City Council OKs almost all mayor’s task force plans; Laura Street Trio request deferred

Published on December 12, 2023 at 10:33 pm

As 2023 begins to wrap up, Jacksonville’s City Council on Tuesday took final action on Mayor Donna Deegan’s budget initiatives that were the result of community task forces created after she took office July 1. Meanwhile, a request from a developer for a city loan to help renovate the group of Downtown buildings known as the Laura Street Trio was deferred to a future meeting, likely in the new year. 

Mayor’s task force initiatives approved

City Councilmembers largely gave the thumbs up to more than $27 million in budget dollars that will help fund anti-homelessness, health, housing, business and public art initiatives, as well as family, youth and literacy programs.

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Overall, the Republican-led City Council and the Democratic mayoral administration came to compromise on almost all of the mayor’s funding plans.

The task force funding requests began as a single item on the agenda, but were separated early in the legislative process so members of the City Council could vote on them separately. Some members, due to their volunteerism or careers, were advised to abstain from voting on portions that could potentially benefit a nonprofit they were involved with.

One amendment, added to the legislation by Councilman Chris Miller, requires the Deegan administration to give the Council a report by the end of 2024 on what each of the programs accomplished over the year, so elected officials can better decide whether to fund each program in the future.

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Councilman and Finance Committee Chairman Nick Howland on Tuesday said he was “proud” that the requirement aims to provide transparency and accountability to Jacksonville residents.

Council member Nick Howland speaks Tuesday evening | City Council video stream via

“And these programs may very well address critical community needs — and I’m very hopeful that they will –- but to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars, we need to make sure that they’re… the proper use and role of government… but also that they’re effective and that we can afford them,” Howland said. 

Following the bills’ passage, Deegan issued a statement calling the moment “transformational” for Jacksonville.

“In June, during the transition, I launched seven task force committees and asked them to make concrete policy recommendations for the betterment of our city. This legislation is a direct result of that work,” Deegan said, adding that she’s grateful for the collaboration between the community, the Council president and City Council. 

“It shows what is possible when we unite around our shared values, listen to our neighbors, and work together to move our city forward. I’m excited to sign this historic and one-of-a-kind legislation that will positively impact all our lives,” Deegan said. 

She will hold a bill-signing ceremony Wednesday at 1 p.m. at City Hall.

Laura Street Trio in limbo

Legislation that would provide a $22 million city loan to a developer to support the renovation and rehabilitation of three Downtown buildings at the corner of Laura and Forsyth streets was deferred to a future meeting.

Developer Steve Atkins of SouthEast Development Group aims to rehabilitate the former Florida National Bank building, Bisbee Building and Florida Life Insurance Building, as well as construct two new 11-story buildings with 140 hotel rooms and at least 165 housing units, according to city legislation.

According to Jacksonville Today news partner the Jacksonville Daily Record, Ordinance 2023-876 offers $36.5 million in incentives that went before the DIA board back in June, but also includes a $22 million city loan that would serve to guarantee a construction loan from Capital One for the developer. In return for offering the loan, the city would receive 12% of net cash flows from the project after its completion, as well as 5% of net proceeds from the sale or refinancing of the property through the full term of the agreement.

Council President Ron Salem said there were some “issues” being negotiated, but the proposal could be taken up after the holidays.

“I’ve encouraged the parties to work together to try to resolve those issues,” Salem said Tuesday. 

But while the City Council did not take up the public incentives for the Trio project, several Jacksonville residents urged elected officials to make sure the buildings will be preserved before they are too deteriorated to be saved.

They included Alan Bliss, CEO of the Jacksonville Historical Society, who said the three buildings were symbols of Jacksonville’s recovery after the Great Fire of 1901.

“The three adjacent buildings known as the Laura Street Trio are emblematic of that change, that resurgence, and we should care about them in the 21st century,” Bliss told the Council. “Because they help us tell the story of what makes this city distinct from any other place in the American South, and really, any other city in the United States.”

Among others, former Jessie Ball duPont Fund President Sherry Magill told representatives the project “serves a great public purpose.”

“We will not create an economically vibrant Downtown if we do not bring this particular set of buildings back into productive use,” McGill said. “I’m asking you to please embrace this project before these buildings cannot stand up.”

Lead image: The old Florida Life Insurance Building is one third of the Laura Street Trio. | Casmira Harrison, Jacksonville Today

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Casmira Harrison is a Jacksonville Today reporter focusing on local government in Duval County.

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