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Focus on revitalizing downtown Jacksonville

Jacksonville
Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown wants to change the way incentives are doled out.

unemployment
Reason for Optimism

Jacksonville area's unemployment rate fell below 10% in the fourth quarter, according to the Local Economic Indicators Project at the University of North Florida's Coggin School of Business. Project director Paul Mason says local indicators, including the unemployment rate and the momentum of local stocks, make him more optimistic about a recovery than at any point since 2007.

9.5%
Jacksonville unemployment

2.4%
Jacksonville inflation rate

Last December, the Jacksonville Auditor's Office released a report critical of the Jacksonville Economic Development Commission, saying it had been careless in reviewing contractor expenditures and improperly paid out hundreds of thousands of dollars to companies. The audit found an incentive plan for Winn-Dixie covered jobs created in other states. The chain had to return $328,000 to the city.

The Legislature passed a bill this spring that allows the city to abolish the JEDC. Mayor Alvin Brown plans to create a Downtown Investment Authority to revitalize the city's urban core. The task of citywide development will become the job of the Office of Economic Development, which reports to the mayor's office.

The business-executive group Civic Council is helping steer the reforms, along with Brown's new Office of Public-Private Partnerships, headed up by Renee Finley of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida, an "executive on loan" to the city. The office will get a boost from the IBM Smarter Cities program, which will send six consultants to help Jacksonville create a plan for downtown. The city is the first in Florida to be selected for IBM's $50-million, global program.

Brown notes that Jacksonville has invested more than $1.2 billion in taxpayer money downtown. Now he wants to leverage that with private investment. "It's time," he says, "to put downtown Jacksonville back on the tax rolls."

Winn Dixie HQ
Bi-Lo plans to spend $93 million renovating the Winn-Dixie headquarters.

Stocking the Ranks

Greenville, S.C.-based Bi-Lo Holdings, which bought Winn-Dixie in a $560-million deal, will relocate its headquarters to Jacksonville. The decision keeps 900 jobs in Jacksonville and creates an additional 100. The company will also invest $93 million at Winn-Dixie's headquarters. Winn-Dixie stores will not be renamed. Florida and Jacksonville offered more than $6 million in incentives. Local officials say South Carolina offered considerably more. Florida will fund $1 million in training and $3.6 million for relocation and equipment. Jacksonville will kick in $2 million over 10 years, with the money tied to Bi-Lo's local investment.