New neighbors on the Southbank, The District deal almost sealed

Michael Munz

Michael Munz

The clock is ticking toward closing the deal on what will be the largest development project by acreage and impact to come along for downtown Jacksonville. It is a deal that “is not uncomplicated,” said Michael Munz, a partner in The District—A Life Well Lived, a mixed-use development proposed for the Southbank.

Munz and his partner, Peter Rummell, a former Disney executive, will be signing the paperwork July 16 – right on time – with the Jacksonville Energy Authority (JEA) to close on the 30-acre site of a former generating plant.

“With a project of this magnitude, there are a lot of complicated details that have to be dealt with, but we are still targeting July 16,” he said about a project that’s been three years in the making.

On June 12, the Jacksonville City Council voted 9 to 5 to approve a $82 million incentives package for Elements of Jacksonville LLC – Munz and Rummell’s company. The incentives include $26.4 million from the city for infrastructure, a new bulkhead, public parks and a kayak launch, in addition to a rebate of up to $56 million in property taxes over a 20-year period.

Council President Anna Brosche was one of the nay votes after saying she did not receive a requested pro forma (private financial projections) from the developers. Munz said he did not receive a direct request from Brosche, but did respond to an email from Aundra Wallace, Downtown Investment Authority chief executive officer, regarding Brosche’s request.

“I wrote to Aundra, ‘As you have said at several public meetings, Elements’ private financial projections for the project played no role in the City’s decision whether or not to participate in the construction of a public waterfront park at the site or the construction of public streets and utilities needed for the redevelopment. The investment being considered by the City is in public infrastructure, not in private commercial buildings, office buildings, apartments, homes or any other private investment,’” said Munz.

“The vote by City Council and the support by the mayor’s administration was very important to send a signal that downtown Jacksonville is moving forward,” he said. “We have a real appreciation for the time and effort put in by the DIA, the administration, and Council in workshops to participate in this process of bringing a complicated project like this forward.”

After the $18.6 million sale is complete, the development phase of the project will be turned over to Kitson & Partners, the real estate development company behind Babcock Ranch, the nation’s first solar-powered town located in southwest Florida. Babcock Ranch, while considerably larger at 17,000 acres, took more than 10 years from announcement to beginning construction, indicating Kitson & Partners is no stranger to large, complex projects. The District construction – at least the horizontal phase – won’t begin for another year at least, with vertical construction following a year or more later.

Now that the regulatory pieces are finished, Munz said he will be concentrating on what he and Rummell call the “fun phase.”

“We’ll be turning our attention to a lot of sales, marketing, branding and communication,” said Munz, who is also president of the PR and Social Media Group at The Dalton Agency. “I’ve done a lot of that over the years being involved with real estate marketing. We’ll also be involved with the ‘software,’ the programming of the development for the community.”

Other aspects of the project include final negotiations with a variety of companies to bring in multi-family housing, restaurants, retail businesses and offices. “I just had a long conference call with our real estate team about letters of intent, but we are under nondisclosure agreements until they are finalized,” he said in an interview June 26. “Everyone wanted to make sure City Council would approve the incentive package and we would close.”

Munz said they are also working closely with the Jacksonville Transportation Authority about connectivity and mentioned the possibility of a bus stop at The District as well as a neighborhood-oriented “trolley” service and noted the JTA’s Kings Avenue station is a five-minute walk away.

Elements is also beginning to put together the state-regulated Community Development District board to issue up to $30 million in bonds, which would help pay for horizontal construction.

“Once we get through closing, we’ll start drafting the legislation, which must be approved by City Council,” Munz said. There will be five members on the board, which will oversee the development into perpetuity, he said. “CDDs are a very traditional structure, normally done in the suburbs. There are about a dozen in our community, but this is the first one formed in the downtown core.”

Munz believes the project will be good for Jacksonville’s future.

“We feel a strong sense of commitment to the taxpayers, who are ultimately the supporters and the beneficiaries of such a project, because if we are successful, we will be increasing taxes to the city and the school system, and we feel a direct obligation to be successful,” said Munz. “We’re not out-of-town developers without a strong sense of community, and have hung in here this long because of our strong commitment to Jacksonville.”


By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News

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