from the editor

The $45 MILLION Question

Plan for city to give funds to The District is a head-scratcher


Could someone please explain to me why Peter Rummell asked for millions of our dollars?

So far, the best answer I’ve heard is “cause he wants it.” Hey, I want lots of things—an iPhone X, a guest bathroom, a Viking River Cruise through Europe—but I don’t see any city officials hastening to appropriate public funds to make this basic bitch’s every dream come true. Of course, I don’t have thousands to donate to their campaigns, so that’s probably not going to happen in the near future, either.

Last Wednesday afternoon, while you were daydreaming about a divisional victory and hiding your Facebook status from your boss, I was enduring four hours of a Downtown Investment Authority board meeting to decide whether to approve the $18 million purchase and $26 million infrastructural improvements of a 29-acre parcel on the Southbank for Elements of Jacksonville, the investor/developer group run by Rummell and Michael Munz. Spoiler alert: They approved it unanimously.

Then, in a surprise move, on Tuesday, Rummell and company asked the JEA board to approve the original terms of the deal—meaning that they’ll buy the property straight up as agreed in 2014—with one potential teensy caveat. Well, 26 million potential teensy caveats. They still might want the city to pay for infrastructural improvements. As of press time, that remains to be seen.

The whole thing is pretty damn confusing, in all honesty. First they want to buy the property. Then they want the city via DIA to buy the property. Then, no, never mind, they’ll buy the property.

In case you’re lost—and who wouldn’t be?—let’s recap. In 2014, Elements wins the bid to buy 29 acres of JEA property on the Southbank for $18 million. It is to become Rummell’s opus to healthful living; originally called the laughable “Healthytown,” it later comes to be called “The District,” and hell to anyone who confuses it with the early aughts’ same-name television series about crime fighting in the nation’s capital.

Extension after extension after extension later, in the last year or so, a new scheme is concocted wherein the city will buy the property instead. Then DIA staff, all of whom work for the taxpayers of Duval County, spend the year hammering out the terms of a deal with the Mayor’s Office, JEA and Elements, wherein we will borrow money from ourselves to buy the property for Elements and, in case that’s not gracious enough, spend 26 million more of our dollars improving it to the total tune of $45 million. Then, in November 2017, we all learn about the double-secret negotiations in an article in the Florida Times-Union.

Lest ye worry, of course we were to pay ourselves interest on the loan … but now all that is up in the air.

See, after the DIA board did what any of us would’ve done in their shoes, lest they wanted to earn the ire of one of the wealthiest people in town and the Mayor’s Office, gave the deal a green light, City Council President Anna Lopez Brosche appointed a Special Committee to review it. Which did not sit well with Rummell at all, who took it upon himself to send a nasty email to business leaders around town, in which he seemed to blame pushback on the deal on ill will between Brosche and Mayor Lenny Curry, a characterization the mayor criticized as inaccurate after the T-U reported it.

You be the judge: Rummell wrote, “[T]his ploy by Anna Brosche (City Council President) and Matt Schellenberg (City Council member) has to be politically motivated—she hates Lenny among other things—and we are caught in the cross-fire.”

Seems pretty ill to me.

Rummell was particularly incensed by Brosche’s appointment of Schellenberg to chair that committee, whom he disparaged as being “the only member of City Council to vote against the DIA’s master plan in 2014!” and “the only out-in-the-open outspoken critic of the project.” The horror!

Still, no one seems to know why Rummell and Munz want—or wanted—our money. Nor does anyone know how much money they stand to make. Nor does anyone seem to have a clue why, if they can raise $433 million, they were asking for $45 million from us, or $26 million, or even change for the meter.

Honestly, the whole thing has too many moving parts to encapsulate in 800 words. At the DIA meeting Councilman Schellenberg asked me if I could summarize it in two paragraphs. That’s a big negatory, good buddy.

As Schellenberg said, “If it’s this difficult to explain, it’s never a good thing.”

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District 9, the acclaimed 2009 sci-fi film, explains this silly shell game. Aliens have arrived and are encamped in the apartheid-liked District. Actually the three shells being crazily shifted about are void of anything substantive: a pedestrian concept at best, lack of financial wherewithal, and woefully lacking ethics. Thursday, January 18, 2018|Report this