Staff Writer JaxGay.com
The JEA board agreed Tuesday to give the developers behind a planned mega-development on Jacksonville’s Southbank more time to close on the purchase of the utility’s waterfront land, a delay that appears to have also wrapped City Hall — and potentially taxpayers — into the prolonged talks.
JEA officials said the 90-day delay they approved will give the group behind The District — a planned mixed-use development worth as much as $450 million — time to transfer its purchase agreement over to the city, which faces a July 16 deadline to pay JEA $18.5 million for its 30 acres of land.
It’s not clear why the city is looking to pay JEA for the land instead of The District, a group which includes prominent Jacksonville developer Peter Rummell as one of its partners.
JEA and The District say the deal is still in negotiations with the city and the Downtown Investment Authority.
It’s also unclear if the city and the DIA will bear the full cost of the $18.5 million purchase price, or how else either or both might compensate JEA for its land. District officials had no comment on the latest development, and neither the city nor the DIA returned phone calls Tuesday afternoon.
City Councilman Matt Schellenberg, who serves as the council’s liaison to JEA, was highly critical of the extension, calling it “an abomination of the process.”
“They have had ample opportunity to do something,” he said. “They won the bid based on their ability to get something done in a period of time.”
He said that as of Tuesday there were no terms spelling out how the city would acquire the land and that no one knows how or what taxpayers might have to put up for the waterfront land.
“As stewards of city money, we should go back on bid, and we should have done it a year ago,” he said.
Council members will have to sign off on the deal if the city is buying the land.
JEA selected the development group behind The District to negotiate on a purchase agreement for its land in 2014. In the time since, District representatives say they have spent about $2 million on preliminary work, despite not yet closing on the purchase of the JEA land they plan to build on.
The District would be a first-of-its-kind development in Jacksonville’s urban core, and the so-called entitlements process — the various regulations, approvals and permits that rely on decisions at the staff and political levels in municipal and state government — appear to have taken longer than anyone anticipated.
The 90-day delay the JEA board approved Tuesday also came with a requirement that The District convert a $250,000 deposit that was previously refundable into a non-refundable payment that does not get applied to the purchase price of the utility’s land. That site formerly housed a JEA generating plant.
The builders have signaled that they are determined to move forward with the project.
On Monday, the group announced that AC Hotel by Marriott plans to build a six-story, 200-room hotel on the westernmost riverfront parcel of the 30–acre project.