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Updated: 3:46 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 2, 2012 | Posted: 3:00 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 2, 2012

Time to sell?

Vacant Buildings Tour
Stephanie Brown
Snyder Memorial Building

By Stephanie Brown

Jacksonville, FL —

One of the city’s main concerns about beginning to sell off the vacant land is getting the best value.

And now may be the time to give that a second look.

“Saying that it’s not the right time to sell is not the right thing to say,” says Jacksonville Developer Toney Sleiman.

We talked at length about the vast portfolio of land the city owns and what, as a developer, he sees in that. Aside from sharing with me a lot of excitement about the potential the land and buildings hold, he was firm in his belief that now is the time to at least begin selling.

Sleiman says the city doesn’t and shouldn’t list all of it off the bat, but with so many parcels available, they need to at least begin selling some, even if not at the highest possible value.

“It would help the city in these tight times, so I think they really gotta look at it,” he says.

Getting the land back in private hands would not only provide payment for the building, but would return these properties to the tax rolls, which they are not on while under city ownership. That is one of the reasons I’m told the administration is pushing to get this accurate roll in house and begin to study the best option for these parcels.

But right now, city officials say they haven’t seen the interest by realtors, private parties, developers and the like come through. Don Shea with the Civic Council told me he has seen a lot of interest in vacant city-owned properties downtown, but right now that hasn’t translated in to offers to buy.

But I have als0 heard otherwise.

One Springfield resident told me he has personally been involved in at least two attempts to buy the 9th & Main Restaurant, although only one of those was under the current administration. The neighborhood is trying to revitalize the area and takes issue with the overgrown landscape around the building, likely the result of the low maintenance I told you about yesterday.

He says on both occasions, the parties involved were pushed aside, strung along or told the offer was not enough. He says another offer is in the works right now, but there seems to be little clarity on behalf of the city for exactly who should be handling these offers.

Another option that has shown success in the past, but has yet to be embraced by the current administration, could actually help with not just the large land rolls, but Jacksonville’s pension problem as well.

Police and Fire Pension Fund Administrator and Executive Director John Keane says over the past five years, the city has transferred vacant or little-used buildings and land to their control in exchange for credit against the actuarial liability the city owes the fund. In other words, rather than paying the city for the buildings it would credit down some of the city’s pension payout.

Keane says this has been a mutually beneficial relationship in the past. When the fund took on the Laura Trio on Laura Street and Forsyth Street, Keane says the properties sold for a large profit, which also helped pay down the pension as well. He says the now Jake Gobold City Hall Annex is another example of their ability to revitalize a building.

Since those projects, however, the transfers have stopped.

When I asked Keane if he had spoken with this current administration about continuing this plan which had worked under the prior mayor, he told me he has spoken with a number of city officials and is waiting them to act. Mayor Alvin Brown was not available for an interview, but I have a request through his office for how much he knows about this idea.

Keane says the fund is prepared to take on real action.

“We’d be willing to take on a number of properties in the Downtown area, as well as portions of the land at the west end of the former Cecil Field Naval Complex,” he says.

Sleiman has big ideas for the city as well. When we spoke about the old courthouse building he said there is a lot of opportunity.

“I think we need to put a convention center there, it’s a great piece for it and it’s time for a convention center,” he says.

While it looks like it will be at least another week before the city puts out an RFP for the third party to assess the quantity and value of land the city owns, Sleiman says he will be closely watching how the next few months progress.

He expects he will not be the only one waiting for the listings and expects parcels will go fast once they are on the market again.

I will continue to monitor this story as it unfolds once the request finally hits the street, and keep you posted on the multi-million dollar investment that taxpayers are hooked into.

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