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The City Council auditor says developer's plan "Lacking in Substance"

10:32 PM, Dec 10, 2013   |    comments
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Jacksonville City Council President Bill Gulliford and council voted Tuesday night for the release of some taxpayer money to the developer of Unity Plaza.

The 17 to one vote is in favor of accepting documents presented by 220 Riverside developers proving they will spend at least $30 million on the project.

The Riverside Avenue project is a partnership between the city and the developer, Hallmark Partners, which dates to 2007. Initially, the city committed almost $13 million, while the developer committed $90 million. That agreement was amended last year. The city's costs increased to more than $17 million, while the developer's investment was cut back to $30 million.

Now the developer has asked for another change. Hallmark wants the city to release city funds without the stringent proof of investment the original deal required. Instead of a binding loan commitments, or binding investor commitments, the developer wants the city to accept a building permit, a closing statement and a signed affidavit from a company principal.

The developer argues the funds are needed now to keep the project on schedule. Several council members -- including the bill's sponsor, Councilman Warren Jones -- point to construction at 220 Riverside Avenue as proof enough that the project will be completed.

But the Office of General Counsel and the Council Auditor oppose releasing the money now, saying the proof the developer is offering is "lacking in substance." 

And many locals still have fresh memories of the Shipyards, a riverfront project downtown that failed --- under two consecutive developers -- and twice sent the city to scrambling to recover taxpayer money. To date, some $40 million in city funds were spent on the still-vacant Bay Street site.

Late Tuesday afternoon, the city and the developer were still trying to hammer out an agreement. If they are able to do so, the council is expected to vote tonight on whether to release the funds.

When completed, the project will include 294 apartments, 18,000 feet of retail space and Unity Plaza, a public park at the corner of Riverside Avenue and Forest Street.

First Coast News

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