The Mayoral Transition Downtown Revitalization Committee heard a proposal to develop a day center to provide a place for social services.
by Max Marbut
If order of action has any relation to level of importance, the establishment of an independent Downtown development authority tops the list of priorities for the Mayoral Transition Downtown Revitalization Committee.
The committee voted unanimously Thursday to send that recommendation to Mayor-elect Alvin Brown.
All 18 transition committees have been charged by Brown to submit their recommendations to his office by close of business June 30, the day before his inauguration.
Details regarding the organizational structure of the proposed entity and its level of “authority” remain to be determined by the new administration.
Some members said they believe the entity should be entirely autonomous, while others suggest that some level of oversight should be part of the protocol.
Committee member Oliver Barakat said that if all the proposed Downtown authority wants to do has to be approved by City Council, “it will be ineffective.”
Instead of Council approval, the authority should have “Downtown summits” to seek continual community input, said committee member Mya Surrency.
Committee member Chris Flagg said the Jacksonville Economic Development Commission would have to “have a role in some respect,” as well as the City’s Planning Department.
“They need highly defined roles,” he said.
Co-chair Bob Rhodes advised the committee that even the most independent of entities would still have to pass through the City’s budget and audit process and the formation of the proposed new authority would have to be approved by Council and by the state Legislature.
The committee also heard a presentation from Wight Greger, director of the City’s Housing & Neighborhoods Department.
She addressed the issue of homeless people Downtown and reiterated how the perception of Downtown as having a large population of homeless people is a deterrent to attracting visitors and businesses to the urban core.
Greger said the department has been working with local social service agencies to develop a plan to provide a daytime resource center, a place where homeless people could receive nutritional, medical and job placement services as well as attend to personal hygiene and laundry.
She said the concept has been studied for three years and the idea of a single resource center “has been embraced by virtually every homeless service provider in the city.”
Greger said Council has approved a $1 million appropriation for the construction of an intake center and it will be located on the Sulzbacher Center campus.
“We expect to begin construction this fall. We just have to sign the contract with Sulzbacher,” she said.
The new center will not offer overnight accommodations but will eliminate Hemming Plaza and the Main Library being the “de facto day center,” said Greger. Voluntary transportation will be provided to the facility.
Greger said the center will require $100,000 per year to cover salaries for two staff positions, operating expenses and insurance. The City is seeking donations and federal grants to cover those costs.
“We’d love to have City funds, but I don’t think there’s the political will to do that,” she said.
The committee will meet at 8 a.m. Tuesday at the Ed Ball Building with an agenda to take action on several items proposed last week in order to allow approval of its final recommendations for the new administration at its last scheduled meeting Thursday.
Downtown Revitalization Committee
Tuesday’s scheduled discussion and voting items:
• Funding - Require Downtown tax increment funds be spent Downtown and not appropriated for the City’s general fund, reserve parking meter income and parking ticket revenue for Northbank improvements, review revenue suggestions from ad hoc committee and Civic Council to establish a dedicated funding source, focus planning and resources on the core and review and refresh current City economic development incentives.
• Convention Center - Confirm previous analyses supporting a convention center including return on investment and public-private partnerships and develop complementary retail and entertainment uses.
• Public safety - Expand the walking and bicycle police presence in the core and on the riverwalks.
• Community support - Precede any new Downtown initiative by convening a Mayor’s Downtown Summit and follow the summit with a continuing Downtown forum to engage citizens and maintain the Downtown agenda.
(Other items may be added at the discretion of the co-chairs.)