Jacksonville, FL - Six months ago I first asked just how much vacant land and property the City of Jacksonville owned, only to learn that’s an answer the city itself doesn’t have.
But with tens of millions of your tax dollars tied in that “vast portfolio” of vacant land, and the entire portfolio of city owned real estate at an estimated $3.2 billion, it’s an answer I continued to search for.
And finally, there’s a timeline for answers.
“It’s about time that we do something to find out just what do we own,” says City Council President Bill Bishop.
Bishop, along with City Councilman Matt Schellenberg, were two of the councilman who I initially spoke to about this problem- and both are happy to see a solution now coming before the Council. But neither is completely pleased with the proposal on the table.
The city intends to issue a Request for Proposal (RFP) to solicit bids from independent companies willing to take on the task of inventorying all the city owned or leased real estate, as well as assessing its value, current state of repair, and potential use moving forward- from selling to leasing to keeping. That proposal has finally appeared before City Council, which must approve the $150,000 price tag that comes with the RFP.
“Once you state a price, people gravitate to it,” Schellenberg says.
He thinks it’s a bad idea to have a cap as part of the RFP, rather than soliciting the bids and then taking that price range to council to approve, because- by knowing the cap- companies may come closer to it than an actual lower cost they could perform the job for.
But with the tall order that the company will take on for that price tag, I asked Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown whether he thought that would actually be enough to get the job done right. He’s confident in the process, but already considering alternatives if the companies who bid don’t meet the limit.
“Then I would go out to the private sector and reach out to the business community and say, ‘Can you help support this initiative in a public/private sector way, put some skin in the game to help us reach our goal’,” he tells me.
The amount was hammered out by Public Works and would be added to the Capital Improvement Program under Capital Maintenance. That’s one of the areas Bishop takes issue with, because he doesn’t see this as a maintenance issue and is concerned that other projects under that funding would suffer.
He says these are all things that will get hammered out in front of City Council in the next few weeks.
“How did we get to this point, what do we know, what do we not know, what exactly are the administration trying to accomplish by doing this, what’s the end game here- I think we’re gunna want to know that,” he says.
How long it takes to answer those questions is one of the remaining hitches we could have to seeing this hit the streets soon. If the measure moves through Council according to schedule, without needing any re-referrals or other delays, it will be about six weeks before the proposal is expected out- including the time the Mayor’s Office expects it will take for the RFP itself to be finalized after gaining approval from Council. From that point, there will be a period of time to actually solicit the bids and then time to decide on the best bid- two steps that combined could take a few additional months. Only at that point, when a company is selected, would they then begin the task at hand.
“We’re not maintaining them [the vacant buildings], we’re barely maintaining the ones that we’re in, so every day that goes by the value of that real estate goes down,” Schellenberg says.
Schellenberg believes, in the end, the best thing to do with most of the vacant real estate will be to sell it. Moving forward, he also wants to see an accurate inventory maintained so that we don’t face these questions again.
Bishop is less concerned with the inventory and more with the assessment. He’s not happy the city is willing to spend money on putting together the inventory- which he believes could reasonably be done with in-house systems and personnel. In fact, a document I’ve obtained from Public Works describing the “Overall Project Purpose” says the assets will be identified by a number of in-house systems.
Actually placing a value and purpose on the property, however, is something he is happy to see done.
Through continued investigation, however, I’ve learned that getting the inventory in place is not the only hurdle that remains in putting this real estate to its best use. Tuesday on Jacksonville’s Morning News I’ll look at another obstacle to freeing up your tax money and getting property back on the tax rolls- and whether the city is addressing that as well.