Jacksonville Bold for 3.17.21 — Butts in seats

Dark blue rows of seats on the stadium. One red seat.
UFC wants what Jacksonville has to offer.

Butts in seats

The fight game comes down to attendance — or butts in seats.

And in Jacksonville, plans are afoot for a full occupancy Ultimate Fighting Championship.

“FULL CROWD,” asserted UFC head Dana White, and for locals who enthused last year when the fighting troupe had an event in Jacksonville without a crowd, now they’ll be able to show up.

And you can probably predict what happens next. Expect the usual assortment of news conferences and Zoom calls worried about the card being a “superspreader” event.

And also, expect a sellout.

As folks elsewhere in the state have learned this Spring Break, it doesn’t matter much how earnest and long-faced the newscasters come off discussing the virus: the kids who learned to walk and talk in the shadow of 9/11 and saw nothing but chaos and corporatism occasionally bedazzled with hollow, aspirational rhetoric, those kids are going to the beach, the bar, the fights, and there is little that previous generations will say about it at this point.

Jacksonville, of course, has been known to swing at pitches outside the strike zone. Remember last year’s tragicomic recruitment of the Republican National Convention? Colts Fever for a new generation.

But UFC wants what Jacksonville has to offer. Jacksonville wants, well, pretty much any event at this point, but primarily a global showcase. So there is a synergy of purpose.

Until then, let’s hope the vaccines become open enrollment for all our sakes before the prelim bouts start next month.

System update

Sen. Aaron Bean shepherded his “DEO Modernization Act” through the first of three Senate committees of reference this week.

Bean, the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, was accompanied in the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee by Dane Eagle, head of the Department of Economic Opportunity.

In his penultimate Session, Bean is carrying a major agency bill, and it has two stops to go.

Aaron Bean’s DEO reform bill is moving right along. Image via Colin Hackley.

Among the changes in SB 1948: The DEO head moves from an Executive Director to a Secretary, and the department gets a new division — the Office of Economic Accountability and Transparency (EAT), which will allow DEO to be more responsive than it was during the economic crisis last year.

Bean, a Fernandina Beach Republican, described the “wild year” of 2020 as one in which constituent services preoccupied legislators amid the economic shutdown.

“We never want to have that happen again,” Bean said, describing the “antiquated” CONNECT system and how his DEO Modernization Act would help the department “get with the times.”

A “cloud-based system” will remove server capacity issues that nettled policymakers last year as unemployment surged, Bean said.

Future is now

Sen. Jennifer Bradley is taking a statutorily-enforced pause in fundraising, but the Fleming Island Republican and Senate District 5 incumbent raised nearly $60,000 in February ahead of the 2021 Legislative Session.

Big haul ahead of Session for Jennifer Bradley.. Image via Colin Hackley.

Most of the fundraising went to the Senator’s state-level political committee.

Women Building the Future brought in $43,500, pushing the account near $105,000 on hand.

Bradley added another $14,000 to her campaign account, which now has $35,000 available.

The current Sen. Bradley, who is replacing her husband Rob Bradley in the sprawling multicounty seat that extends south and west from Orange Park to encompass a largely rural expanse, faced both primary and general election competition in 2020.

Like the previous Bradley in the seat, she has had little trouble securing support for her campaigns thus far.

Bradley continues to have a successful Session, with the Senate Regulated Industries Committee on Tuesday moving SB 1060, her bill that would extend liability protections to urban search specialists.

“The services provided by engineers during a disaster are critical to our recovery efforts and to ensuring the safety of first responders and the public,” said Bradley. “I’m pleased to sponsor legislation that protects these professionals under the Good Samaritan Law.”

Brockwell up

The race to succeed Rep. Cord Byrd in the state House has early fundraising, and Jacksonville Beach lawyer Heath Brockwell has an early edge.

Heath Brockwell has an early cash lead in HD 11.

Brockwell, a personal injury lawyer by trade, brought in $7,350 in February from mostly local donors. While not a staggering haul, it’s the clearest sign of a traditional campaign from the three candidates filed in HD 11.

Hilliard’s Bo Wade Hodges, a recent high school graduate, started slower last month, seeding his campaign account with $105 from the candidate and his mother.

A third candidate, Matthew Collins, opened his campaign account just before the end of February. He has no money at this point.

HD 11 encompasses Nassau County and the beachside areas of Duval. As drawn, the Republican primary will decide it.

Ferraro in

The mayoral race got even more crowded last weekend, with a third Republican emerging.

Second-term Jacksonville City Councilman Al Ferraro is the latest to jump in and the second “official” candidate, joining Council colleague Matt Carlucci. A third candidate, Daniel Davis of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce, has not filed but is expected to at a moment of his choosing.

Al Ferraro enters mayoral mashup.

Davis’ political committee, Building a Better Economy, is north of $1.5 million banked. Between committee cash and hard money, Carlucci has more than half a million. For Ferraro, the Council equivalent of a backbencher, with few significant bills or committee leadership positions since his election in 2015, these are formidable odds.

Ferraro told media this weekend that he knew he would get outraised, and he expected a rough campaign. Of his kickoff event, he told First Coast News he “wanted to be surrounded by loved ones before I got thrown into the wolves.”

And perhaps it may go that way, with Carlucci and Davis turning their attacks on Ferraro. Or maybe they ignore him, realizing he’ll get 15% tops, knowing that if they make plays for Ferraro voters overtly, it comes at the expense of the middle.

Jolly Tiger

Florida Tiger Bay political clubs are going statewide with an event Thursday, March 25 featuring former U.S. Rep. David Jolly.

Jolly, who bolted from the Republican Party due to disagreements with former President Donald Trump’s agenda, will be the keynote speaker on the “Insiders Look at Florida Politics” at the Flagler Tiger Bay Club on March 25. The event starts at noon with the Flagler Tiger Bay podcast, available on the club’s website and Facebook Live, Flagler News Weekly. It will simulcast in Flagler County on WNZF, 94.5 FM and 1550 AM radio.

David Jolly takes the lead in a Tiger Bay statewide presence. Image via Florida Politics.

The event is also part of the broader reach attempted by Florida’s 15 different Tiger Bay clubs, increasing efforts to expand its presence in the state.

Jolly, who represented Florida’s 13th Congressional District based in Pinellas County from 2014 to 2017, left the Republican Party in 2018. He’s now a regular commentator and political analyst for MSNBC television news channel.

While Jolly is the keynote speaker, he’ll also be part of a panel discussion during the Tiger Bay event with Frank Terraferma, director of Florida House Campaigns for the Republican Party. Florida-based Democratic strategist Steven Schale will also sit in.

Livestream sites include FlaglerTigerBayClub.com, Facebook and FlaglerNewsWeekly.com.

Adieu Paige

A note of recognition for the end of one of the great broadcast careers in Jacksonville history.

The legendary Paige Kelton is leaving Action News Jax after nearly a quarter-century of doing everything from shoe-leather reporting to driving the operation’s public affairs coverage and a lot of anchoring along the way.

Paige Kelton with A.G. Gancarski, 2019 after an Action News Jax taping.

Kelton left a thank-you note on the station’s website, tweeting that she had more than 280 characters to say on the subject.

“Thank you for allowing me the privilege of telling your story. Thank you for trusting me with your most personal moments, both the joys and the sorrows. That was never lost on me, when someone let me into their life because they trusted I would get it right. Thank you for being tough on me when I needed it and kind, so incredibly kind when I needed that too.”

Kelton is also a real deal survivor in a way that should inspire other journalists in a cutthroat business. Action News tried to fire her a few years ago in a wave of cuts for reasons that made no sense.

Not only did she not get fired, but she also got a promotion.

There is life after journalism, of course. Still, Kelton’s ability to negotiate a changing industry, always with integrity and personal style, is timeless and should be a lesson to those up-and-coming journos who have yet to learn the industry’s brutal, inevitable lessons.

Cosmo clash

As luck would have it, there’s a Jacksonville connection to a recent attack from Florida’s Lieutenant Governor against a venerable women’s magazine.

Lt. Gov. Jeanette Núñez on Friday castigated Cosmopolitan and media more generally in a Twitter takedown. The issue? An article about “whistleblower” Rebekah Jones,

“Yet another shameful example of the partisan, corporate media willfully ignoring the facts and writing puff pieces to prop up this individual to perpetuate a manufactured narrative. Make no mistake — this is a total lie, and Cosmopolitan is printing defamatory information,” Núñez said.

Jeanette Núñez says ‘hold my Cosmo.’ Image via Colin Hackley.

A Jacksonville freelancer wrote the piece: Emily Bloch, the last new hire by the Florida Times-Union newsroom. Bloch worked her way in by freelancing, amassing an increasingly sizable national presence even as she handles education and other T-U beats.

Bloch, who is not commenting on this story, noted on Twitter that the LG could have commented for the story when asked, but did not.

The Rebekah Jones story may be a footnote of the pandemic year. But the LG’s pyrotechnic reaction suggests that it’s still a live issue for the Governor’s Office.

Harding on JTA board

The Jacksonville Transportation Authority is getting a new member on the board of directors with Abel Harding.

Mayor Lenny Curry recommended Harding for the board; the City Council approved. Harding will serve a four-year term on the board. Harding is filling the vacancy of Isaiah Rumlin, whose term ended in 2020.

“Abel Harding has a long history of serving the Jacksonville community, through his work and his continued engagement in civic and philanthropic efforts,” said JTA Board Chair Ari Jolly. “Abel is a welcome addition to the Board as we pursue the monumental and exciting work of the JTA in the years ahead.”

Abel Harding gets a board appointment. Image via Jacksonville Transportation Authority.

Harding has been a fixture in the Jacksonville civic scene for the past two decades. He’s currently the market president for IberiaBank and First Horizon Bank.

He’s also currently the chair of JAX Biz, the JAX Chamber’s political committee and has been a member of the chamber’s board of directors. He’s also secretary for the Jacksonville Humane Society board of directors.

Harding has also served on several community boards in the Jacksonville area ranging from the Cultural Council and the United Way.

Harding was also a columnist for the Florida Times-Union newspaper. He left that position to become communications director for then-Mayor Alvin Brown in 2011.

Safe biz breakfast

The St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce Economic Development Council is hosting a transportation panel focusing on regional issues and solutions and what role the county plays in Northeast Florida.

The EDC Quarterly Breakfast is 7:30 a.m. Friday, March 26, at the Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort & Spa Convention Center in Ponte Vedra Beach. Registration online here.

It will be the Chamber’s first indoor event since the pandemic started last year.

Dunaway Schuessler, Greg Evans and Nat Ford are taking part in the first Chamber function in a year.

Fiorentino Group Principal Shannan Dunaway Schuessler, a former chief of staff and director of Legislative Affairs for the Florida Department of Transportation, will moderate.

The panel includes Greg Evans, District 2 secretary of the Florida Department of Transportation; Jacksonville Transportation Authority CEO Nat Ford; and Phong Ngyuen, Transportation Development Manager of the St. Johns County Growth Management Department.

After consulting with health experts, the Chamber event will follow best practices for indoor events, including adhering to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, social distancing, and no more than five guests at each indoor table. The chamber will space tables at the proper social distance, as well.

The Marriott will prepare a COVID-friendly, pre-wrapped breakfast to enjoy outside around high-top tables.

Check-in and the networking part of the event will take place outdoors under a large, covered entrance to the Convention Center from 7:45 to 8:15 a.m. There will be an opportunity to explore the St. Johns County Express Commuter bus from the JTA, highlighted on-site.

The program begins inside at approximately 8:15 a.m.

The Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort & Spa is at 1000 Tournament Players Club Blvd., Ponte Vedra Beach.

I-10 overhaul

The massive overhaul of Interstate 10 near downtown Jacksonville is underway and now includes some delays and detours.

Florida Department of Transportation officials note that I-10 west areas from the Interstate 95 flyover will see shutdowns and detours between 10 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. each night running through Saturday, March 20.

Many of the detours and rerouting include:

— I-95 north to I-10 west: Drivers on I-95 north heading to I-10 west will detour to the Park Street exit. At the bottom of the ramp, drivers will turn right on Park Street, left on Forest Street, left on Edison Avenue, left on Stockton Street, and left on Irene Street to access the I-10 west ramp.

— Alternate route for truckers: Trucks traveling on I-95 north heading to I-10 west should take an alternate route using the I-295 West Beltway toward Orange Park and the I-10 and the I-295 West Beltway interchange.

Get ready to detour on Interstate 10. Image via Florida Department of Transportation.

The project is massive, and the new FDOT advisories are just the beginning. The project is adding lanes to I-10 for several miles west of downtown.

Contractor Archer Western is handling the project. It’s budgeted for $126 million in costs, with scheduled completion in the fall.

UNF Board

The University of North Florida has a new member of the board of trustees in Jason Barrett.

Barrett was appointed to the board this month by Gov. Ron DeSantis. The UNF appointment still has to get confirmation from the Florida Senate, but Barrett has a long history in business and community service on Florida’s First Coast.

Barrett is from St. Augustine Beach. In St. Johns County, he is the CEO of Flagler Health+.

He’s held several key positions in the past associated with Flagler Hospital. He’s president of the facility, as well as its chief administration, integration and operating officers.

In addition to health care responsibilities, Barrett has volunteered for participation in several key community services. He’s served on the Florida Children and Youth Cabinet.

Jason Barrett is coming home (academically). Image via Flagler Hospital.

Barrett also spends volunteer time with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Northeast Florida. Barrett has also committed his time to the St. Johns Economic Development Council, Community Hospice and Jacksonville Civic Council.

His service on the UNF Board of Trustees will (academically) bring Barrett home. He is an alum of UNF, where he earned his master’s degree in business administration. He also has a master’s degree in systems and engineering from Texas Tech University.

First Coast housing

Northeast Florida’s housing market continues to sizzle into 2021 as home prices jumped and residential property inventory dwindles.

The Northeast Florida Association of Realtors reports February’s home sales saw 3,063 pending sales for the month. That comes to an 11% increase from February 2020.

While home sales went up, the number of homes on the market fell dramatically. Last month there were only 3,931 houses for sale on the First Coast. That’s a sharp drop from the inventory of 4,295 homes for sale in January and a whopping 56% reduction from a year ago.

Housing prices soar on the First Coast. Image via AP.

The Northeast Florida housing scene continues to be a seller’s market as about 22% of all homes sold in February went for more than the asking price, according to NEFAR figures.

The average price for homes also went upward. Before the coronavirus outbreak, the average price for houses on the First Coast never exceeded $300,000.

That average price for houses in the Northeast Florida region has not dipped below $300,000 so far this year and hasn’t been below that figure since shortly after the pandemic gripped the state.

February’s average price for a residential property came in at $323,467 on the First Coast. That’s up from the January average asking price of $318,049 and a notable 14% hike from February 2020.

Read more here.

California dreaming

Looking to fly to Los Angeles? JetBlue is offering nonstops to LAX from JAX.

Though not every flight is without a stopover, some are, and those we surveyed this week started as low as $141 each way.

Though some might wonder why anyone would leave Florida for a state dealing with coronavirus restrictions, a nonstop to Los Angeles has been a coveted prize for locals and now is within sight later this month.

The last time JAX to LAX in one shot was a possibility? 2008.

The challenge now: will there be enough usage to keep this long-term? Stay tuned.

Jax media relations

The City of Jacksonville public affairs office is getting a new media relations leader.

Caroline Adkins takes on City Hall’s duties as media relations coordinator. Adkins is replacing Marjorie Dennis.

After holding the position for three years at City Hall, Dennis departs government media relations for the golf world with a communications position with the PGA Tour in Ponte Vedra Beach.

Caroline Adkins will handle media relations for Jacksonville.

Adkins was an outreach specialist for Jacksonville’s Military Affairs and Veteran’s Affairs Department before being promoted to media relations coordinator.

Adkins is developing her career after graduating from the University of Georgia in May 2017. She held several leadership roles at the college in Athens, Georgia.

During her time at university, Adkins was executive director of internship, vice president of operations for internship, a personal development mentor and a youth soccer coach at Clarke County Leisure Services in Athens.

She graduated from the University of Georgia with a master’s degree in public administration four years ago and her bachelor’s degree in international affairs in 2015.

Before her college days, Adkins was a sales associate at Crave Boutique in Jacksonville from 2009 to 2014. She is a graduate of First Coast High School.

Staff Reports



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