Observations and musings on Jacksonville Politics

The Ghost of Shipyards Past, Part 2

The Ghost of Shipyards Past is a 3-part series.  Part 1 was published on Sunday, June 14th.

According to Carlton Spence, the Spence family never intended to be developers.  Their original intent when they purchased the Shipyards property was to use it to expand their cold storage business.  After pressure from John Delaney; however, Spence says that the family developed the idea for the $865 million development that would be known as The Shipyards.

One of the plan’s biggest proponents, according to Spence, was Jacksonville Mayor John Delaney.  His support was instrumental in obtaining the $75 million committed by the city to assist in developing the project.  “Of that amount,” Spence told Susan Brandenburg in her book Guts, “$40 million was to be in the form of bonds with the money apolied to the cost of developing a 16-acre public park and completing the North Bank River Walk.”  That development was to take place while TriLegacy moved forward with other aspects of the project.  The remaining $35 million was set to come in the form of tax abatements.

Shortly after announcing the Shipyards development and securing financial support from the JEDC, TriLegacy Group LLC was selected by the city to develop the former Cecil Field Naval Air Station.

The Shipyards, One Shipyard Place, rolled out their condo models at Epping Forest Yacht Club on the morning of Sept 11, 2001.  It should have been a harbinger of things to come.

The US economy tanked after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and development on the project moved along slowly.  Nevertheless, the development moved forward and in late 2003, construction of One Shipyard Place was beginning to look like a reality with the development only a few reservations short of the 60 pre-sales needed to begin construction.

At that same time, Brandenburg recalls in her book, Jacksonville landed a major coup when it convinced Fidelity National to move its national headquarters to Jacksonville.  The Spence family began negotiating with Fidelity to possibly develop on part of the Shipyards project.  Those discussions were held directly with Fidelity and the Spence’s wondered in retrospect if that’s what became their downfall.

Two days before Christmas, Jeff Spence was contacted by Kirk Wendland, then the Executive Director of JEDC, to inform him that the city was missing a document that would confirm that the city and TriLegacy had agreed upon an appraisal that had been done for Cecil Field.  Spence recalls that Wendland and he agreed that the issue was a “technicality” and was something that could be addressed after the holiday season.

Trouble was on the horizon.

Check back next week for The Ghost of Shipyards Past, Part 3.


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Jax Officials Dispute “Cash for Relocation” Charge

Yesterday’s story that uncovered charges from the Town Manager of Valdese, North Carolina that Jacksonville officials promised $7 million in cash incentives to Saft America in return for the construction of a new battery production plant at Cecil Field did not sit well with Jacksonville officials.

According to Misty Skipper, Mayor Peyton’s Director of Communications, the charges are simply not true.

“The city is not in a position now, nor has it been our economic development policy, to provide large, up-front, cash incentives to business prospects.” said Ms. Skipper.

While stressing that the negotiations with Saft are still underway, and confidentiality is understandably of the essence, Ms. Skipper sketched a brief overview of what any economic incentives would entail—Qualified Targeted Industry and Brownfield Bonus grants, which carry an 80/20% split with the state (the city portion being the 20%), Recaptured Enhanced Value (REV) grants and Countywide Economic Development Fund dollars (tied to job creation).

Efforts were made to reach Jeff Morse, the Valdese Town Manager who leveled the accusation that Jacksonville was paying cash up-front to secure the deal, but those efforts were unsuccessful.  However, according to another news sources, Mr. Morse backed away from his previous comments.  In a conversation with WOKV’s Jared Halpern, Mr. Morse said that Saft was a “great partner” and wished Jacksonville the best.

According to the Mayor’s Office, any incentives offered to Saft will be fully vetted when the final proposal is presented to the Jacksonville Economic Development Commission and the City Council for final approval.  Perhaps the JEDC would consider adding their meeting agenda, and the supporting materials, to their website.

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Jacksonville’s Ethics Hotline Cases

The City’s Ethics Officer has released an update on complaints made via the Ethics Hotline. (630-1015, just in case anyone has something they would like to report.) Once again, although the employees of the City (and citizens) are to be commended for reporting behavior that they deemed unethical, it does appear that the majority of these cases seem to be swept under the rug. Among the most recent cases:

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