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Latest from Stephanie Brown

    A new plan to redevelop the Berkman II site on the Northbank of Downtown Jacksonville is not derailing plans to create the USS Adams Museum along the St. Johns River.  In fact, the group behind the Museum believes the new project can be a win-win.  WOKV has been telling you about the redevelopment of the Berkman II site, with Barrington Development estimating their plan to cost $122 million, including a resort hotel, parking garage, and “Family Entertainment Center” with arcade games, rides, and more. The Downtown Investment Authority Board green-lighted a term sheet this week that would allow up to $36 million in City incentives for the project, with negotiations now underway.  Evident in the renderings for this redevelopment is the USS Adams moored along a pier by that Family Entertainment Center.  “People coming to visit the USS Adams now, we believe, will be able to and will willingly participate in the other types of attractions that this developer is bringing,” says Jacksonville Historic Naval Ship Association President Daniel Bean.  Bean says the City brought them in to the discussion when the Berkman II proposal came forward, because of the proximity of the development to the pier where JHNSA has the rights to moor the USS Adams, and their rights on the land immediately around that. He says they are completely in support of the proposed redevelopment, because- while they built an economic model that will allow the Museum to stand alone- this can bring in even more visitors, and therefore exposure and revenue.  “We think that anything that they do, any of the attractions and rides that they put in, are going to be incredibly helpful to us,” Bean says.  He says he sees the two projects as eventually working together seamlessly, possibly including the ship store going up among any storefront the Berkman II development may bring, or tickets to the USS Adams Museum being sold among the tickets for the other attractions in the Family Entertainment Center.  With the Berkman II redevelopment still years away, though, Bean says they’re pushing ahead.  “We do not have to wait for them, and we won’t wait for them. The Navy won’t allow us to wait that long,” he says.  With the new developer, Bean says they have to rework some of their licensing agreement with the City. When that is done, they need to secure final approval from their lender. The only thing left after that is final approval by the Navy, including the release of the warship.  “We are working as hard as we can to try to bring the warship in November,” he says.  He says they have a four-week drydock plan to restore the outside of the ship and get her ready to be towed to Jacksonville. That’s one area where they’re seeing the time pressure, because the drydock is open right now.  Once the ship is in Jacksonville, Bean says it will take another four weeks to get the Museum portion ready topside, so they can start opening to the public and generating revenue. While he says they still hope to be able to do that along with the start of the “Week of Valor” in November, the timeline may have to slide, pending the approvals they’re waiting for.  “It’s an ongoing process, it’s a complex process,” he says.  After the Museum is up and running, he says they move on to refurbishing the berthing areas on board, which can then be used for sleepovers for scouts, cadets, and camps. They will also look to host events, from weddings to re-enlistments to corporate meetings and trainings. Beyond that, Bean says the challenge is continuing to enhance the attraction and bring in new elements, in order to give people a reason to keep coming back.  He says, when this journey started a decade or so ago, they wanted to bring a new life in to Downtown Jacksonville. Now, with them being so close and with the Berkman II development moving forward, Bean says there is a lot to be excited about.  “At the end of the day, when all of those pieces are put together, it is going to be an incredible venue for the City of Jacksonville, and it will draw tourists from around the country,” he says.  The USS Charles F. Adams called Naval Station Mayport her homeport for 21- of her 30-year career, according to JHNSA. They say this will be Florida’s first naval warship museum.  Bean says they have secured the needed funding to bring the ship down, including private donations and some State support, but they always welcome continued support to go toward future operations. You can donate through their website.
  • Redevelopment of the Berkman II site on the Northbank of Downtown is expected to be a $122 million effort, and we’re now getting a better idea of what the City would be willing to offer in incentives for the project, and what that investment would bring.  A new term sheet filed for consideration by the Downtown Investment Authority says the developer is proposing a 340-room hotel, a Family Entertainment Center, a water park, and a parking garage for the site. The parking garage would actually be on the westernmost portion of the Jacksonville Shipyards, and it would include at least 200 public short-term parking spaces.  Barrington Development tells WOKV they are behind the plan, further elaborating that it includes a hotel and resort with themed restaurants. The Family Entertainment Center will include arcade games, indoor attractions like a ropes course and rock wall, and outdoor amusement rides along the St. Johns River. One such attraction envisioned for the site is a 200-foot observation wheel with enclosed acclimated gondolas with wi-fi. “We are excited to bring Jacksonville a fun and exciting family friendly resort,” says Barrington Development Video President Cono Caranna. The term sheet estimates the total cost of redeveloping the Berkman II site to be $122 million. The total proposed City and DIA incentives in the term sheet are $36 million.  Caranna says the incentives are “critical” to their financing of the project. The brunt of the public incentives would come in the form of a REV grant, which is essentially a property tax rebate. That award would bring the developers up to $20 million over 20 years, in connection to the enhanced property value at the site as a result of the redevelopment. If the overall project’s capital investment falls short of $92 million, the REV grant would decrease as well. It would also reduce if the project is not completed within 60 months of the Redevelopment Agreement becoming effective.  That gives us some timeline for the possible project completion. The term sheet indicates that it expires, unless it is incorporated in to an RDA by February 28, 2019. While there would still be some time allowed to have the RDA approved by the involved parties, from there, conceivably, the five year timeline would start. The term sheet says there could be an extension in the timeline for the RDA, if all parties agree.  In addition to the REV grant, the term sheet includes an $8.25 million operational performance subsidy. This is an incentive specifically for the hotel development, which would subsidize that element for up to 15 years, through an annual payment of 5% of annual lodging revenue.  A redevelopment completion grant of $3.25 million is also proposed, and would be disbursed when the developer gets a Certificate of Occupancy for the hotel and family entertainment center.  Finally, there are incentives built in to the proposed parking garage. The term sheet has the City convey approximately 3 acres from the Shipyards site to this developer, for the garage. It would be conveyed at market price, for a total estimated cost currently of $1,635,200 on the developer. There will be a $1 million offset for environmental issues on site. In addition to the land terms, the City and DIA are proposing a $3.5 million grant to offset the cost of constructing the garage, which must have 200 public spaces.  The term sheet will go before the Downtown Investment Authority on Wednesday. If the DIA Board approves, they are authorizing the CEO to negotiate a full Redevelopment Agreement based on the terms. The City of Jacksonville Administration and City Council would still have to approve the final deal.  The developer officially purchased the long-dormant property in mid-July. A parking garage on site collapsed during construction in 2007, killing on person.  This is one of several development projects underway or under negotiations in Downtown Jacksonville. The Shipyards site is under long-running negotiations with Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan, who the DIA previously awarded development rights.  GALLERY: Shad Khan’s plan for the Jacksonville Shipyards The City is moving forward with taking down the Hart Bridge ramps that run next to the River, in order to increase the development potential on the site. Khan and the Jags are also seeking to redevelop the Sports Complex overall, to include a first-phase project at Lot J.  During the Wednesday DIA meeting, the Board will also be presented with scores on three proposals that were submitted to build a Convention Center, hotel, and parking garage at the site of the old Courthouse/City Hall Annex site.  GALLERY: Convention Center proposal from Jacobs Project Management Company GALLERY: Convention Center proposal from Preston Hallow Capital GALLERY: Convention Center proposal from Rimrock Devlin-DeBartolo Jacksonville At that time, the DIA CEO will also bring forward a competing plan to build the Convention Center at the Shipyards site, and a competing plan to build a development know as “Riverwalk Place” at the old Courthouse/City Hall Annex site. With this property right across the street from the Duval County Jail, WOKV asked Caranna if they have given much thought and consideration to that proximity. He says it’s nothing they can’t overcome. “We are trying to focus everything to the back side of the buildings, blocking the view of our neighbors across the street; we believe it lends a level of safety and security having the police as our neighbors,” Caranna says, in a written statement. Barrington Development is also behind the Margaritaville Resort in Biloxi, the Margaritaville Hotel in Vicksburg, and The White House Hotel in Biloxi.
  • The Jacksonville Equestrian Center sits at a critical time for determining how it’s funded in the future, but it’s also at a turning point for realizing the potential of what the property can be.  “This is the crown jewel of the Westside. We’re very proud of it, and we hope people will come out and enjoy it,” says Northeast Florida Equestrian Society Board Chair Peggy Fuller.  WOKV brought you an in depth look Monday at the cost challenges that have beset the venue in recent years. The nonprofit running it, Northeast Florida Equestrian Society, believes they are on the road to turning that around, once they get their new covered arena open and in use.  It’s just one of several projects and programs designed to not only start cranking up the venue’s use, but better connect it with the community.  Covered arena  The Equestrian Center’s contract says the first priority of NFES is adding a covered outdoor arena. That offers many different opportunities when partnered with the main arena- from a large show running more efficiently with multiple spaces, to a large show expanding further because of the additional space, to the ability to run two compatible shows at once in the two separate covered spaces. Because the new covered ring will be open air on the sides, it will also let the Equestrian Center increase programming in the summer, since the main arena now does not have air conditioning.  For NFES, this gives them a space to host smaller community events, while also positioning them to be more competitive for large, national competitions.  “To make this facility something that’s a destination, and people are proud of. This is a draw to Jacksonville, that this is somewhere somebody wants to come,” says NFES past Board Chair Joanne Connell.  IN DEPTH: Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry’s $1.2 billion City budget proposal In fiscal year 16-17, the City Council committed $1.3 million for a covered ring, and NFES has secured a donation to match that, as part of a naming rights agreement for the space. The contract amendment between the City and NFES initially outlined the project’s completion as October 1, 2018.  To date, the construction has not actually started.  During recent City budget hearings, Parks, Recreation and Community Services Department Director Daryl Joseph said part of the reason NFES didn’t meet revenue projections is because those were put together with the expectation the new covered arena would be up and running. The City blames the delay on a number of factors, including the weather, hurricane and project design. NFES says the delay was driven in large part from the City- they took months to review and approve the donor match agreement, and once that was done, NFES says City codes had changed, so they had to deal with design changes and code variances.  The City confirms the funding for the project is still allocated, and it’s believed the projection for the total project cost will still hold, despite the delay. The project timeline has also received a one-year extension, following a City Council vote last week.  The plan is to take two existing outdoor rings and combine them in to one new 270x270 sq ft ring, that has footing to match the interior arena. A 300x300 sq ft cover will hang over that ring and will connect to the existing arena, with a buffer space in between the two buildings serving as a livestock holding area.  Fuller says they already have events that have committed to expanding, once the covered arena is in place. They’re also hoping it will lead to a major show anchoring in Jacksonville, meaning they schedule the same weekend here every year. NFES is not yet booking events for the venue, because of the delays that have taken place with construction. They’re now hoping to be able to break ground soon, with completion of the project late Spring or early Summer.  With how the shows are booked- several years in advance- Fuller says it could take that long to see the full benefit, but the patience will be worth the wait.  Other improvements on site  The long-range plan has even more improvements for the site, both in infrastructure and offerings. NFES believes the next phase should be the support around the new covered ring.  With 423 stalls currently spread across four barns, NFES hopes to start selling out more, once the new venue creates more demand. If the demand increases enough, they could potentially build even more barns in the future, which feeds a primary revenue source for them- stall rentals.  GALLERY:Jacksonville Equestrian Center With expanding space for the horses, comes the need for their human counterparts to go somewhere. NFES hopes to add more RV rental sites in the future, to achieve that.  The contract “Work Plan” between the City and NFES says the nonprofit will refurbish barns, stalls, camping and RV spots, trails, parking, and landscaping. The Plan also calls for new bathroom and shower facilities near barns three and four, improved pavilions, additional livestock pens, covered bleachers, and much more. The Equestrian Center Master Plan includes a lot of this, and NFES is already separately working on more ring space, which is being funded by private donations.   There are also on-site revenue services that are growing. They would like to expand the therapeutic equipment they have for horses, which could then be rented by horse owners at events. NFES further tells WOKV they also may have a donor lined up for a farrier space on-site, whereas any farrier or vet who provides services for events currently has to do work in the stalls.  Equine Therapy program  Another hallmark of the Equestrian Center’s future is a planned “state of the art” equine therapy program.  Fuller says they have a sponsor that allows them to start the program by partnering with an accredited therapy group, which brings horses to the Equestrian Center and performs the services. They hope to ultimately be able to build a separate structure on the property to house the program full time.  “Our theory is start small and build slowly, and then we’ll be successful. If you dive in, I think, all at once, you sometimes overstep. We want to start small and build,” she says.  The program provides both physical and mental therapy services, for everyone from veterans to people with autism.  “It’s exciting now that this has been actually realized, assisted therapy has been realized as a true therapy. And we want to be involved in that,” Fuller says.  Connell says they’re especially proud of being able to aid the military community through this service, because of the origin of the land, which used to be with Cecil Field.  Diverse programming  The Equestrian Center is only one of the facilities in that area. Taye Brown Regional Park includes the Equestrian Center, the Cecil Recreation Complex’s Aquatic Center, and the ballfields. There are also miles of trails- including ones you can take a horse on- and a golf course nearby.  The contract between the City and NFES talks about partnering with those other venues to create “destination package deals”. NFES says they absolutely see the surrounding attractions as benefiting them, in creating more appeal in the immediate area.  The “Work Plan” further speaks about not only expanding equine-related events, but other community and diverse activities.  “A big boost at other equestrian centers is the development and ownership of ‘downtime’ nonrated shows that will fill low-demand calendar dates,” the contract says.  NFES believes the therapy program can ultimately be something that helps program the Equestrian Center every day, because it will run on week days, when large shows and events typically aren’t taking place. They’ve also already grown substantially in attracting a range of events. From dog agility shows, to RV shows, FDOT Career Day, concerts, rodeos, and much more, NFES has focused on bringing in something for everyone.  “Most of our events are free and open to the public. There’s no parking fee, there’s no entrance fee, and we want people to come, encourage people to come and see what we have our here,” Fuller says.  Marketing  The City also continues to explore how to help promote the venue.  In recent action recommended by the Tourist Development Council and approved by the City Council, guidelines were created to establish criteria for awarding all tourism development grants, including those used for marketing and special events. Part of that included setting aside $20,000 specifically for promotion the Equestrian Center, separate from the $800,000 in Special Event Grants that cover other events and City venues. According to the City, this funding will be used specifically to lure events that draw participants from outside of the area, and for advertising events at the venue.  The grant money was pulled from the overall special events fund because of the unique nature of the Equestrian Center and events being recruited. As such, the TDC and Visit Jax wanted it to be handled differently. Jacksonville Equestrian Center Executive Director Tim Jones says the core problem is that the standard grants are being measured by hotel night, but that’s not the metric that most accurately represents the economic impact they have, since many participants stay in RVs or scatter at hotels that accommodate dogs or other animals they travel with. Instead, he envisions something that gives more weight to stall nights, for these new grants.  “It’s a City facility that attracts tourists, and we [the TDC] thought there was an opportunity to help them bump the level of their game, if they could offer some grants to some of the people to bring in the kind of ‘National Championship of X’, as opposed to just having the regional competitions,” said City Councilwoman Lori Boyer, during the TDC’s recent budget hearing.  The funding is coming from the City’s tourism development tax, as part of the TDC budget.  Looking ahead  NFES understands that not everyone is familiar with- or necessarily even in support of- the Equestrian Center, but they’re continuing to work to change that. Highlighting that this is a Better Jacksonville Plan project, Fuller says voters supported it ahead of its construction in 2004, and now there is a need to maintain it, and an opportunity to program it to its fullest.  NFES is committed to continuing to educate the City Council and community at large on the events and opportunities the venue holds. With most of the events at the Equestrian Center being free and open to the public, they’re hoping everyone takes the time to visit- not just those passionate about horses and equestrian events.  In the coming year, the City of Jacksonville will closely consider how to subsidize this venue in the future. NFES says they will closely partner in those discussions, and continue to prove why they believe this is a worthwhile investment.  WOKV continues to track how Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and the City Council are spending your tax dollars, with the final vote on the City’s $1.2 billion budget proposal coming next week.
  • There will be early voting for the November election at both the University of North Florida and Edward Waters College.  Duval County Supervisor of Elections Mike Hogan sent an email to the City Council late Sunday night, to say he would be able to open those locations. The email obtained by WOKV says both sites will be open to all eligible voters, and will mean Duval County overall has 20 early voting sites for the November election. Councilman Garrett Dennis had been leading the charge to use the campuses for early voting, since a recent court ruling allowed colleges to be used for early voting sites.  “It’s important to give access to everyone,” Dennis says. The ruling allowed for using campuses, but did not require it, and Hogan has previously said it would be very logistically challenging to execute that in time for November, because they were also dealing with the August Primary Election at the same time. He nonetheless told the Council he would try to get those up and running. Hogan’s email now confirms it will happen, and he will not seek additional funding. IN DEPTH: Detailing the $1.2 billion City budget proposal from Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry “You don’t care who they vote for, just as long as they have the access to cast a ballot,” Dennis says. Dennis previously worked in the Elections Office, and he says he is excited to see the turn-around. While critics questioned how many students would actually seek out early voting opportunities, and how many would instead use absentee ballots. Dennis says this will offer students the opportunity to change their addresses to vote in local elections that matter to where they are currently living at the colleges- as opposed to where their family and home is, if that’s in another county. He thinks this is a good step, but hopes the Supervisor will take even further steps to boost engagement. “It’s all about getting students engaged, and really, getting citizens engaged in the electoral process,” he says. Hogan says he is doing that, and his office has been at UNF for several weeks offering registration and vote-by-mail assistance. An early voting site was not sought for Jacksonville University, because there is one in close proximity to the campus already. Hogan tells WOKV his office had to wait to see how a lawsuit dealing with Spanish-language ballots and 32 counties- including Duval- resolved, before committing to the additional early voting sites. He says, had the judge ruled in a different way, their resources would have been too spread to commit to these sites. “We never stopped working on the thought or the idea. There was some community interest in it,” he says. Especially for this election, where Hogan says the ballot is so long because of all of the amendments, he thinks more early voting opportunities are a win-win. “We’re wanting to help the voters and ourselves get through the process a little quicker, so we’re gunna really push early voting, as well as mail ballot voting, so there won’t be any long lines on November 6th,” he says. Overall, Hogan says their preparation for the election is coming together, and he looks forward to a great start to early voting on October 22nd.
  • While the Veterans Memorial Arena, Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville, and other Downtown venues are familiar to just about anyone in Jacksonville, there’s another City facility that sits along the Westside that, for years, has been known to a more niche audience- the Jacksonville Equestrian Center.   The nonprofit that runs the venue has been working to grow its use and exposure, but has faced funding challenges, construction setbacks, and other problems in that goal. Now, the Equestrian Center sits at a critical time, where the City has to determine how to fund it moving in to the future.  WOKV is bringing you a deep dive in to what’s brought this City-owned facility to this point, the funding questions looming, and how those involved believe it can turn around in the future.  History  In 2014, the nonprofit Northeast Florida Equestrian Society took over the management of the Equestrian Center from the City of Jacksonville’s contractor SMG. That company manages the other City venues, but the District Councilman at the time, Doyle Carter, convinced his colleagues that the Equestrian Center needed a more specialized touch.  NFES does not receive a management fee, but is instead only paid for “actual, reasonable, and budgeted expenses to perform the Services”, according to the contract with the City. That document further says operating expenses are to be funded by revenue from the Equestrian Center, which includes donations, admission fees, concessions, advertising and sponsorships, and related sources. Ticket sale revenue is used for funds for performers or incidental expenses for an event, with any excess also going toward operating expenses.  There is also the possibility to sell naming rights for various aspects of the Equestrian Center or even the Center itself, and that money would be used solely for capital improvements on site.  NFES has been generating revenue, and that’s grown since they’ve taken over, but it has not been able to meet the expenses. As a result, the venue gets a City subsidy every year to cover the gap.  Short term funding  The subsidy is not new- predating NFES management, the highest level was in FY 2010-2011, where the Equestrian Center received more than $760,000 from the General Fund, which is the portion of the City budget comprised of your property tax dollars.  When NFES took over, the funding was instead shifted to the Taye Brown Trust Fund, which is fed by a host fee for solid waste at the Trail Ridge Landfill, instead of tax dollars. Since they took full control in FY 2014-2015, the subsidy has largely stayed below the levels predating NFES management. In both this fiscal year and the last, the Equestrian Center received a little more than $400,000, but that number is up to $465,508 in the proposed budget for FY 2018-2019.   The numbers overall are also not matching projections for what NFES hoped to be doing at this stage.  During budget hearings last month, the Mayor’s Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa said NFES revenue wasn’t only short of meeting expectations, but they were going to be short for the fiscal year overall.  “This nonprofit has done a good job, but they’re beginning to slip here lately,” Mousa said.  The Jacksonville City Council voted last Tuesday to allocate $50,000 to be used to allow the Equestrian Center to continue operating through this month. This was Carter’s last bill on the Council, although he was not actually present for the vote, because he previously stepped down from his seat in order to run for Tax Collector.  The City Council bill also creates and funds an “Extraordinary Repair and Maintenance Budget”, which covers “large scale, non recurring repair of maintenance projects” like repairs from fire, storms, burglary, or structural failure, according to the contract. It further clarifies that the City is responsible for capital expenses over $2,500, which will be considered as part of the annual Capital Improvement Program that is put together during the City budget process.  NFES says this is a crucial change, because it makes the City’s responsibility clear, helps them streamline the process, and potentially provides access to more funding for these emergency, unexpected infrastructure and equipment issues.  NFES says the increase in this year’s budget proposal accounts for rising capital maintenance costs. Between this fiscal year and the last, NFES says they have had some $90,000 in expenses come up because of infrastructure failure and equipment problems, including $9,000 for an elevator, $8,600 for the sprinkler system, $16,300 for repairing the indoor arena footing, $35,000 for equipment rentals, and more. They say, because the facility is now 14 years old and some of their equipment even predates that, issues like this aren’t uncommon, and are an obstacle to their goal of decreasing the subsidy the venue needs.  “We would like to work towards that and strive to work towards that, but again, as the building is aging, we’ve got repairs that need to be done. As our equipment is aging, we’re having to rent equipment,” says NFES Board Chair Peggy Fuller.  NFES tells WOKV these emergency repairs and a capital project not being constructed according to its timeline led to them falling short of projections.  The $50,000 in the City Council bill is coming from the Taye Brown Trust Fund as well, but that leads to another big decision pending in front of the Council, because the Trust Fund won’t be able to support the needed overall budget subsidy in the future.  Long term funding  The Taye Brown Trust Fund was identified several years ago by Carter and other Council members as a way to support the gap between the operating expenses and revenue at the Equestrian Center. The fund consistently brings in about $200,000 annually from the host fees, and is designated to use at the Taye Brown Regional Park, which includes the Equestrian Center.  The demands of the venue have drained revenue from the Trust Fund quicker than it has been coming in.  As a result, the Council Auditor’s Office says the Trust Fund has dropped from around $1.3 million in FY 14-15, to less than $450,000 as this fiscal year closes out. The FY 18-19 budget proposes $465,508 from the Trust Fund for the Equestrian Center. While the Trust Fund will be able to cover that, when the annual income from the host fee is considered, it will leave a very small balance, so the auditors do not believe this Fund will be viable for supporting the Equestrian Center in the future.  “The concern is noted. If the Taye Brown Trust Fund runs out of cash, you either have to cut back on operational expenses or supplement with the General Fund. That’s your two options,” Mousa said during the recent budget hearing.  IN DEPTH: Jacksonville’s $1.2 billion budget proposal During this year’s budget hearings, Council members were cautious about adding any recurring expenses. While property values and construction have helped the General Fund overall grow in recent years, Florida voters will decide in November whether to give themselves an additional property tax exemption, which would leave an estimated $27 million hole in the City budget next fiscal year. That could make it difficult to absorb this venue’s subsidy in to the General Fund.  But, through various budget and Council committee hearings, the ground has been laid for identifying some other funding line- General Fund or otherwise- not only because the Taye Brown Trust Fund will likely not cover the expense in the future, but because the City wants to allow the Trust Fund to recover, so it can be spent on the Taye Brown Regional Park overall, as initially intended. The Park is part of the Cecil Recreation Complex, with also includes ball fields, an Olympic-size pool, trails, and more.  “It needs to start building back up, so we can do other economic impacts out there for the Sports Complex. So, in the future, that’s going to be an issue that’s going to have to be taken care of,” Carter said during a Committee hearing on the emergency maintenance funding bill.  Growing in the future  The contract with NFES was initially signed through the end of the next fiscal year September 30, 2019. It has since been extended through September 30, 2024, according to contract documents. Parks, Recreation and Community Services Department Director Daryl Joseph says NFES has been making progress- but he’s urging the City Council to be realistic.  “I don’t want to paint the picture that this is ever going to be a revenue generating facility, because I don’t have that forecast. So, there may always be a need for a subsidy for this facility,” Joseph says.  That isn’t necessarily a concern to some on the Council, with Councilwoman Lori Boyer highlighting that the General Fund subsidizes other venues like the Arena, Baseball Grounds, and more. NFES further says how the City acquired the overall land requires it be used for active and passive recreational purposes, and since voters approved the Equestrian Center under the Better Jacksonville Plan, the City has a responsibility to make sure it’s maintained. Councilman Bill Gulliford also says, while revenue has fallen short of projections, it is getting better.  “Some years ago, it was sort of desperate, so it’s really turned around,” Gulliford said during the Equestrian Center budget hearing.  NFES views themselves as similar to the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, where a non-profit operates that City venue. The Zoo, however, has received a $1.3 million allocation from the General Fund each of the last few years, and the Council is poised to approve a 5-year, $25 million capital funding plan to help the Zoo achieve their new Master Plan.  Joseph says NFES has been doing well in trying creative ways to create more revenue and solicit more and different events.  WOKV requested an interview with the City about the Equestrian Center, but received statements in response to our specific questions. They say it’s a “unique facility and venue” for Jacksonville, and they are “optimistic” about NFES’ commitment to improvement and what the future holds.  NFES believes they are on the right path to turning around overall. Coming up Tuesday on WOKV, we’re bringing you a closer look at that progress, and the big projects NFES believes can be the start of a bright future.
  • For the third time in just over a week, marijuana has been found along coastal St. Johns County. The St. Augustine Police Department says 50-60 pounds washed up in their jurisdiction. Over the weekend, the Coast Guard and the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office found several packages of marijuana in the ocean. Days prior to that, 30 pounds washed ashore in Ponte Vedra Beach.  “However this marijuana got loose from the distributor, or the trafficker, it’s coming ashore in different areas,” says SJSO Spokesperson Chuck Mulligan. The packages are all wrapped different, however Mulligan says it’s likely they’re connected. “It would be somewhat of an anomaly to have three separate shipments all be lost in transition at the same place, off the same coastline,” he says. He says it’s likely there will be more that comes ashore as well. If you see any drugs, Mulligan is asking you to contact law enforcement immediately. You should not take possession of the drugs. “If they were caught doing that, and the circumstances were suspicious in nature, they could be facing charges,” he says. The drugs are weighed and cataloged by investigators, then if there is no pending criminal investigation, they are destroyed.
  • The Clay County Sheriff’s Office has taken to using the hashtag #3BigGulps when announcing arrests and criminal investigations, and now, they’re building on that to benefit the Clay County Police Athletic League.  In partnership with The Urban Bean Coffeehouse Café, CCSO is launching the “Sheriff’s Blend” coffee on Friday, September 21st. It will go on sale at that café during a Coffee With A Cop event 7-10AM. Portions of the proceeds from sales of this coffee benefit Clay PAL.  Both #3BigGulps and #YouGotOptions have become mantras of sort for CCSO. They trace the origin to a prior criminal investigation, where they posted a video online that went viral. “After an Orange Park community was terrorized by several criminals, a search was obtained and served. Due to a history of violence reported from the home served, the SWAT team was utilized. After the successful and safe execution of that warrant, Sheriff Daniels took three big gulps in the living room of the residence. This, coupled with his warning to criminals within Clay County that they have options (stop what you’re doing, leave Clay County or we will come and get you), went viral, as did his message,” CCSO tells WOKV. CCSO describes the coffee as a full-bodied, smooth, medium roast with notes of chocolate, caramel, and nuts. The beans are organic, kosher, and roasted in small batches. You can buy a 12 oz. bag at The Urban Bean Coffeehouse or on their website, starting Friday, September 21st.
  • The Jacksonville Jaguars home opener takes place at TIAA Bank Field Sunday, and there are a few things fans should keep in mind. Kickoff is at 4:25PM against the New England Patriots, with stadium parking lots opening at 12:30PM, the Fan Entertainment Zone at 1:30PM, and gates to TIAA Bank Field at 2:30PM. The ROAR and Jaguars alumni will be signing autographs in the Fan Entertainment Zone between 3 and 3:30PM.  Tickets through this season are completely mobile, through the Jacksonville Jaguars app. You should have your ticket barcode up on the app at the gates, to ensure you get in smoothly.  The NFL’s clear bag policy remains in effect again as well. Only clear bags 12” X 6” x 12” or smaller, or non-clear bags 4.5” x 6.5” or smaller will be allowed in the stadium.  For traveling to the game, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office is urging you to be parked by 1:25PM, because they are expecting a full house and, therefore, lots of traffic. WOKV will have frequent live traffic reports beginning at noon, to let you know what delays to expect for your drive in to Downtown.  JTA is also running their Gameday Xpress, with multiple park-and-ride lots and a shuttle that will take you to the stadium.  At the game itself, the Jags are launching a new tradition. After the coin toss each home game, there will be a special guest who shouts “DUUUVAL”, for fans to then echo in response. The special guest for the home opener will be Pride of the Jaguars member Tony Boselli.  The first game will also feature a military flyover, by four F-16s from the 482nd Fighter Wing and 93rd Fighter Squadron from Homestead Air Reserve Base. A 100-yard field flag will also be displayed by first-year Jaguars season ticket members during the National Anthem. There will also be several military honorees highlighted throughout the game, with the recognition taking place in the stadium’s new Camp Grunt Style zone on the north deck.  Anyone who hasn’t been to TIAA Bank Field since last season will find another new feature in Pet Paradise Park. Several pre-screened dogs are invited in to the stadium each home game, in the newly built dog park overlooking the field.  If you can’t make it in person, the game will be broadcast on our partner CBS47 Action News Jax, WJAX.
  • The City of Jacksonville is aiming to spend $3 million to replace a section of the Northbank bulkhead in the next fiscal year, saying there have been many problems. The funding wasn’t initially included in the proposed Capital Improvement Program put forward by Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry as part of the budget approval process, but Councilwoman Lori Boyer says the need changed when they got an updated assessment report on the state of the bulkheads.  “Post-Irma, the bulkhead failures are growing and becoming more problematic, and we really need to start with the replacement of some of the Northbank bulkhead sections,” Boyer says.  A bulkhead is a retaining wall or seawall, and specifically in the areas of concern, it’s the wall bordering the Northbank land along the St. Johns River. During a recent budget hearing, Boyer said there have been “a bunch” of bulkhead problems, and- after receiving the failure report- the Administration agrees that funding needs to be moved in to this year.  IN DEPTH: Jacksonville’s $1.2 billion City budget proposal In the original CIP for the next fiscal year, there was no money set aside for Northbank bulkhead repair, but the funding started in FY 19-20 allocated several million dollars each of the following several years. Not wanting to increase the debt load on the CIP for the next fiscal year, the proposal put forward by Boyer, in cooperation with the Administration, takes $3 million of the $4 million that was proposed for JAX ASH Site Pollution Remediation. To offset that, Boyer proposed $3 million of the $4 million in bulkhead repair funding for FY 20-21 be moved to JAX ASH Site Pollution Remediation for FY 20-21.  “It gives us the ability to start the work on the Northbank bulkhead a year earlier, and we really need to do that,” Boyer says.  The first phase of the work will be behind the Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts, between Hogan and Pearl. One segment on either side of that has also been identified for action- the block behind the Landing and the block behind CSX.  “We are piece-mealing it, but that’s not to say the Landing bulkhead will stay deteriorated forever, nor the section in front of CSX,” says Curry’s Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa, who was asked about the segmented approach.  The proposal keeps the CIP “budget neutral” overall, and the Administration and Public Works Department have assured the Council that there is still enough funding going toward JAX ASH, even with this reduction in the upcoming fiscal year.  “It’s a good move,” says Mousa.  Mousa says JAX ASH deals with a Consent Decree between the City and the EPA for the cleanup of ash City-wide. He says this is a remnant of when the City used to burn solid waste and allow people and construction sites to use that ash as fill. That was done before regulations, and once it was learned the ash has lead and can be harmful to very young children, the City was required to either place two feet of clean fill over the ash sites or remove the old ash outright and put it in a landfill.  Because the sites are scattered across the County, the exact total cost for remediation was not made clear at the hearing, but Mousa says there has been a lot of money put in over the years. Even with the proposed funding shift, there is still $13 million going toward that effort through various other funding lines in FY 18-19. Public Works says, overall, then City has about $24 million left to be done after that. Then, they will continue to do testing and monitoring long term.  WOKV requested a copy of the bulkhead failure report, but the City says it is exempt from public records requests, because it depicts structural elements of bulkheads owned by the City.  The proposal has been approved by the Finance Committee. It is now pending approval by the full City Council, as part of the overall City budget and CIP approval later this month.
  • After the Florida Commission on Ethics finds probable cause on violations against Jacksonville Democratic State Representative Kimberly Daniels, Daniels says she plans to fight the case.  WOKV told you yesterday that the Commission found probable cause to support Daniels filed inaccurate financial disclosure forms during three years she was on the City Council. Specifically, the complaint against her alleges she did not list several property-related liabilities, including mortgages.  “People make mistakes all the time, and they simply do amendments, and that’s what we did. But that wasn’t good enough, because these people aren’t looking for truth, they want to harass,” Daniels tells our partner Action News Jax.  Daniels issued a range of accusations during that conversation, including that the Commission is unfair and actively working against her.  “An investigation should be done on the Florida Ethics Commission for using their position to work with my political enemies. I believe these people are just a bunch of sore losers who have no respect for the democratic process, even when the people have spoken,” Daniels says.  The allegations in this complaint previously led to an Ethics case, however, that had to be dropped because a jurisdictional issue arose relating to the time that complaint was filed. The allegations have been brought forward again, in this new case.  Daniels says the properties in question are owned by her church, and it would be a violation of the separation of church and state to claim them as her own.  “This is religious discrimination, and you know what, I’m not going to settle with them. I’m going to take it to a higher court,” she says.  Following these claims, WOKV circled back with the Commission, who denied any wrongdoing.  “The Commission takes its responsibility of the application of Florida’s ethics laws very seriously. The outcome of each complaint filed with the Commission, including the complaint filed against Representative Daniels, is determined based on the facts of the case. Investigations are ordered in any complaint filed alleging a possible violation of Florida’s Code of Ethics. The Florida Commission on Ethics has never targeted any public officer or employee,” says a statement from Kerrie Stillman, with the Commission.  Daniels can either seek to reach a settlement agreement, or go through an evidentiary hearing before an Administrative Law Judge at the Division of Administrative Hearings, per the Commission. That ALJ would issue a Recommended Order, and if any of the parties take issue with a portion of that order, they would file “exceptions”. The Commission would then rule on all the exceptions and the Recommended Order, as part of its Final Order determining if there was wrongdoing. If that is sustained, Daniels would be subject to some penalty.  The Final Order can be appealed to the District Court of Appeals.
  • Stephanie Brown

    Assistant News Director

    Stephanie Brown is the WOKV Assistant Director of News and Afternoon Reporter. She guides the direction of WOKV’s news content, frequently contributes to social and digital platforms, and is a leading voice on-air. Stephanie has been with the team full-time since May 2012, which is when she graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in telecommunication and political science. When she’s not enterprising story ideas or digging in to an investigation, she’s likely cooking or enjoying downtime with her dog.

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  • A Florida Uber driver allegedly refused to let her fare out of the car Wednesday, forcing the female passenger to jump from the window of the moving vehicle, police said.  Destiny Racquel Green, 30, is charged with kidnapping to commit or facilitate a felony and false imprisonment. Leon County Jail records showed Green remained in jail Friday afternoon.  Tallahassee police officers were called early Wednesday morning to a Walgreens parking lot following a 911 call in which the victim -- who identified herself on social media as Brooke Adkins, 19, a college student from St. Petersburg -- could be heard screaming for help in the background, according to WTXL in Midway. When the officers arrived, they found Adkins with torn jeans, soaked through with blood, and scrapes on her hands.  Adkins told officers she had been hanging out with friends at a Tallahassee club when she called for an Uber to take her home, the news station reported. She showed officers the app on her cellphone, which showed Green as the driver assigned to her.  Police officials said that, on the way to Adkins’ home, Adkins asked Green to instead drop her off at The Edge, an apartment complex near Florida State University. Things started getting weird at that point, Adkins said in Twitter posts.  “I was already at my destination and she asked me if I could ride around more with her,” Adkins wrote. “I told her she could take me around the block but to keep the meter on (just in case), and after that she would not let me get out of the car.” Adkins, who was seated in the back seat of the vehicle, wrote that the child lock was on the doors of Green’s car.  As the two women drove around, Green was pulled over near Florida State University by a state trooper. WTXL reported that, during the stop, Green asked Adkins to put her hands on the center console and hold it down.  Adkins found the request odd, but did as Green asked.  >> Read more trending news The Tampa Bay Times reported that Green told her passenger she was taking her to the hospital. Adkins told her she did not need to go to a hospital, but Green refused to stop. “Adkins said she asked Green to let her out of the vehicle at almost every stoplight, and Green continuously said ‘no’ and nothing else,” police officials said, according to the Times.  Adkins called 911. About 25 minutes after Green passed Adkins’ drop-off spot, Adkins made her move. She rolled down the window, holding the button down so Green couldn’t roll it back up, and jumped, police said.  Investigators caught up with Green at her home later that day, WTXL reported. Before they could say anything, Green told them she’d quit working for Uber because of “the girl” to whom she had given a ride, the news station said.  Green said Adkins had wanted to go to the hospital, but did not say why, police said. She told them Adkins jumped from the car on the way to Capital Regional Medical Center, WTXL reported. Investigators wrote in police reports that Green made several comments that were non sequiturs and seemed paranoid during questioning, the news station said.  An Uber spokesperson told BuzzFeed News that what Adkins reported to police is “troubling.” “We have removed the driver from the app and stand ready to support the police investigation,” the spokesperson said.  Adkins took to social media Wednesday to warn other young women of the dangers surrounding them. The initial tweet, which included photos of her torn jeans and battered legs, has since been retweeted more than 91,000 times.  “Tonight, I realized that being kidnapped from an Uber driver is 100 (percent) real,” Adkins wrote. “I’m so thankful that I got out OK, but jumping out a moving car window and running for help has to be the scariest thing I’ve ever gone thru (sic).” She wrote that she wanted girls to be aware and to always remain safe.  “Kidnapping has been happening more recently than ever and I want to raise awareness that everyone just needs to be safe and aware of your surroundings, and also who you are with,” Adkins wrote. 
  • After posting a schedule for a Monday morning vote on the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh for the U.S. Supreme Court, unable to work out an agreement for testimony from a woman who accused the judge of sexual misconduct back when they were teenagers, Republicans gave extra time to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford to consider testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. “It’s not my normal approach to b indecisive,” Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) tweeted late Friday night from his home state of Iowa, as he tried to both press ahead with a vote on President Donald Trump’s nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court, and hold open the possibility of testimony from Ford. The late night change of heart created an odd mixture of reaction, as even after Grassley said he was giving more time to Ford’s legal team, Democrats were still churning out news releases after midnight criticizing Republicans for their treatment of the allegations against Kavanaugh. “By blocking both an FBI investigation and a hearing where all three witnesses present during the assault could answer questions under oath, the Senate will fail in its duty to the American people,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT). Judge Kavanaugh I just granted another extension to Dr Ford to decide if she wants to proceed w the statement she made last week to testify to the senate She shld decide so we can move on I want to hear her. I hope u understand. It’s not my normal approach to b indecisive — ChuckGrassley (@ChuckGrassley) September 22, 2018 With all the extensions we give Dr Ford to decide if she still wants to testify to the Senate I feel like I’m playing 2nd trombone in the judiciary orchestra and Schumer is the conductor — ChuckGrassley (@ChuckGrassley) September 22, 2018 As the sun rose on Saturday morning, it still wasn’t clear whether Ford would testify. “Dr. Blasey Ford has been clear in her desire to testify following an independent, thorough investigation by the FBI,” said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL). But Republicans were still suspicious of the allegations brought by Ford, who says she was sexually attacked by Kavanaugh at a high school party in the 1980’s. “Their decision to reveal this allegation at the most politically damaging moment reeks of opportunism,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT). Under the timeline originally unveiled by the Judiciary Committee on Friday night, Republicans scheduled a vote for Monday morning on a list of judges, with one prominent name at the top of the list: “Brett M. Kavanaugh, to be an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States,” it read. The recalcitrance, stubbornness and lack of cooperation we’ve seen from Republicans is unprecedented. And candidly, the dismissive treatment of Dr. Ford is insulting to all sexual assault survivors. — Sen Dianne Feinstein (@SenFeinstein) September 22, 2018 Ford’s lawyers wanted her to testify next Thursday – Grassley and Republicans were offering Wednesday. There was also talk of Ford talking directly to investigators in California, instead of traveling to Washington, D.C.
  • The East Coast is no stranger to hurricanes and the destruction that follows. The Saffir-Simpson scale was developed to help determine damage and flooding before it strikes.   What is a hurricane?  A hurricane is a rotating low-pressure weather system that converts the energy of warm air into winds and waves. Hurricanes have “warm core” centers, meaning the center of the storm is warmer than the surrounding air. Warm ocean temperatures and wind patterns that spiral air inward are necessary for a hurricane to form.>>How to use the internet during the storm when your internet is down The “eye” of the storm is produced as the warm air rises in the storm’s center and a center of low pressure is created. When the pressure in that area drops, more air is pulled in, creating a sort of heat-pump effect that causes the storm to repeat the process and grow in intensity. The storm will continue to do so until it’s supply of warm water is interrupted. Thunderstorms spiral out from the eye and the water is pushed ahead of the storm, building what is called a 'storm surge.' The storm surge forms to the east of the eye. >>What is a storm surge and why is it dangerous? When a system has sustained winds of 39 mph, it is classified as a tropical depression. When the winds reach 39 mph or higher, the depression becomes a tropical storm and is given a name.  At 74 mph, the system is a hurricane.  What is the Saffir-Simpson scale and what does it have to do with hurricanes?  The tropical system is assigned a category depending on its wind speed. Here are the categories, the wind speeds and what those winds will likely do once the system makes landfall: >>What is the Saffir-Simpson scale; how does it work; is there a Category 6?  Category 1 -- 74 to 95 mph: Very dangerous winds will produce some damage. Well-constructed frame homes could have damage to the roof, shingles, vinyl siding and gutters. Large branches of trees will snap and shallowly rooted trees may be toppled. Extensive damage to power lines and poles likely will result in power outages that could last a few to several days.  Category 2 -- 96 to 110 mph: Extremely dangerous winds will cause extensive damage: Well-constructed frame homes could sustain major roof and siding damage. Many shallowly-rooted trees will be snapped or uprooted and block numerous roads. Near-total power loss is expected with outages that could last from several days to weeks.  Category 3 -- 111-129 mph: Devastating damage will occur: Well-built framed homes may incur major damage or removal of roof decking and gable ends. Many trees will be snapped or uprooted, blocking numerous roads. Electricity and water will be unavailable for several days to weeks after the storm passes. Category 3 storms and above are considered major hurricanes.  Category 4 -- 130-156 mph: Catastrophic damage will occur. Well-built framed homes can sustain severe damage with loss of most of the roof structure and/or some exterior walls. Most trees will be snapped or uprooted and power poles downed. Fallen trees and power poles will isolate residential areas. Power outages will last weeks to possibly months. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months.  Category 5 -- 157 mph or higher: Catastrophic damage will occur. A high percentage of framed homes will be destroyed, with total roof failure and walls collapsing. Fallen trees and power poles will isolate residential areas. Power outages will last for weeks to possibly months. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months.   Here is a video that shows the increasing level of damage in each category.  
  • Hurricanes can leave behind tons of damage, including flooding. But did you know that treading through the wrong kind of water can cause illnesses or even death? Floodwaters and standing water are often contaminated, posing several risks, such as infectious diseases, chemical hazards and injuries. Here are six sicknesses you should beware of in the aftermath: Diarrheal diseases Drinking or eating anything that has come in contact with floodwaters can lead to cryptosporidiosis, E. coli or giardiasis. While cryptosporidiosis and giardiasis are brought on by parasites, E. coli is caused by bacteria. Symptoms from each include diarrhea, gas, nausea and vomiting. Cryptosporidiosis, however, can even be fatal for those with weakened immune systems, such as AIDS or cancer.  Wound infections Open wounds and rashes that are exposed to floodwater can cause tetanus or Vibrio vulnificus. Tetanus is a bacterial infection, and it can enter the body through breaks in the skin like a cut. >> 10 tips to stay safe when returning home after a natural disaster Vibrio vulnificus, another bacteria, can be contracted the same way. Many people become infected by consuming undercooked shellfish or exposing an injury to brackish or salt water. Other illnesses  People affected by flooded areas can also get trench foot. It occurs when your feet are wet for long periods of time. It can cause pain, swelling and numbness. >> Read more trending news  You should also be aware of chemical hazards from materials that may have spilled into the water. And be cautious of electrical hazards, since there are puddles that may be electrified due to fallen power lines. Curious about other diseases you can catch? Take a look at the full list at CDC’s official website. 
  • A hurricane leaves a path of destruction and many are left trying to figure out how to begin the chore of cleaning up and repairing their property.  >> Read more trending news  Insurance companies will send claims teams to the affected areas after the event so that customers can get the process of filing a claim started and get the money to repair their property in a timely manner.  Here is a step-by-step guide on how to file an insurance claim following a hurricane or flood:  1. It is important to file the claim with your insurer as soon as possible. Thousands of people will be filing claims, and you want to get yours as high as you can on the list.  2. The Insurance Information Institute, an organization that provides information on insurance issues, suggests you make temporary repairs to your home if they are needed to protect it from further damage. Save the receipts for supplies so you can turn them in for reimbursement.  3. Once you are able to speak to an insurer, you will need to ask these questions: Is the damage you described covered under the terms of your policy? How long do you have to file a claim? How long will it take to process the claim? Do you need estimates for repairs? 4. This step is very important: Once you make the claim, be sure to write down the claim number. Again, insurers will be dealing with thousands of people -- make it easy for them to communicate with you about your claim by having the claim number written down where you can find it. 5. When you speak to your insurer, record the day and time of the conversation and with whom you spoke. Take notes about what is said and if any monetary amounts are mentioned. 6. You need to be ready to provide an accurate description of damages to your insurer. If you can safely do it, walk around your home and make notes on what was damaged.  7. After you contact them, your insurance company with send you a “proof of loss” form to complete or will send an adjuster – a person trained to assess the damage to property – to your home to get the information on your losses. To speed this process along, start gathering information about your property and the items that were lost or destroyed. A proof of loss form will ask you to describe the items damaged or destroyed, provide the approximate date of purchase and estimate the cost to repair it or replace it. If you happen to be able to produce receipts for items, that would be a help as well. 8. Another step you can take to document what was damaged is to photograph or videotape the damage. Be sure to point out structural damage in the photos or video. 9. Do not throw out damaged items. You want an adjuster to see them first. 10. If you are unable to live in your home and must stay elsewhere, keep all receipts for any living expenses – hotel rooms, food, and other costs of evacuation. Most homeowner policies that cover windstorm damage will cover those costs. 11. Be wary of anyone who comes to your door offering to do repairs or claiming to be insurance adjusters.  12. If you have no insurance, you can register for federal disaster relief at DisasterAssistance.gov. You do that by downloading the FEMA mobile app or by calling 1-800-621-3362.  Disaster assistance can help with temporary housing, home repairs and other disaster-related expenses, including crisis counseling and legal assistance. Click here for more information on FEMA aid. Water vs. wind: What is covered? Hurricanes cause wind and water damage. Homeowners insurance covers these hazards in a different way.  >>Does insurance cover hail damage to your car, house? Homeowners insurance does not cover flood damage – including flooding that is caused by storm surge. You would have needed to have flood insurance to pay for damages caused by water beforehand. Structures or belongings that were damaged by flooding are covered only by flood insurance. Wind damage is not covered in some coastal states. You would have had to purchase a separate windstorm policy in advance, which is a common thing in those coastal states. Both North Carolina and South Carolina are states where insurance companies can charge special deductibles for wind damage. Damage to your car is generally covered by your automobile insurance. Finally, be patient. It may take a while for someone to get to you and assess your damages.    

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