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Deadline extended for The District to comply with city of Jacksonville incentive agreement

The Florida Times-Union logo The Florida Times-Union 9/17/2020 David Bauerlein, Florida Times-Union
a harbor filled with lots of small boats in a body of water: A 2015 rendering shows how The District on the Southbank would have marina along with residential and office buildings on 32 acres of land that is vacant now. © Elements Development of Jacksonville A 2015 rendering shows how The District on the Southbank would have marina along with residential and office buildings on 32 acres of land that is vacant now.

The slow-moving development known as The District will have until the end of the year to borrow money needed for $32 million of new streets, drainage and utilities in order to keep alive an agreement approved by the city in 2018 for the most ambitious project in the works for downtown Jacksonville.

The Downtown Investment Authority had put the The District on notice that its development team needed to close on the bonds by the end of September. But after a significant change in leadership control of the development two weeks ago, the expectation is that if bonds are issued, it will take a few months to get that financing in place.

"They're not going to close by the end of the month, but they are going to close by the end of the year," Downtown Investment Authority CEO Lori Boyer told the DIA board at its meeting Wednesday. 

More: Downtown's half-built Berkman II tower could be sold, demolished

The District is the largest planned development in flux for downtown, but it isn't the only one that has yet to materialize on land where demolition turned land into green space.

On the Northbank side of the river, the Downtown Investment Authority selected New York-based Spandrel Development Partners in January to build 520 apartments mixed with ground-floor retail and rooftop swimming pools on land where the old county courthouse and city hall annex once stood along Bay Street.

The DIA and Spandrel have not yet negotiated a redevelopment agreement for the site, which another group wants to use for a large convention center complex.

DIA board Chairman Ron Moody said he wants to schedule a board meeting later this month to hear "the latest and greatest" from the group touting the convention center.

"We have a responsibility to deal with Spandrel according to the term sheet and kind of see where they're at," Moody said. "But in the meantime, I want to see what some of our other options are so I think it would be wise to at least continue to collect information."

He said the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic makes downtown development tougher, but he ticked off a list of projects that are underway in one stage or another.

"It feels like nothing is happening, but there's a lot happening," Moody said.

Boyer said that while downtown activity goes through shifts, "it doesn't mean you stop. It just means you keep going and you adjust the path forward, and I think that's where we are."

In the case of The District, the city approved a development agreement in 2018 with Elements Development of Jacksonville for a $280 million development of 950 residences, 147 hotel rooms, 134,000 square feet of retail space, 200,000 square feet of office space and a 125-slip marina.

The agreement also called for extending the Southbank riverwalk and building a new riverfront park.

The agreement required privately financed bonds to be in place by January 2020 for the developer's share of the infrastructure costs, but Elements obtained extensions from the Downtown Investment Authority. Boyer told Elements in August that she would restart the clock on the development agreement.

Elements announced Sept. 4 it had reached an agreement with Preston Hollow Capitol to step in as the leader of the development.

Preston Hollow, based in Dallas, has loaned $23 million to Elements for the project, which mainly went toward Elements buying the land that used to be the site of the Southside Generating Station.

"We have a lot of meetings set up and a lot of steps we are going through to get the closing documents ready," Boyer said. "They flew into town last week to meet with us and go through the checklist of who has to do what."

If the development moves forward, the city will pay as much as $26.4 million for public improvements including the new park and riverwalk extension. The developer would get up to $56 million in property tax rebates based on property tax revenue generated by new construction on the site.

In other business Wednesday, the DIA board approved an increase in parking rates for city-owned garages and lots in downtown. The increase in monthly rates will range from $10 to $30 depending on the facility. The increase changes rates that were approved in 2013 and are aimed at aligning the city's charges with the privately owned parking facilities.

The higher rates will take effect in mid-October for new monthly parking permit and then in November for permit renewals.

This article originally appeared on Florida Times-Union: Deadline extended for The District to comply with city of Jacksonville incentive agreement

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