ANJ Investigates

Jacksonville City Council votes 16-1 for $20 million towards UF satellite campus

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Jacksonville City Council voted almost unanimously on funding part of a $200 million University of Florida satellite campus near Downtown Jacksonville.

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The council passed it with ease 16-1, which now gives $20 million of city money and will cost local taxpayers at least $50 million over the next three years. This project is supposed to be somewhere in the urban core, but there are questions that remain on what it will look like and where specifically it will go.

Council member and mayoral candidate Al Ferraro was the only one to say no, adding that this project has too many “ifs.”

“I was just worried the taxpayers are being worried with it. There’s a lot of things we’ve made acceptations for. We don’t have a location. We don’t have if it’s going to be a campus or a center,” he said.

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LeAnna Cumber, the only other mayoral candidate on city council, voted yes, among the 15 others.

Several council members spoke and said how they believe because the deal has been tweaked, it’s a win-win for the city and the university. A city representative said all of it ensures city money only goes in when other money is present.

Some who showed up to public comment weren’t fans of the proposal.

“I love the University of Florida. I’m a double Gator, but I don’t love them enough to give them $20 million of my tax money before I give it to the homeless,” one man said.

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As far as where other mayoral candidates stand on the project, Daniel Davis told Action News Jax during a February interview that he thought it was one of the biggest deals for the city.

Candidate and senator Audrey Gibson’s team said she couldn’t properly respond without knowing more details but said, “She supports initiatives that improve health outcomes for the citizens of the City of Jacksonville equitably, like the program being offered through Agape.”

They added, “She worked to get $5 million appropriated for maternal health outcomes. Agape is the contractor that is facilitating that program in Jacksonville, so her support would depend on the types of programs and initiatives this proposal entails.”

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Mayoral candidate Frank Keasler responded to our inquiry saying in part: “Why are we not looking to expand UNF or at least asking the question? Also, how big of a footprint downtown are we proposing? Birmingham Alabama has almost, if not already, gone bankrupt by UAB ‘gobbling’ up Downtown Bham. I think the key to ‘a defining downtown’ is a mixture of vibrant commerce, sought after residences with a mix of affordable housing (our M.A.R.s Plan), entertainment and sports venues and open spaces of parks and water amenities! I don’t know how a university enhances or fits into ‘that mix’

Action News Jax reached out to Cumber’s team since we weren’t able to interview her after the council meeting. They acknowledged our email, but we haven’t heard back since. Action News Jax also didn’t hear back from Donna Deegan’s campaign.