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Updated: 5:10 p.m. Sunday, June 30, 2013 | Posted: 4:34 p.m. Sunday, June 30, 2013

Over budget means starting over

Vacant Buildings Tour
Stephanie Brown
One view inside the main room which is open for limited city events.

By Stephanie Brown

Jacksonville, FL —

A year later, and little to show.

We’ve learned the City of Jacksonville has rejected both bids that were submitted for a plan to inventory and assess all city-owned real estate, which means the project guidelines have now been withdrawn and are being reworked.

The Request for Proposal (RFP), or outline of the project at hand, was put out on the street on April 25th, after months of debate and back-and-forth on the exact guidelines of the project. While there were more than 40 tasks listed, essentially the goal was to create one uniform inventory of all city-owned real estate and determine the value and state of all those parcels. From there, the company performing the inventory would submit recommendations about what to do with the real estate, while mentoring the city’s real estate division on the methods they use in order to let the city sustain the inventory in the future.

Jacksonville’s City Council allowed a $150,000 budget for the project, with councilmen on either side of whether that was an appropriate price tag.

When the bids were due May 29th, WOKV learned two companies had submitted proposals for the project: RS&H (Reynolds, Smith & Hill) and JLL (Jones, Lang, LaSalle). Because of Florida’s public records laws, the bids themselves were not subject to a records request until this past week. When WOKV submitted that request, however, we learned both bids had been rejected.

The rejection means the city has now terminated the RFP and it’s back in the hands of Public Works and Real Estate to take another shot. Because the RFP has been withdrawn, the bids submitted remain exempt from records requests, however WOKV did learn both proposals were over the budget allowed for the project.

I’ve reached out to both companies interested in the project to see if they will resubmit a bid under the new guidelines and have not yet heard back.  I’ve additionally requested an interview with a number of city officials regarding the process moving forward, and have been given statements to this point regarding the next planned step.

Because the bids came in over budget, generally there are three possible options from here. The RFP can be sent back out as is, the budget could also be increased to adequately cover all services listed, or the scope can be reduced.

I’m told the scope of the project is what’s being refined.  That means the current budget allocation will likely remain, but some of what the city hoped to accomplish will not be included. Therefore, it’s possible the process won’t yield an outcome exactly like what the city had hoped for.

It’s unclear right now if a change in scope would have to go back in front of city council, which would add another six weeks to the project, minimum. I continue to work for more information from the city on this issue. Even without that, there is still now an even longer road ahead for an answer.

This is a process that’s already months in the making. It was nearly a year ago that I first brought the city the question of how much money was tied in vacant real estate, only to learn they did not have that answer because they didn’t know. I was told at that time that a solution was underway, but it wasn’t until early this year that a proposal was put in front of city council. From there, the normal steps were taken until just a few weeks ago, with the rejection.

Reworking the proposal means another month of gathering bids, month or so of deciding on the bids, weeks of contract negotiations and then three to four months for the project itself.

This is a timeline that will ideally achieve the desired solution, but continues to stretch the amount of time that tens of millions of your tax dollars remain tied in the “vast” portfolio of vacant city-owned real estate.

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