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Downtown development defunded after council action, millions slashed

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Updated: 9/03/2013 8:17 pm
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Downtown development is up against a major obstacle after council finance leaders approved slashing millions from a fund dedicated to help expand the city's core.

"We have so much to take advantage of in downtown," said Gary Sass, who owns and operates Jacksonville Walking Tours.

The tour guide shows groups the sights and sounds of downtown Jacksonville once a week.

Sass is now concerned with the direction of city leadership.

A City Council panel recently approved slashing millions from the Downtown Investment Authority, a group that has the sole purpose of attracting business and fixing up old eyesores downtown.

"It's an injustice to the city," said Sass. "We really should be promoting our downtown as a place to live, work and play."

Ian Chase owns Chomp Chomp on Adams Street. He fears drying up seed money for development and incentives could hurt his restaurant's bottom line.

"I know it's hard for the council to recognize that because they're stuck in their ways and we're all spread out and they're interested in their own districts, but downtown Jacksonville should be the flagship of the city," said Chase.

Mayor Alvin Brown announced the dedication of $9 million to the Downtown Investment Authority in March.

Just five months later, City Council placed those funds into a council-controlled capital projects fund.

Recently during council budget negotiations, the finance committee moved a big chunk, more than $5 million, to the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department.

Now, businesses like Chomp Chomp and Jacksonville Walking Tours hope the move doesn't deter foot traffic from downtown.

"We really need to have that vibrant downtown," said Sass. "To not have that money to start to showcase that, start to invest in that, is a tragedy."

City Council members took control of DIA funds after many members questioned the authority's lack of plans. But a city spokesman told Action News that DIA leaders recently put together six priority projects, which could have used the money that City Council members retracted from its account.

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