January 16, 2018

Business Incentives

Reversing Urban Sprawl in Jacksonville

Cynthia Barnett | 8/4/2011
Roy Thomas
"This will turn out to be fair for everyone in Jacksonville," says Roy Thomas, owner of Jacobs Jewelers in downtown Jacksonville. [Photo: Will Dickey]

Should cities with struggling downtowns use tax dollars to lure business from the suburbs to the urban core? That question was under intense debate in Jacksonville this summer as the city considered giving financial powerhouse EverBank a $2.75-million incentive to relocate 1,000 jobs from Southside office parks into the downtown business district.

The incentives package is unprecedented for targeting a business to relocate from another part of the city, acknowledges Ginny Walthour of the Jacksonville Economic Development Commission. But it is meant to "level the playing field" for downtown firms that have watched capital, businesses and residents flow to the suburbs, Walthour says.

Victor WilhelmVictor Wilhelm
Outgoing Mayor John Peyton, new Mayor Alvin Brown and many other political and business leaders supported the plan, which the city council approved in June. But it fired up some suburban business owners, tax watchdogs and the First Coast Tea Party. They didn't want public funds spent to help a large, profitable bank relocate in the first place. "And this is double-triple worse because we're helping a major business that's already here, and we're helping them leave another area of the city," says Victor Wilhelm, president of Concerned Taxpayers.

From his 50-year vantage point at the corner of Laura and Adams streets, Roy Thomas sees it differently. Thomas owns the oldest jewelry store in Florida, Jacobs Jewelers, founded in 1890. "For years, the city took tax dollars and encouraged development in the suburbs, where there was cheap land and parking," Thomas says. He watched his taxes fund suburban roads and police and fire protection and other services as downtown declined. Now, he says, it's time for a little balance.

"This will turn out to be fair for everyone in Jacksonville," says Thomas. "You can't have a great city without a great downtown."

EverBank executives were coy about the incentives throughout the debate and had not publicly identified a new location. They would say only that the bank "continues to evaluate a number of viable locations for our long-term space planning needs, including a potential relocation to the downtown area."

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