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Observations and musings on Jacksonville Politics

The Ghost of Shipyards Past, Part 1

The Ghost of Shipyards Past is a 3-part series that will run on consecutive Sundays.

News that LandMar Group LLC, the developer of the infamous Jacksonville Shipyards site, had filed bankruptcy this past Wednesday thrust the haunted development back into the center of all things controversial.

In 1992, the storied Jacksonville Shipyards closed its doors forever as a ship-making operation.  Three years later, Jay Hanan, a local developer, announced grand plans for the site and purchased the property.  He went bankrupt two years later.  The property was purchased as part of a bankruptcy settlement by the Spence family.  The family intended to build warehouse facilities on the site for use in their cold storage business.

In the book, “Guts”—written by Susan Brandenburg—Carlton Spence recalled the time when he first approached Jacksonville Mayor John Delaney to share his plans for the long-abandoned site.  The city had recently passed The Better Jacksonville Plan, recalled Mr. Spence, and the Mayor was riding high.

“When we met,” said Spence, “he told me he didn’t care what we did with the shipyard property and there was no money in Jacksonville to assist us in the development.”  Money, Spence had replied, was not what what he was looking for.  He was simply there as a courtesy to let the Mayor know of his plans for the site.  Those plans involved the construction of warehousing that would house the family’s burgeoning cold-storage business.

According to Spence, it was the Mayor who made the next move.  By this time, the city was in the running for the 2005 Super Bowl and plans called for docking cruise ships on the St. Johns River to serve as floating hotels.  The Mayor wanted to use the Shipyards as part of those plans, something that Spence readily agreed to.  Spence also assured the Mayor that the site would be cleaned up in time for the Super Bowl.

It was at that second meeting, Spence says, that John Delaney first suggested that the Spence family scuttle their plans to build warehouses on the site and instead develop the property into a mixed-use site.  Spence says that the Mayor said that the city could possibly help with funding the development or the Spence family could “Just give us the shipyards and we’ll take them off your hands.”

The vision of TriLegacy LLC had been born.  An $865 million development that would forever alter the face of Jacksonville’s riverfront was conceived.  The property would include housing, office, commercial space, boat slips and a public park.  According to Spence, it would be the largest private development in Jacksonville’s history.

Check back next week for the second installment of The Ghost of Shipyards Past.

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Jacksonville’s Ponzi History

It should come as no surprise to Jacksonville taxpayers that, lo and behold, Charles Ponzi—the father of the infamous Ponzi scheme—was a former resident of our fair city. After all, isn’t our local government run like a massive Ponzi scheme? Mayor Peyton’s latest proposed tax increase (at the rate he’s proposed new taxes over his two terms in office, he’s gunning for a new nickname—Taxin’ John of Taxonville, but that’s commentary for another day) strips the funds that were set aside in the Better Jacksonville Plan for rapid transit and moves them to other road projects. (Of course, let’s not forget, this was a voter-approved initiative and they are moving the funds without voter approval.) They have already moved around monies to pay for the ever-ballooning courthouse. And, of course, let’s not forget the tens of millions promised to the Jacksonville Jaguars. We have yet to identify where that money will be coming from, but rest assured it will be found somewhere.

Perhaps Bernie Madoff, and Charles Ponzi before him, should have avoided the private sector. They could have had a long and fruitful career in Jacksonville politics—no prison time involved.

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General Counsel’s Office: City Watchdog?

I realize that the mere thought of the City’s General Counsel’s Office serving as a taxpayer watchdog would probably send just about anyone in the St. James Building into gales of laughter, but I figured I’d give it a shot nonetheless.  At yesterday’s Grand Jury testimony, Deputy General Counsel Cindy Laquidara issued a rather eye-opening defense of how she survives in Jacksonville’s version of Tammany Hall politics:

Chief Deputy General Counsel Cindy Laquidara was the second witness to exit the grand jury room. She said last week that no city officials she knew of had been subpoenaed, indicating that she and everyone else who testified had appeared voluntarily.

Asked after her testimony whether she suspected any illegal activity associated with the courthouse, Laquidara said she didn’t have enough involvement to know for sure if there has been any type of misconduct but there was none she knew of.

“I haven’t directly seen any,” she said, “but I try to stay out of things that are not on my watch.”

If only Jacksonville had an abundance of dedicated public servants like Ms. Laquidara.


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Peyton calls for tax increase

Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton has joined the growing chorus of liberal Democrats calling for a tax increase in order to meet current budget needs.  (“What did you say?  What do you mean Democrats aren’t calling for a tax increase?  Republicans are?  John Peyton is a ‘conservative’ Republican?  Pardon me for the interruption, folks, there seemed to be some confusion on that one…back to the story…” )  Several days after calling for a $148 million donation to the Jacksonville Jaguars, Peyton is back to make his case for $100 million in infrastructure projects.  Now, he has yet to identify where he will come up with the City’s charitable donation to the sagging Jags, but he is clear on this one—it’s time to raise taxes.  Or, as he puts it “extend” the gasoline sales tax.

Somehow Duval voters knew what they signed off on the Better Jacksonville Plan and its “temporary” tax increase that the increase would never go away.  They never do.

Still no word on where the funds for the courthouse and the Jaguars donation will come from…  I suppose another “temporary” tax might be pending submission?

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