Investigates

INVESTIGATES: JTA’s connection to autonomous vehicle company incentivized by City Council

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The City of Jacksonville has voted in favor of an economic incentive package that it hopes will lure an autonomous vehicle manufacturer to town.

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The code name is Project Link, but Action News Jax has confirmed that the company’s name is Holon. Action News Jax’s Investigator Emily Turner found they are getting a sweet deal and have ties to Jacksonville Transportation Authority’s highly-criticized autonomous vehicle project downtown.

Holon is a German automaker that has been wooed not only by the Jacksonville Chamber but also by JTA. However, there is quite a bit of overlap between the 2 boards.

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On Tuesday night, Jacksonville City Council voted to pass the incentive package with only one councilman dissenting, and we asked why.

Holon autonomous vehicles debuted in town at JTA’s Autonomous Vehicle Day, showing off what could be manufactured here if the company chooses to call Jacksonville home.

“We are considering several locations. Jacksonville is one of them,” explained Holon General Manager Greg Crandell.

Read: INVESTIGATES: Jacksonville Transportation Authority’s autonomous shuttle challenges

Records show the company promises 145 new jobs by the end of 2027, and a $100 million capital investment for the facility, but to make it happen, the city has agreed on some big perks.

The Office of Economic Development is asking for a $200,000 grant from the city for training employees, but the bigger ask is a tax break of what could be more than $7.5 million.

The amount is 25% more of a break than the standard practice. However, the city’s newest public investment policy was changed to allow that.

In addition, Action News Jax found that the company just got a major influx of cash from the Saudi Royal Family, which now owns more than a third of the company.

Read: 2021 emails show FDOT concerns over Jacksonville Transportation Authority’s autonomous vehicle plan

City Councilman Rory Diamond was the lone council member who voted against the incentive package.

“I don’t believe in taking tax dollars and helping a private company, especially this one that is partially owned by the Saudi Royal Family, who literally has hundreds of millions of dollars,” Diamond told Action News Jax.

This contract with Holon matters because JTA has spent tens of millions of dollars to create an autonomous vehicle loop downtown. We’ve been telling you how it’s way over budget and way behind its deadline but continues to march forward on the taxpayer’s dime.

Read: JTA’s multimillion-dollar autonomous vehicle project is over budget and behind deadline

While Holon wouldn’t say the project is the specific reason for considering Jacksonville, the general manager came close.

“...But as I can see working with the City of Jacksonville, also the JTA, us being here today ... Jacksonville is a great place to be. Plus, the city seems very welcoming for autonomous vehicles,” Crandell said.

While it seems like Holon’s arrival and JTA’s embattled autonomous vehicles project are inextricably tied, in reality, they aren’t. Holon wouldn’t be operational until years after the U2C Project should be up and running.

So, Turner did some digging into the reason why the Holon economic deal is so important to JTA and found that 4 of the 7 board members are also part of the Chamber, and for better or worse, have a vested interest in using one to promote the other.

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