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Posted: 3:00 a.m. Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Tens of millions of your tax dollars tied up in vacant buildings

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Old County Courthouse
Stephanie Brown
Old County Courthouse

By Stephanie Brown

Jacksonville, FL —

“Vast portfolio.”

That’s the phrase a number of city officials used to describe just how much land the City of Jacksonville owns, and how much of that is now vacant.

So for the past month I’ve been investigating this number and, more importantly, its worth.

It turns out the city is looking for that answer as well.

Renee Finley, with the Office of Public/Private Partnership, says they have finalized a Request for Proposal which should be appearing before a procurement committee later this week before hitting the streets.  The city is looking for a third party to come in and inventory how much land the city owns, find out how much it’s worth, locate any parcels currently unrecorded, and decide what is the best course of action for these parcels.

When asked just how big this inventory could be, Finley told me that’s what they will find out.

The Property Appraiser’s Office currently lists 2,864 parcels of land that are owned by the City of Jacksonville.  This list includes land of all varieties.  Many of the parcels are in use right now, like City Hall or the new Courthouse.  Some of the land cannot be developed because of size or protected designations- for example, the city “owns” strips of land near sidewalks or small patches around buildings but those have no great use.  Some of the parcels, mainly residential, the city does not acquire voluntarily.  These may fall to city ownership when the owner fails to pay property taxes.

Among the list, however, are also tens of millions of dollars in assessed value of vacant land and properties which could possibly move on the market.

Finley says there are a lot of options on the table for what to do with these parcels, and that will be determined once the inventory and assessment takes place.

“It’s a complex decision when you look at each individual property, being able to really say what is the best use for that property,” Finley says.

Right now the property is not generating any money from either tax dollars or private investment.  Two options include leasing or selling the land and buildings which would bring both property tax and revenue in for the city.  But with both Finley and Public Works Director Jim Robinson believing the real estate market is still slow-moving, they say keeping vacant buildings on the city roll is not out of the question.

I asked Robinson if some money, even if not the best value, would still be better for the city than holding vacant buildings, but he says the city needs a good return on its investment.

Some buildings have been vacant for years, and are in varying states of disrepair.  Robinson says the money it would take to restore these buildings is another deterrent from selling right away.

Finley says the current administration, led by Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown, has been the driving force behind finally getting an accurate roll together.  She says he sees the potential value to the taxpayers that assessing these buildings could bring.  But that exact value won’t be known until possibly the end of the year, which is how long Finley says it will likely take for this assessment.

In the second part of this investigation tomorrow I will give you a unique inside look at some of the highest-valued vacant buildings, including the old Duval County Courthouse and tell you how much city money is put in to maintaining these buildings.

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