matter of if Graham is going to win, but by how much. Undecideds are breaking her way, and this is the time a candidate would want that to happen.
The ALG Research poll, taken last week, had Graham at 33 percent, with the field lagging behind: 17 percent for former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine; 13 percent backing Palm Beach businessman Jeff Greene; 10 percent supporting Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum; and 3 percent for Winter Park businessman ChrisKing.
This poll, first reported by POLITICO, was pushed by the Graham campaign.
Levine’s camp is pushing its own internal poll showing him down, but by four points, to Graham (26-22). Greene is farther back at 16 percent.
The question, for Levine, Greene, Gillum, and King, is an existential one: How does one attack Graham?
No one has figured out how to make attacks resonate yet. King and Greene attempted to assail Graham’s environmental bona fides. Gillum has seen the Collective PAC do his dirty work. But none of it, per poll after poll, has mattered.
In the format Thursday evening, it will be difficult for candidates to distinguish themselves — and not because much of the television audience will have at least one eye on the Jaguars’ preseason opener.
An hour-long forum, divvied up between five candidates who tend to pivot to talking points with every answer, goes very quickly, and the likelihood for new ground being plowed is minimal in that context.
The race could stay there. It could, at least theoretically, get closer if Putnam’s ground game strategy continues without abatement.
Or the spread could get worse.
What we know: Ballots are coming in already, and the polls reflect a snapshot of a race that is already being decided.
All is not lost for Putnam, however. Even if donors ranging from bestbet to Foley and Lardner are hedging their bets, Jacksonville could — in theory — allow him to change the narrative.
On Monday, he won the Jacksonville Young Republicans straw poll over DeSantis 75-2. While there were caveats (Putnam showed up and stumped for the vote, as part of what have been three straight days in a city that has 1/20th of the state’s population), a win is a win.
Even if some people at the event were saying, quietly, that the race was already over, the reality is that DeSantis didn’t even have representation at the event.
The donors may be moving. The polls may be upside down. But for Putnam supporters, Jacksonville offers a silver lining: a debate on Florida issues in front of a live crowd, one composed of insider types who invested energy into the idea of Adam Putnam as governor.
Depending on how lively that crowd is, there could be a real home-court advantage for Putnam (despite DeSantis’ wife, Casey Black DeSantis, being a local television personality of long standing).
The most useful analogue to what this advantage can offer, if all plays out as it should, was the third and final Jacksonville mayoral debate between Alvin Brown and Lenny Curry in 2015, where the crowd effects were felt early and often.
Both Brown and Curry had active supporters, with dueling chants and the like ahead of the event outside the hall.
Inside the hall, moderator Kent Justice reminded the crowd, as he typically does, to abstain from demonstrations.
By and large, that happened. However, the Curry people — many of the same young Republicans who back Putnam today — were just a bit less reserved than the Brown supporters.
If you are a Putnam supporter, if you really believe in Adam Putnam as the only acceptable Republican nominee, what’s going to stop you from making noise for your candidate? From disparaging DeSantis at a key moment?
It’s live television. And live television allows for audience participation.
By definition, the Gen Y and millennial types who support a candidate like Putnam have buried whatever passes for their anarchic streak deep down. However, what’s to stop them from a well-placed boo, catcall, or Bronx cheer at a pivotal moment?
The crowd made noise on Curry’s behalf a couple of times in 2015. Brown, never a natural debater, was rattled.
While DeSantis is no Alvin Brown, the fact remains that in a race where the formerly inevitable Putnam has been divested of advantages as time has gone on, the Jacksonville crowd may be the Congressman’s final stumbling block before getting the nomination.
The debate starts at 8. But there will be strong indications of how pro-Putnam the crowd is well before that.
A July report from the Jacksonville City Council auditor says Duval County is leaving $366,000 per year on the table when it comes to the so-called bed tax.
One source of a revenue increase could be Airbnb. Unlike 39 other Florida counties, Airbnb does not pay this tax — six cents per dollar — to the county.
Of the $23 million collected in bed taxes in FY 16/17, zero came from Airbnb. That compares unfavorably to Sarasota, for example, which collected over $500,000 of its $21 million tourist tax from the company.
“Airbnb estimated that there were 42,600 guest arrivals in Duval County, which resulted in total income of $6.1 million for the hosts in 2017. If the $6.1 million amount were accurate and assuming no owner directly submitted taxes, the City would have failed to collect $366,000 in Tourist Development and Convention Development Taxes just from Airbnb in calendar year 2017 alone,” the audit asserts.
Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa asserted in his response that the City Council needs to fix the problem, but the fix would present challenges.
“This matter not only includes collection of tourist development tax funds but will also entail significant zoning code changes to allow Airbnb and other similar entities to operate in the County,” Mousa asserted.
Tuesday, the Council’s Finance Committee and Mousa discussed the matter further, with the gaps in zoning and legality presenting challenges for the body, and a seeming conflict with the desires of the Mayor’s Office.
Complicating matters further and spotlighting room for improvement: the locals’ inability to handle forging a mutually beneficial agreement with the company, something other local governments managed years ago.
Former Council President Lori Boyer noted that during her term, counties were forging agreements with Airbnb. However, Duval had a sticking point, Boyer claimed: “At the time, Airbnb was requesting that we relinquish any past wrongdoing. There was some issue on that statewide.”
Another sticking point: the company’s refusal to allow Duval’s tax collector to audit them, according to Boyer.
Airbnb, however, maintains that such assertions are “100 percent untrue.”
Miami-Dade, Orange, Pinellas, Hillsborough, and other counties, Airbnb public affairs manager Ben Breit said,have audited “very easily,” with Pinellas having audited for years. As well, Miami-Dade’s agreement includes “the right to pursue hosts for back taxes if they wish.”
If Boyer knew these mechanisms were working well elsewhere, she didn’t say. Rather, Boyer said these issues, coupled with a municipal zoning code that distinguishes between single-family homes and transient dwellings. stalled the process.
The Tourist Development Commission, which meets Thursday, will discuss a way forward. Additionally, Boyer noted that current Council President Aaron Bowman wants a solution to the issue.
However, finding a solution won’t be so easy, said Mousa, who notes that the arrangement is fundamentally illegal in Jacksonville.
Mousa is “reluctant to chase tourist development taxes” of “rentals in violation of ordinance code.”
To “chase the tax,” Mousa said, is to “validate their existence … like going to the corner to the guy selling marijuana and asking where’s my sales tax.”
Mousa did not elaborate on where such corners may be.
Despite Mousa’s position, some committee members note that Airbnb and other such rentals aren’t going away, and that maybe the city should move forward.
“Maybe it would be better to forgive them and collect the money,” said Jim Love, calling the matter a “sticky wicket” in his district, which includes touristy areas in Riverside and Avondale.
The city has a similar stalemate on vehicles for hire that has lasted years, through a fragmented special committee paralyzed into inertia by competing advocates for Uber/Lyft and traditional cabs.
The city continues to suspend medallion fees for vehicles, and suffers fiscal loss, according to the bill summary for the latest extension of the medallion-fee moratorium: “Revenue loss from medallion renewals payments and late fees; when the moratorium was enacted in December 2015 there were 1,146 vehicle-for-hire medallions renewable at a cost of $100 per year; the late renewal fee is $10 per month after the deadline.”
The math on that, just as is the case with Airbnb collections, runs into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
And there is no legislative fix in sight for either issue.
In 1984, there was no bigger star in the world than Michael Jackson. With the songs from 1982’s Thriller still resonating on the charts, he and his brothers thought the time was right for a family Victory tour.
That tour came to Jacksonville: a three-night Gator Bowl stint in a metropolitan area much less populous than it is today, with $30 tickets a measure of what a hot gig it was.
The concert was out of Jacksonville’s league, but proving that some things never change, the city spent $275,000 to make the gig happen.
That era is long gone now. The King of Pop has passed on. Yet, in a strange twist of fate, a small piece of his legacy will remain, to impact Jacksonville youth with musical aptitude.
Per Jacksonville Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa, Jackson “gifted the City $100,000 for music scholarships to deserving Duval County students seriously interested in and actively pursuing the study of music. The funds were placed in a City of Jacksonville Trust Fund; however, only the interest earnings therefrom may be spent on scholarships.”
“To the best of my knowledge and research,” Mousa asserted in an email last week, “no scholarships have been provided from the trust fund.”
The fund has earned, per Mousa, $73,600 in interest. And while the $173,600 must remain in the fund, the city can use an anticipated $5,500 of projected interest this next fiscal year for scholarships, which will be administered via the Kids Hope Alliance, Mayor Lenny Curry‘s reformed structure for children’s programs that budgets at $41 million this year.
It is rare that a Jacksonville City Council resolution gets four committee stops, but such is the case with 2018-429, a resolution of disinclination to sell local publicly owned utility JEA.
It is even rarer that a bill can’t get a second to move into consideration.
That was the case in Monday’s Neighborhoods, Community Services, Public Health and Safety Committee, where the bill could not get a second, and the committee moved to withdraw the bill over the objections of the sponsor.
The final report from the Jacksonville City Council special committee on the future of JEA revealed a consensus to keep the utility local and publicly owned, which seemingly would bode well for the legislation.
However, that wasn’t the case.
Bill sponsor Garrett Dennis, who expended a lot of political capital last year trying to stop what he saw as machinations to sell the utility, asserted late last week his belief that the four committee gauntlet is an attempt to kill the bill.
“Council President (Aaron) Bowman has shown an interest in carrying out this administration’s orders,” Dennis said, “so I wouldn’t be surprised if he is trying to kill the bill.”
Bowman denied that claim when asked.
“It’s time for my colleagues to make a decision. They need to get a backbone and stand up for what is best for our city and not for what Lenny Curry and his cronies want,” Dennis, who is on just one committee currently, said.
As it turned out, committee members asserted they had made their position clear.
Councilman Tommy Hazouri, a Democrat like Dennis, wondered “how many times we have to do a black flag dead on this issue,” given the JEA Special Committee made that statement.
“I’m not here to watch us get embarrassed. You’ve continued to do this on every issue, to go against the mayor. We have spoken,” Hazouri said, proclaiming the bill meaningless.
Committee chairman Sam Newby wondered “why we bring this back up again. It’s a dead issue,” then motioned to withdraw the bill.
Dennis protested the withdrawal motion, but the other four committee members overruled him.
The bill has three more committee stops, and Dennis is on none of those committees, meaning there is a good chance the bill never gets taken up.
Brown, who had managed not to say anything newsworthy in his two television spots over the weekend, described himself as “the Democrat who’s going to stand up to Donald Trump” and “challenge the status quo” — a marked shift from four years in City Hall where he offered little challenge to extant paradigms.
And ultimately, as was the case when we interviewed him in late June, questions about his tenure in City Hall still loom over his campaign, three years after he left the St. James Building.
When confronted by host Melissa Ross with a quote from his opponent, U.S. Rep. Al Lawson, saying that Brown’s record as mayor was subpar and that Brown called him and said “he wanted to be just like me,” Brown dodged the question, returning to talking points like “36,000 new jobs” familiar to those around in his 2015 re-election bid.
Brown was also asked about his pivot to the left from a “conservative Democrat” posture he asserted as recently as the 2015 reelection bid, including a failure to get Human Rights Ordinance expansion through after a 2012 vote against LGBT rights expansion.
Brown said he “focused on the issues that mattered the most,” which involved the economy and pushing for a “living wage,” again dodging the question that nettled LGBT and progressive voters in Jacksonville.
When asked if his move left was genuine, Brown dodged that question too, saying that he opposed “bullying, discrimination, and violence,” and that he enacted LGBT protections in City Hall.
Actually, though, that was Lenny Curry’s executive order.
Indivisible bets on Soderberg in CD 6
Ambassador Nancy Soderberg scored another key endorsement Monday in her bid for the Democratic nomination in Florida’s 6th Congressional District, when the local Indivisible United Florida 6th District endorsed her candidacy.
“Nancy exemplifies the leadership qualities we seek in an individual to represent the constituents of this district in Washington, D.C.,” said Becky Berman, Co-Leader of Indivisible United Florida 6th District.
“Grassroots groups like Indivisible United Florida 6th District are helping lead the movement for new leadership in our district,” Soderberg said.
“Their hard work and dedication is critical to winning this seat in November. Our people-driven, grassroots campaign will continue working with committed local groups like Indivisible to bring change to FL-06. I am thrilled to have their endorsement and am proud to fight alongside these local leaders,” Soderberg added.
The endorsement from the local Indivisible group is another boost for a strong, disciplined campaign intent on flipping the east-central Florida seat from Ron DeSantis red to Democrat blue.
A survey released last week from St. Pete Polls showed Soderberg up big, with her 30 percent support amounting to more than opponents Steve Sevigny (10 percent) and John Upchurch (13 percent) combined.
Casey DeSantis goes national
Casey Black DeSantis, one of the most familiar faces on the Jacksonville media landscape, went national this week via an ad for the Ron DeSantis gubernatorial campaign.
“Everyone knows my husband Ron DeSantis is endorsed by President Trump. But he’s also an amazing dad. Ron loves playing with the kids,” Casey DeSantis says, kicking off an ad that attempts to meld humor and the presentation of her husband as a family man.
The spot features DeSantis exhorting a child to “build the wall” using giant construction blocks, reading to a child from “The Art of the Deal,” and teaching a child to read from a Trump sign.
“Make America great again,” DeSantis reads to one of his offspring.
“People say Ron is all-Trump, but he’s really so much more,” Mrs. DeSantis quips, as the camera pans to a child of tender age in a crib, wearing a Make America Great Again onesie.
“Big league,” the candidate says, “so good.”
The ad was derided on social media; however, the campaign estimates that the total reach equaled a million dollars of paid exposure.
Greene works Northeast Florida
On Monday, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jeff Greene made the rounds in Northeast Florida, a bus tour that included a number of Jacksonville stops.
At one of them — a back-to-school backpack giveaway at Northwestern Middle School — we caught up with the candidate, who per at least one recent poll of the race is within 6 points of leader Gwen Graham.
Greene, as one might expect, projected confidence.
Noting that he has only been in the campaign since mid-June, Greene asserted that he’s “running against candidates who have been running for a year and a half.”
“I’m really thrilled,” Greene said, “that an electorate that had not been excited is suddenly getting excited and we’re doing better than we even expected.”
“The reaction I’m getting as we drive down the road — people honking their horns, thumbs up. We get off the bus and crowds have been great everywhere. The message has been getting through; Democrats are tired of losing,” Greene said.
With the Democratic gubernatorial primary fast approaching, some of Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum‘s most controversial allies are pushing an ad attacking front-runner Gwen Graham.
It started Monday: a $500,000 ad buy in Jacksonville, Tampa, and West Palm Beach via the Collective Super PAC.
This is not the first ad buy by the group hitting a negative message on Graham.
The new spot, “Zero Regrets,” attacks Graham for touting “progressive credentials despite voting with banks, supporting the disastrous Keystone XL pipeline, and publicly undermining President Obama’s Affordable Care Act to get reelected,” asserts the Collective group.
The group, after this buy, will have committed over $1.75 million to Gillum.
A pair of Jacksonville Democratic members of the Jacksonville City Council blasted Gillum for the ads.
“Andrew Gillum is running a dirty campaign. He is the only candidate in the race supporting negative Super PAC ads and he is the only candidate attacking his fellow Democrats — more than the Republicans are even attacking our party,” Garrett Dennis said.
“Mayor Gillum likes to say we need to give voters something to vote for — not against. If his campaign and Super PAC followed his own advice, maybe they would be doing better in this race,” Dennis added.
Dennis’ colleague Tommy Hazouri added that “The Republicans are loving to watch as Andrew Gillum embraces secret money and attacks Gwen Graham with Super PAC money. This irresponsible sham weakens our party, and makes it harder for us to win the General Election.”
Daniels holds cash lead
As of July 20, the last date for which campaign finance data is available, House District 14 incumbent Rep. Kim Daniels is still well ahead of Democratic challenger Paula Wright.
In the money chase ahead of the open Democratic primary, Daniels raised $7,642, and spent $13,420, between July 7 and July 20. She has just over $21,500 on hand.
Of the contributions, $5,000 came in five $1,000 checks from a North Miami Beach address housing a gaggle of dialysis companies. Also contributing: former Republican candidate for 4th Circuit State Attorney Wes White, as well as Harry Rummell of the Peter Rummell family.
Of the over $13,000 spent, the majority was on campaign materials, food for workers, et al. Daniels is also employing a consultant with some name value, former state Rep. Terry Fields, who was paid $1,700 during the period.
Wright, whose fundraising was slow out of the gate, showed some improvement on the last report filed in June; she raised $5,364 and spent $1,020. All told, she has roughly $7,000 on hand.
More endorsements for Polson
More and more Jacksonville Democrats are lining up to endorse first-time candidate Tracye Polsonin House District 15.
HD 15 is currently Rep. Jay Fant‘s seat, but he opted to leave it months back to run for Attorney General. Polson — the cash leader in the race — hopes to turn the typically deep red seat blue.
And Jacksonville Democrats back her, almost without exception. Three more endorsements — from Rep. Tracie Davis, Jacksonville City Council Member Garrett Dennis and former Rep. Mia Jones — dropped Tuesday.
More will be coming.
Davis lauded Polson’s “passion for improving education” and “endorsement of Duval County teachers,” describing her as a “professional listener” with “compassion and vision.”
Polson lauded the trio’s “commitment and dedication to our city … not just Democratic values, but for policies that reflect and help every community and neighborhood in Jacksonville.”
For Polson, the endorsements are the latest sign of momentum.
Sen. Audrey Gibson, who aligns with the three latest endorsers, backs her. As do EMILY’s List, the Sierra Club, and Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Gwen Graham.
Her endorsements come from beyond her party as well: the nonpartisan Jacksonville Firefighters and the Fraternal Order of Police threw down, as did former GOP mayoral candidate Audrey Moran.
And what’s more, she has the cash lead.
Fischer in control in HD 16
Rep. Jason Fischer, a first-term Republican from Jacksonville’s House District 16, continued to maintain a strong lead over his Democratic opponent Ken Organes in the latest filings.
Neither faces primary opposition; this is a race to November.
In the two weeks between July 7 and July 20, Fischer brought in $7,800 to his campaign account, with an additional $11,500 raised by his political committee, Conservative Solutions for Jacksonville.
Contributions of over $1,000 came from familiar names: the Jacksonville Kennel Club; JAX BIZ (the political committee of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce); Wayne Weaver; CSX Transportation; Duke Energy PAC; and Peter Rummell were all represented on the committee or hard money side.
Between committee and campaign account funds, Fischer has roughly $185,000 on hand.
Organes, a first-time candidate and a retiree from the aforementioned CSX Transportation, brought in $5,326 in the two week period, giving him approximately $27,500 on hand.
Ray tax collector bid backed by gun lobby
The National Rifle Association has an interest in the four-way race for Duval County Tax Collector, with the gun lobby backing former state Rep. Lake Ray.
A familiar orange mailer from the group trumpets Ray’s A+ rating on gun issues, giving the Jacksonville Republican another boost ahead of the August primary.
Ray has maintained a cash lead over his three opponents, and that continued in reports released by the four campaigns Friday.
Ray has raised and self-financed a total of $143,435, with roughly $109,000 of that on hand still. Of the $6,500 brought in during the most recent two-week reporting period (July 7-20), the biggest name contributor was Sleiman Holdings.
Worth noting: Toney Sleiman, the strip mall magnate embroiled in ongoing litigation with the city of Jacksonville over the dilapidated Landing, is at odds with fellow Republican Mayor Lenny Curry. It will be interesting to see if Curry endorses someone besides Ray, who at times has proved to be too independent of the mayor’s priorities.
Ray is spending money now: He dropped $22,863 in the most recent reporting period, the bulk of it on printing and mailing costs.
Shaver dithers, dumps consultant
This week saw movement in a story we covered last week, regarding St. Augustine Mayor Nancy Shaver and a political consultant with whom she and other St. Augustine pols did a lot of business.
St. Augustine’s Daniel Carter accused well-connected local political blogger Michael Gold, whose Historic City News website attracts advertising from many prominent local politicians, of sending him a racist email.
As Carter wrote on Facebook: “Calling out a news outlet for being a racist piece of ____ and in turn, the editor-in-chief responds with overt racist remarks confirming that he is, in fact, a racist piece of ____.”
Shaver, when we talked to her, feigned ignorance. Yet, as WJCT reported this week, she evolved, asserting that the consultant’s email was “vile,” and that she would pull advertising.
Shaver, per campaign finance records, was spending less with Gold than she had in previous cycles. However, with an election just weeks away, it’s by no means certain that her delayed reaction to a consultant calling a constituent “lazy and shiftless” (among other racist phrases) will reassure anyone.
Dogs to relieve anxious flyers at JIA
Jax Paws, a program where K-9s and their handlers will help comfort anxious passengers at Jacksonville International Airport, launched this week, reports Action News Jax.
There are several advantages for having comfort dogs at the airport, says Anne Bell with Jax Paws: “It really has been proven that physiologically it calms the person, lowers the blood pressure … people seem to respond well to the dogs.”
More than a dozen dogs are part of the program, which will begin at JIA from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and weekends.
volunteers can soon begin walking dogs in the airport, after passing the licensing process.
“Probably give this two or three months to see how this goes and then open this up to other handlers,” Bell told Action News.
JTA expands bus service to Yulee, Nassau County
JTA will soon be offering direct bus service between Yulee and Jacksonville.
On Tuesday, JTA Board approved an interlocal agreement with the Nassau County Council on Aging/NassauTRANSIT, creating the Nassau-Duval Regional Express Bus Service, per WJCT.
Service will start Dec. 3.
“We will be launching the Red Line which is the next corridor, known as the East Corridor, of the First Coast Flyer Bus Rapid Transit System,” said JTA spokeswoman Leigh Ann Rassler in a statement to reporters. “And so, when we launch the Red Line, we’ve got some other enhancements, and this fits nicely into those changes,”
The service will include two morning and three evening trips between Yulee and Jacksonville.
“We are excited about offering another public transportation option to all residents in Nassau County,” Janice Ancrum, NCCOA President and CEO, told WJCT. “JTA has the expertise and resources to leverage NassauTRANSIT’s mobility services within and across our own county.”
The Florida Department of Transportation will fund the program for the first three years.
Appointed — Arezou Jolly (reappointed) to Jacksonville Transportation Authority.
Jaguars: We’re number 8!
Training camp is in full swing with workouts designed to get the team ready for the season opener. Goal number one is to survive the next four weeks with no devastating injuries.
If that happens, the Jaguars are projected to be one of the NFL’s elite teams in 2018. As a sign of the respect they gained by their postseason run last year, USA Today’s NFL Power Rankings lists Jacksonville as the eighth-best team in the league.
Of course, all of these rankings are subjective and those involved in ranking the teams clearly believe the NFC is much stronger than the AFC. No fewer than 6 of the top 7 teams come from the NFC.
The New England Patriots are the highest-rated AFC team, coming in at number two. The Jaguars are the next-highest team, just as the two teams finished the 2017 season.
Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia is the top-ranked team.
AFC South Division foes Houston and Tennessee came in at number 11 and 12, respectively. Indianapolis is ranked No. 31 out of 32 teams.
There are good reasons for the high rankings for the Texans’ and Titans’ ranking. They have the easiest, and second-easiest schedules in the league for 2018 while Jacksonville’s strength of schedule is listed as a tie for No. 25.
The Jaguars open their preseason schedule on Thursday against the New Orleans Saints at TIAA Bank Field.
If they avoid the injury bug through four preseason games, they will be completely satisfied to still be ranked number 8 heading into the season opener on September 9 against the New York Giants.
Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan‘s vision for the Jacksonville Shipyards redevelopment was unveiled Thursday morning, via a news release from the team.
A 490,000-square-foot riverfront convention center (a long-standing local wish list item) and a 350-room hotel will be included on the site, according to the release.
In April 2017, Khan’s Iguana Investments was approved to develop the site, which it is doing in conjunction with the DeBartolo Development Company and Rimrock Devlin Development.
“Today’s proposal represents the first step in delivering the vision we first shared three years ago for the rebirth of downtown Jacksonville,” Khan said. “The Shipyards is the optimal and obvious site for a new Jacksonville convention center.”
“First, you have the prime riverfront access and the sense of being a true destination that only the Shipyards can offer. Then, you have the synergies with the existing sports venues plus the anticipated mixed-use development planned for Lot J. We’re doing big things in Jacksonville and this plan with DeBartolo and Rimrock is our boldest plan to date,” Khan said.
“Our goal at DeBartolo Development is to focus on extraordinary development opportunities that will create a catalytic impact on the cities in which they are located,” said Edward Kobel, president and COO of DeBartolo Development Group.
“We were naturally drawn to this opportunity because of the impact it will have on downtown Jacksonville, and it’s one of the most exciting projects I’ve been involved with in my career. With the development team we have assembled, we have the leadership and resources to make this vision a reality,” Kobel added.
“Jacksonville is our home, and our goal has always been to be involved with, and contribute to, the transformation of downtown Jacksonville into a vibrant city core,” said Micah Linton and Wallace Devlin of Rimrock Devlin Development.
“We are ecstatic to take the first step in making this vision a reality, and believe that our vision for the convention center and hotel will serve as the impetus to spur future development downtown,” the two said.
The proposal solidifies long-standing hopes by Khan and the Lenny Curry administration to revitalize the sports complex area.
Earlier this year, Curry said he wanted to bring the NFL Draft to Jacksonville. It is easy to imagine a revitalized sports complex as central to that aspiration.
As all this is happening, the city will begin tearing down the off-ramps to the Hart Bridge. The state will provide $12.5 million to match city money should it be approved in the next budget. Traffic would be routed onto Bay Street, rolling past the sports complex, which will be juiced up considerably should Khan’s proposal and redevelopment plans for the Lot J parking area coalesce as expected.
The first hearing, Aug. 7, sees the committee poised to approve the property appraiser’s budget — a precursor to a larger review of the Mayor’s proposed budget that begins all-day sessions Aug. 16.
As compared with the $1.19 billion general fund budget in FY 16-17, and the $1.27 billion budget last year, the general fund budget is up this year to $1.31 billion.
The reamortization of what is now over $3 billion of pension debt from Jacksonville’s costly defined benefit plans, closed as of 2016 to new applicants, is allowing city leaders to spend in ways not possible otherwise.
Savings realized from pension reform, $331 million over two fiscal years per Mayor Lenny Curry, are allowing the spending.
“Without pension reform,” Curry said, “millions and millions of dollars would be diverted away from making our city better.”
Public safety spending, boosted again in this budget, will be discussed Aug. 16.
The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office would get $30 million in new money, facilitating 180 new officers (even as the total employee cap goes down), and a new data center for crime fighting. Fire and Rescue would receive an additional $17 million.
Children’s program spending will be reviewed Aug. 22. The newly formed Kids Hope Alliance would get $41 million, a big boost from previous spending on the Jacksonville Journey and Jacksonville Children’s Commission. Sixty new therapists would be funded for public schools, Curry said, with a 10 percent bump in children accessing KHA services.
FY 18-19 will see $161.4 million allocated to improvements, with big spends on Hart Bridge off-ramp removal ($12.5 million from the city matching the same sum from the state), a new fire station ($5 million), road resurfacing ($12 million), money for infrastructure at U.F. Health ($15 million, part of a $120 million commitment) and sidewalk projects (many of them delayed for years).
Curry’s budget should have an easier time than it did last year, when a Finance Committee stacked with Democrats (thanks to the previous council president) went beyond the numbers to ask epistemological questions about tactics in local policing.
This year sees Curry allies abound on the committee: Greg Anderson, Lori Boyer, and Bill Gulliford (all former Council Presidents) will dominate the proceedings.
Anderson and Council President Aaron Bowman both want a focus on the numbers, a more than tacit acknowledgement that the priorities of the Mayor and his allies largely overlap.
After the August deliberations, the full City Council will vote on the budget in September, with the new fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.