Deadline nears for developers to determine future of The District

San Marco’s Peter Rummell and Michael Munz, partners in Elements Development, have until Sept. 30 to make a decision about the future of their 30-acre Southbank project The District. 

First unveiled in 2014, The District is an ambitious proposal to transform the riverfront land formerly occupied by JEA’s Southside Generating Station into a multi-use development of residential, retail, office, and hotel space, enhanced by a marina and waterfront park.

In 2018, the City Council approved a redevelopment agreement that would give Elements $56 million in property tax rebates. The rebates, called Recaptured Enhanced Value or REV grants, are 75% of the property taxes and are dependent on how much of The District is built and added to the tax rolls.

The city committed to paying $26.5 million to construct 3.5 acres of park space, a 1,900-foot Riverwalk extension with bulkhead, a boardwalk trail, 100 parking spaces and three road extensions.

In 2018, the projected completion date was the end of 2022.

More than once, Munz said that groundbreaking was only a few months away. But so far, not a shovel of dirt has been turned.

“To say this has been a complicated, expensive, and time-consuming process would be an understatement,” Munz said. “We have spent more than any other private sector developer in terms of the planning stages to move this 30-acres forward as a mixed-use master planned project in downtown.”

Munz says that so far Elements has spent $9 million on the project to build a multi-use development that would include 950 residents, 147 hotel rooms 134,000 square feet of retail, 200,000 square feet of office space and a 125-slip marina.

The much-anticipated project has been mired in delays and obstacles.

Development rights were entwined with the Northbank and had to be untangled. The state had to sign off on JEA’s $20 million environmental cleanup of the former Southside Generating Station. An unconventional financing scheme that generated controversy was withdrawn and a more conventional one proposed.

The latest delays occurred this year. January 13 was the deadline for the company to issue bonds to finance the infrastructure, transfer property to the city, and submit the permits for the horizontal construction.

But on Jan. 9, Rummell sent the Downtown Investment Authority a letter saying that “due to the drawn-out marketing process and the fact that this is a complicated mixed-use urban project, we find ourselves in a position of not being able to meet the upcoming deadline.”

DIA CEO Lori Boyer granted them an extension until April 13. 

But in March, the Coronavirus pandemic hit, bringing the city and the economy to a standstill. Elements requested a suspension of performance deadlines, citing a “force majeure” provision.

Boyer started the clock again Sept. 1, citing the resumption of business activity. She has the authority to grant Elements another 90-day extension if they can show they are making progress. They have until Sept. 30 to do it.

If they can’t make the case, the redevelopment incentives approved by the city in 2018 will expire. Since Elements owns the property, it could seek another redevelopment agreement with the city or do something else entirely, Boyer said.

Boyer said she hopes Elements can demonstrate that it is making progress because the city stands to get four acres of riverfront property for the Riverwalk extension and park.

“There’s a real public interest to getting that property,” she said. “There is a value to keeping it alive. I’m not sure there’s a lot to be gained by a termination.”

Munz said they have every intention of continuing the project and that much has been accomplished.

Engineering design has been completed for the horizontal infrastructure that includes the bulkhead, parks, roads, parking and landscaping. Permitting is currently in progress. 

“We’re working diligently to determine the proper next step. COVID-19 is presenting a lot of problem on a lot of levels. We’re carefully analyzing where we are and where we need to be,” Munz said. “No one is more motivated than us to move forward in some form and fashion for all the time and money spent.”

By Lilla Ross
Resident community News

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