Jacksonville wants to divide its marine and aviation operations. Some question the motives.
By Lynn Koller
Last fall, Ed Austin, Jacksonville's former mayor and then-chairman of the Jacksonville Port Authority, suggested splitting the authority into two organizations -- one for seaports and another for airports. Mayor John Delaney, who had appointed Austin to the authority, assigned a task force to study the measure. Not surprisingly, the task force recommended a split, and Jaxport's board of directors voted six to one in favor.
Since then, the move has made brisk headway -- but not without lingering questions about who will benefit and accusations that Jaxport board members violated the state's Sunshine Law by discussing the issue in secret.
Although Delaney has sharply criticized JPA's management, most other ardent proponents of the split acknowledge that Jaxport has operated the city's four airports and three seaports efficiently. The issue, says Mike Weinstein, director of the Jacksonville Economic Development Commission and a major advocate for the split, "isn't that Jaxport has been ineffective. It's whether it can be more effective." The reorganization, he says, will help both the marine and aviation sides become more specialized.
Some, however, say the move has more to do with maximizing local political control -- and opportunities for political patronage. Currently, Jaxport's board consists of four members appointed by the governor and three by Jacksonville's mayor. Under the split, an early plan called for the mayor to appoint all seven members on both new boards, but an updated bill was introduced in late October giving the mayor four picks on the marine authority and three on the airport authority. The governor would pick the rest. The study by Delaney's Port Review Task Force recommended more local appointments, Weinstein says.
Conventional wisdom fails to dictate whether it's better to have one authority run airports and another run seaports. Many communities with both seaports and airports believe that the facilities need independent staffs and expertise. Others, including the New York/New Jersey Port Authority, operate vast transportation systems as a single entity. The New York agency claims that the joint administration brings economies of scale and increasing borrowing power in the bond market.
Lake Ray, city council member for District 1 in Jacksonville, says he has not "seen enough information to show a compelling argument for splitting the port." Ray adds that Jacksonville has worked toward consolidating government, and the split seems to take that effort backward.
Critics of the split also point to a PricewaterhouseCoopers report commissioned by Jaxport itself. That study claimed the move would cost $4 million upfront, an additional $22.3 million in operating costs over the first 10 years and a $24-million reduction in 30-year bonding capacity. PWC offered several alternatives to the split, including obtaining corporate services from the city, outsourcing and restructuring its corporate services division.
Weinstein vehemently challenges PWC's findings, pointing to the task force's findings and those of a previous study. "Both of those studies came back with
the recommendation to split the port," Weinstein says.
The City Council must OK the deal, which then would go to the state Legislature and Gov. Jeb Bush for final approval. A spokesperson for Bush says the governor will support the bill as long as it has local support in Jacksonville.
In the News
Gainesville -- The 30,000-sq.-ft. Technology Enterprise Center of Gainesville and Alachua County is expected to open in January. It will cater to new, technology-oriented businesses. Besides offering low rent, the center will have
techno-amenities such as high-speed Internet connections.
Jaksonville -- The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. has added Jacksonville to its list of metro areas at risk of overbuilding commercial properties.
The $40-million asset Heritage Bank of North Florida, formerly Clay County Bank, broke ground on its first branch in Ponte Vedra Beach. The 14,000-sq.-ft. building will cost $3 million.
The U.S. Small Business Administration selected the Business Development Corporation of Northeast Florida to participate in its accredited lenders program for certified development companies. As such, the BDC can provide SBA 504 loans to businesses in Baker, Clay, Duval, Flagler, Lake, Nassau, Putnam, St. Johns, Seminole and Volusia. The program allows small-business owners to purchase industrial or commercial buildings at below market interest rates with little down payment.
E-House, which wires homes with an array of technologies, is moving its headquarters from Topeka, Kan., to Jacksonville. The company is leasing nearly 22,000 square feet at Trammell Crow's Bowden Commerce Center in Jacksonville, including a 2,000-sq.-ft. "smart house" for sales and training. E-House will add 135 people to its technical staff in the next year.
Jefferson County -- The state of Florida has purchased 8,866 acres from Jacksonville-based St. Joe Co. for $16.3 million. The acquisition protects an additional 10 miles of Wacissa River frontage and is located entirely within Jefferson County.
Northeast Florida -- Columbia, Hamilton, Lafayette, Suwannee, Union, Flagler, Volusia and parts of Putnam, Alachua and Gilchrist will join the new 386 area code effective Feb. 15. The new area code will be mandatory starting Nov. 15, 2001.
Ocala -- The Springz -- Fun, Food & Friendz is now under construction on Silver Springs Boulevard, with plans to open next summer. It will offer laser tag, a form of bowling called bowlingo, rock climbing and auto racing, all within the walls of its 40,000-sq.-ft., two-story complex being developed by Springz Entertainment Centers and built by Edwards Construction Co. of Ocala. In addition, The Springz will have a restaurant, meeting facilities and smoothie bar.
Orange Park -- Atlanta-based BellSouth is building a 75,000-sq.-ft. service center to house up to 1,000 employees. The average salary will be $40,000 a year. The site will support BellSouth's competitive local exchange carriers. Rande LeFevre, spokesperson for BellSouth, says, "One of the main reasons we're moving to Clay County is for the availability of top-notch people" -- and possibly also for the tax incentives.
St. Augustine -- The St. Johns Board of County Commissioners has approved the creation of the West Augustine Community Redevelopment Agency. The redevelopment agency will work on improving the quality of life in West Augustine, now considered a blighted area. County Commissioner Jim Bryant says the county just received approval for a $25,000 federal matching grant to study what businesses are compatible for the area. The county has applied for a $750,000 grant from the state.
St. Johns County -- Martin K. Eby Construction of Maitland won a $16.8-million contract from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to replace the two-lane Palm Valley Bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway on County Road 210 with a four-lane bridge. Construction should begin in December and take two years to complete.
Super Bowl 2005
JACKSONVILLE -- Jacksonville will host the 2005 Super Bowl. The city, which beat out Miami and Oakland, Calif., proposed making up for a shortage of first-class hotels by putting up thousands of NFL guests on cruise ships that would provide high-class lodging and entertainment.
Stepping Up Service
JACKSONVILLE -- Continental Express, a subsidiary of Continental Airlines, begins daily non-stop service between Jacksonville and Norfolk, Va., this month. On Jan. 4, a second flight will be added to that route. Continental Express is also launching flights from Norfolk to New York's LaGuardia Airport.