JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Some city council members knew nothing about a THP engineering report that warns of dangers at the Veterans Memorial Arena.
Jacksonville City Council Member Johnny Gaffney said, "I'm appalled. I'm appalled, I'm angry. I just cannot believe that the city council was not informed, the public was not informed. My stomach is churning right now because I'm sick to know that we had a report of this magnitude, and this information was withheld from the district councilman, the city, the entire city council. After all, aren't we supposed to be transparent. And when we're transparent, that's the right thing to do. Has the city been transparent with this? No, absolutely not. Someone needs to come explain this to myself and city council. We need answers. And until we get an independent report saying that this is safe, it should be shut down."
Powerful words Gaffney uses about what the city should do with the arena. The building is in his district. "This is a safety issue here," Gaffney said.
He told us, this is the first he's heard about the independent engineering report from THP. "I'm pretty sure, just like myself, my colleagues have not seen this report," he said.
It warns of serious safety hazards, like falling bricks and stones, and he thinks the city has no choice: "Other than to close the building."
First Coast News asked Council Member Bill Bishop about the THP report. He said, "People that write these kind of reports don't use language like that without good reason. That report identifies some very serious problems," Bishop added. He said the first he heard about the report was from the First Coast News investigation. "I saw your news report that referenced it."
Bishop said he strongly believes the city needs to do more than just put up barricades around the building. Bishop wants above ground tunnels leading to and from the arena. "You can build these things so that it can withstand falling capstone pieces that might fall down on it, and they won't puncture," he said.
Bishop added, "If we have predictions of a severe weather event with high winds predicted, I would not be anywhere near that building. Because of what's in that report that questions the integrity of the attachment mechanism for the brick. I'd shut the building down, if there was a major storm coming, and you're going to get 80, 90 mile an hour winds, I would shut the building down," Bishop said.
We want to be clear, the city has not contracted Bishop to analyze the building. He has not done a thorough inspection, but Bishop has concerns after seeing this report.
He now wonders how widespread the problems really are. "If this is a sampling of the building in random locations, what's the rest of the building look like? Because just thinking of it logically, if you find these kind of things in multiple areas, it tells me that there's a good chance you're going to find more of it," said Bishop.
Bishop said weeks ago, the city's senior project manager was one of the people he relied on to get important information about the safety of the Arena. "Oh, definitely. I was saying that based on what I knew at the time. And what I was being told by those who were in involved in investigating the problem," he said. "Well, yeah, Dave, Dave Schneider. That's what he told me. And this definitely tells a completely different picture," Bishop added.
Now all city council members should know about this report and the safety issues it exposes. After First Coast News interviewed Councilman Gaffney, he called the mayor's office and wanted to make sure all of his colleagues have these reports.
First Coast News obtained a copy of an e-mail Jessica Deal of Mayor Brown's office sent to all council members. She attached the THP engineering reports. The same ones First Coast News has had for weeks. The two council members told First Coast News they are going to ask more questions in upcoming subcommittee meetings. We will follow what happens.
First Coast News