Jacksonville accepts millions from United Arab Emirates for Hurricane Irma recovery

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The United Arab Emirates is donating nearly $3 million to Jacksonville neighborhoods hit hard by Hurricane Irma.

It’s part of the $10 million the United Arab Emirates is donating statewide.

The city of Jacksonville is funneling more than half of that $2,775,000 grant to projects in the Ken Knight Drive area.

Some of the money will go toward getting new playground equipment, repaving the basketball court and making other improvements in Charles Reese Park.

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The equipment appears to be in good condition but the city told Action News Jax most of it was installed 10 years ago.

Action News Jax asked United Arab Emirates Ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba if the UAE expects anything from Jacksonville in return for the grant money.

“Friendship,” Al Otaiba said. “In terms of diplomacy, it means that we get to build relationships and friendships in a community that we have not been introduced to before.”

Our interview did not come easy.

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The press conference did not go as Mayor Lenny Curry’s administration had planned.

After a local professional blogger started asking the ambassador questions about the UAE’s human rights record, both the ambassador and the mayor went into a back room to conduct an exclusive interview with a student journalist.

All promises of interviews with the local media were called off.

Action News Jax instead asked Curry and the ambassador questions while they took a tour of A. Philip Randolph Career Academies, which will receive grant money for its Construction and Architecture Career Academy.

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“We’re accepting money to invest in our children, to invest in vulnerable populations and invest in neighborhoods that were damaged by the hurricane,” Curry said.

According to the donation agreement between the UAE and the city of Jacksonville, the grant is part of a pattern of the UAE helping the U.S. after natural disasters.

The agreement said the UAE has also given grants to affected states after hurricanes Harvey, Katrina and Sandy, as well as after the tornado in Joplin.

“I think it opens the door for potential investment and collaboration and trade, absolutely. But is that why we’re doing this? Absolutely not,” said Al Otaiba.

The Sulzbacher Center for Mobile Medical Clinics will receive $900,000 of the grant.

Action News Jax asked Sulzbacher Center CEO Cindy Funkhouser how the mobile clinics are related to Hurricane Irma recovery.

Funkhouser said they’re not directly related to hurricane recovery but instead are more of a broad approach to addressing the needs of homeless people year-round.