October 25, 2014

Better Jacksonville Plan: Contempt of Courthouse- Northeast- Oct. 2003

Bob Snell | 10/1/2003
When former Mayor John Delaney conceived his landmark Better Jacksonville Plan in 2000, he made a shrewd calculation. To win voter approval for the sales tax increase needed to fund the $2.2-billion public works bonanza, Delaney decided to package popular projects -- road improvements, a new civic arena -- with items about which the public cared little -- including a new county court-house.

So news in late July that the massive judicial complex was $92 million over budget did not sit well with residents who already viewed the project with ambivalence. The overrun gave Delaney's successor, John Peyton, his first test in office.

After consulting with project designers and local judges, Peyton announced a "no-frills" alternative that will cut construction costs by $50 million. The savings will come primarily from design changes, a two-year delay in the completion date, a $16-million bond offering and some shifting of money from other accounts. Still, at an estimated $232 million, the "final" price tag far exceeds the $190-million figure Delaney promised when he pitched a new courthouse to voters.

In sticking with the original design, Peyton bucked the advice of some City Council members. Saying the council has been kept in the dark as costs have soared, City Council Vice President Elaine Brown asked for an audit of the initial design and construction contracts signed by Delaney.

"We need to find out what changes were made and who approved them," Brown says. "Are there provisions we can enforce to bring costs down, or was the original contract more of a wish list subject to change?"

At 900,000 square feet, the Duval County Courthouse is the largest and most expensive building in the Better Jacksonville Plan. It replaces an aging riverfront complex that judges had long complained was ugly and inadequate. From the beginning, however, the new courthouse has been one of the most contentious items in the multibillion-dollar plan.

Last year, Delaney surprised the council when he shifted $21 million from the Better Jacksonville contingency fund to cover project overruns before the courthouse had even been designed. Then the architectural firm that finished second in the courthouse design competition challenged the results, claiming the winning firm had low-balled its proposal and that the project would eventually run millions over budget.

Speculation over how costs ballooned so quickly also led to the first public sparring between Peyton and Delaney. After reviewing courthouse plans, Peyton said his predecessor's $190-million estimate "wasn't realistic to begin with" and was picked for "political reasons."

For his part, Delaney says pointedly that Peyton was "not there" when the initial price was calculated and that the new mayor may have inflated overrun projections to make the $232-million courthouse seem like a bargain.

IN THE NEWS

Clay County -- A million gallons of dark brown wastewater from the DuPont titanium mine in Maxville flooded Black Creek in August, the third such incident in a year.

Gainesville -- A record 48,850 students enrolled in the University of Florida for its fall semester, 700 more than last year. UF's enrollment has risen by nearly 10,000 over the past decade.

Bunni Steps Design Innovations and Concepts, which operates out of the Gainesville Enterprise Technology Center, delivered its first eVo motorized stationary bicycle to the Make-A-Wish Foundation for a young girl who suffers from cerebral palsy.

Hawthorne -- Residents of a new subdivision say they had no idea their homes were built over an abandoned landfill. Some homeowners say their houses are sinking, while others complain of noxious odors.

Jacksonville -- Developers of the long-delayed Main Street Florida Mall at I-95 and Duval Road say they will begin construction next summer on the 1.3-million-sq.-ft. retail center.

Wal-Mart will build a super center on 22 acres near the intersection of Philips Highway and Emerson Street.

Developers unveiled plans for a $26-million mixed-use development across from Riverside's Memorial Park.

Officials expressed concern about the future of the city's Naval Air Depot after a high-ranking Navy officer questioned the facility's efficiency. The fate of the 3,800-employee aircraft maintenance facility will be discussed when a federal base closure committee convenes in 2005.

The Simmons Co. laid off 65 workers at its Westside mattress plant and says it is considering moving.

American Financial Realty Trust bought Bank of America's office park near The Avenues mall for $140.2 million, part of a $770-million deal involving 158 Bank of America properties in 19 states. Bank of America remains a tenant at the office park.

St. Joe Co. and Haskell Co. are competing for the right to redevelop riverfront property currently occupied by the Yates YMCA. The Riverside Avenue fitness club sits between St. Joe's and Haskell's headquarters.

Nassau County -- The Waterfront Advisory Task Force released its master plan for the redevelopment of Fernandina Beach's 26-acre riverfront. Highlights include improving the appearance of Front Street, increasing public access and changing zoning of some parcels from industrial to commercial.

Neptune Beach -- The City Council voted not to extend the contract of longtime City Manager Richard Linn, who came under fire for approving a plan to divide an oceanfront lot into two parcels. Some residents feared dividing the lot, next to a public access area, would hurt access.

Putnam County -- Federal safety investigators blamed Jacksonville-based CSX for poor track maintenance that led to last year's crash of the Amtrak Auto Train near Crescent City, which killed four and injured 36.

St. Augustine -- The First Coast Metropolitan Planning Organization, which controls millions of dollars in state transportation spending, will expand its boundaries to cover the city. The move is aimed at convincing St. Johns County officials that the agency is not biased toward Jacksonville, where it is based.

Two Advanced Hawkeye military surveillance planes will be built at the Northrop Grumman plant as part of a $1.9-billion federal contract. The prototypes, scheduled for testing in 2007, will incorporate the latest radar technology.

St. Johns County -- Municipal utility JEA will provide retail water service to the massive Nocatee subdivision on the Duval-St. Johns county line. JEA will also supply electricity to half of the development.

Real Estate
UNDER NEW OWNERSHIP

JACKSONVILLE -- Sleiman Enterprises bought the ailing Jacksonville Landing from The Rouse Co., which built the riverfront dining/retail center 16 years ago. Sleiman says it plans to add several brand-name restaurants and an entertainment barge.

Tags: Northeast

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