Jax budgets millions for Prime Osborn needs, while debating new Convention Center

Jacksonville, FL — As the City of Jacksonville considers several options for a new Convention Center in Downtown Jacksonville, we’ve learned millions could be spent in the upcoming fiscal year to ensure the one the City has already is in good operating condition.

The proposed Capital Improvement Program from Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry would spend a total of $3 million on everything from new furniture to roof replacement to security upgrades for the Prime Osborn Convention Center. It's one slice of the greater five-year plan, which proposes close to $17 million for the facility overall.

“We have to maintain our asset. It’s a City asset, so I think it’s absolutely correct that we provide ongoing maintenance,” says City Council Finance Chair Greg Anderson, who will lead the Council’s review of the Mayor’s proposed CIP and overall $1.2 billion City budget.

GALLERY: Proposed Convention Center at the Jacksonville Shipyards

The biggest portion of proposed funding for the upcoming fiscal year is $1,045,000 for building systems, which includes chillers, data infrastructure, elevator modernization, food service equipment, and much more. The CIP says most of the major building systems are from 1986 and are running inefficiently. Replacing them would not only provide energy saving opportunities, but could improve guest experience, according to the proposal.

Waterproofing and roof replacement is the next largest slice, with $1 million proposed for FY 18-19. The CIP says the repairs are needed because of the age of the roof, and they would minimize water intrusion and the interior impact.

Two other requests include $100,000 for interior finishes, to replace flooring, walls, meeting rooms, restrooms, and more to make the building more attractive, enjoyable, and competitive against other venues; and $200,000 for chairs and tables, with about 5,000 banquet chairs “beyond repair” and tables needing to be replenished because of age.

The fifth and final funding request in the CIP is for security improvements. The proposal is for $655,000 in the upcoming fiscal year for screening areas for entering guests, magnetometers, surveillance, and more. “Recent world events and potential threat to public assembly facilities” is listed as the justification for this expense. It’s the same reason given to justify proposed security improvements for the Ritz Theatre & Museum as well, with that building seeing $95,000 proposed in the CIP.

All but $118,000 in the proposal for the Prime Osborn for FY18-19 would be funding available on hand, although future year funding lines are more unclear and currently listed as debt and borrowing. The $118,000 not covered by available funds for the upcoming fiscal year would be borrowed, under the proposal.

The City Council's budget review process is getting underway as Jacksonville's Downtown Investment Authority considers building a new Convention Center and supporting infrastructure on the other side of Downtown. The DIA recently solicited bids for a Convention Center, hotel, and parking garage at the site of the old Courthouse/City Hall Annex, and they received three responses. Following that, Iguana Investments- which is backed by Jaguars owner Shad Khan- put forward their own proposal to instead build a Convention Center and hotel on the Shipyards property, as the possible first phase of that ongoing redevelopment effort.

“It’s a pretty exciting time for Downtown. This level of activity is something we’ve been hoping to see for quite awhile,” Anderson says.

Anderson says we’re some time away from learning if the City decides to pursue one of these four options. If they do, hammering out and implementing a deal and then getting through all the project development and construction would likely take years. In the meantime, he says the Prime Osborn has to keep going.

What hasn’t been directly addressed in all the talks about a new Convention Center, is what that would mean for the existing one.

DIA CEO Aundra Wallace tells WOKV he has no comment about whether they would intend to see the Prime Osborn continue to operate as a convention center if a new one is built, or what else could happen to it. I asked whether the DIA has a preferred site for the possible new Convention Center, since there are now competing proposals. Wallace- who is also in charge of negotiating the Shipyards redevelopment with Khan- said only that there is an evaluation committee that's been formed for the old Courthouse/City Hall Annex site proposals, and until that evaluation process is complete, he has no comment on the proposed development of a convention center.

GALLERY: Shad Khan's Shipyards redevelopment plan

The Mayor’s Office tells WOKV “if or until there is a new facility”, they will continue to budget for the needs of the existing one.

Anderson says the future of the Prime Osborn is a missing piece of information at this time, but he hopes the City would protect it in some capacity.

“It’s a great location for the future, it’s a historic building, and I’d love to see the proper use of it, if it’s not a convention center,” he says.

He believes the people who have used the facility for decades are owed the opportunity to keep it in our City’s footprint.

The Finance Committee’s budget review formally kicks off Tuesday, although the majority of the work starts next week. They will vet the Mayor’s proposed budget and CIP, and must approve the final plans before October 1st. WOKV continues to work through the budget proposal and bring you insight on how your tax dollars are being spent.

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