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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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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A Reality Check Comes to the First Coast

IMG_0297Reality Check First Coast, a project that was months in the making, came to St. Johns County Convention Center at the World Golf Village on Thursday.  Reality Check First Coast is a visioning exercise that seeks to analyze and develop alternative growth scenarios for the seven county area—Nassau, Duval, Clay, Baker, St. Johns, Flagler and Putnam—through the year 2060.  According to research performed by the GeoPlan Center at the University of Florida and the Northeast Florida Regional Council, the First Coast area is expected to projected to add 1.6 million people and 650,000 new jobs by 2060.

The visioning exercise conducted at the May 21 event was designed raise awareness as to the projected levels of region-wide growth, and to lay the foundation fort the development of a concrete list of next steps to meet the region’s future job, housing, transportation, infrastructure and recreational needs.

To that end, over 275 of North Florida’s political, business and non-profit leaders gathered to share their vision of what the First Coast can become.  There were 30 tables of 10 people people who used red (jobs)  and yellow (residential) Lego’s to represent future development.  Among the participants were UNF President (and former Mayor) John Delaney, Mayor John Peyton, Councilman Kevin Hyde, Councilman Art Graham and Councilman Bill Bishop.  Governor Charlie Crist also spoke at the event.

My table had a diverse group, including a former Jacksonville City Councilwoman, the City Manager of a neighboring town, a School Board member from a neighboring county and business leaders from Jacksonville and surrounding areas.  Interestingly enough, perhaps a testament to what we would all like North Florida to become, we began by marking off greenspace areas that we wanted to preserve and enhance.  We then moved on to identifying where we would like alternative forms of transportation, such as high-speed rail, and moved on from there.  Perhaps the most difficult challenge was deciding where to place the scores of red (jobs) and yellow (residential) Lego’s.  We had said that we wanted to avoid the urban sprawl that plagues so much of North Florida, and that proved rather challenging to change.  In the end, our consensus was that North Florida must develop better forms of Transportation, mixed-use developments with high-quality schools and accessible greenspace that accentuates our River, Beaches and the natural beauty of our region.  

The project is by no means complete.  Visit Reality Check’s website for information on how you can become involved. 

Oh…and for the political junkies…interestingly enough, the prospect of hearing the incumbent Governor and current Senatorial candidate didn’t seem to inspire more of Jacksonville’s City Council members to attend, other than Hyde, Graham and Bishop who were already mentioned…  More pictures below… Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Florida, Florida Politics, Jacksonville, Jacksonville City Council, Mayor of Jacksonville, , , , , , ,

Delaney Speaks Up On Education Cuts

From The Jacksonville Business Journal:

University of North Florida President John Delaney will lead the presidents of the other 10 state universities when they hold a press conference at the Capitol Thursday morning.

“If the House takes another half-a-billion, the consequences would be more than serious,” Delaney said in a news release issued Wednesday afternoon. “Numerous degree programs will be shut down, people will have to give up their jobs, and some branch campuses may be closed. We want to avoid that, and we know the House members do as well.”

Filed under: Florida, Florida Legislature, Florida Politics, Jacksonville, , ,

Vesctor Chairman Receives Additional Reward

John Rood, the founder of The Vestcor Companies and a recipient of millions in taxpayer dollars during the Delaney years, was appointed the Finance Chairman of the Republican Party of Florida. Rood, a prolific fundraiser for the GOP, had previously served in the high-stress role of Ambassador to the Bahamas under the administration of George W. Bush.

“Ambassador Rood is both a longtime supporter of the Party and a successful entrepreneur,” noted (RPOF Chairman Jim) Greer. “We look forward to working with him to develop our short and long-term financial goals and to secure the resources necessary to elect Republican candidates across Florida.”

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Courthouse grand jury

The courthouse grand jury met and took testimony from 4 city officials today.  Most notably, the first two witnesses were the City’s top two legal advisors – Rick Mullaney and Cindy Laquidara.  Adam Hollingsworth and Alan Mosley also testified. At issue are the findings in an audit that $64 million dollars were spent with nothing to show for it other than designs that won’t be used and defective contracts.  Read more here.

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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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Should UNF & FCCJ Merge?

With the impending name change at Florida Community College at Jacksonville, perhaps its time to start studying the feasibility of a merger between it and the University of North Florida. Now, I’ll be frank and admit that I’m not an expert on higher education (although I certainly paid my tens of thousands into the system in pursuit of my degrees), but I do wonder why we would have two state colleges in Jacksonville offering competing degrees. In a time of budget crisis in the state, one has to wonder if there would be a way to effectively merge the administrations of both institutions and save the state (and taxpayers) millions of dollars. Certainly there has to be a way to break out the Associate Degree programs that FCCJ built itself on into a college that could be part of a larger university?

Admittedly, these are just thoughts…not well-studied recommendations, but this would certainly solve the most pressing problem for FCCJ—finding a new name. There is, after all, already a Jacksonville University and a Jacksonville State. A North Florida College or Jacksonville College would just be too confusing.

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Grand jury investigation continues

The grand jury investigation continues into the City’s expenditure of $65 million dollars on the proposed Courthouse – with nothing to show for it.  Next on deck to testify: John Delaney, Adam Hollingsworth, and Alan Mosley.

I noticed that in today’s TU article, the City’s General Counsel, Rick Mullaney, couldn’t resist taking a back-handed dig at outgoing State Attorney Harry Shorstein.   I guess he couldn’t think of anything constructive to say since his office is being scrutinized in the ongoing investigation for their role in the City’s defective  courthouse contracts.

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