New roads could give Jacksonville's Northside a boost A trust fund would be used to steer city funds for the airport region.

Posted: November 14, 2010 - 12:43am

The Northside redevelopment district that helped spur growth of Jacksonville International Tradeport and construction of River City Marketplace could get a new mission in coming years — expand the road network in a 22.5-square-mile area in the vicinity of the airport.

The goal would be to accommodate rising traffic while improving the climate for commercial development and job growth in the area.

That’s the vision put forward by the Jacksonville Economic Development Commission in regard to the Jacksonville International Airport Community Redevelopment Area.

The JEDC has approved a guiding document called the North Jacksonville Action Plan that identifies six road projects costing an estimated $181 million. One recommendation is to build a flyover ramp from northbound Interstate 95 to Airport Road, giving motorists a quicker route to their flights than the existing off-ramp with its traffic light.

Putting the plan into action faces several obstacles. In recent years, Mayor John Peyton and the City Council have used taxes generated within the community redevelopment area to help balance the city’s budget, rather than pay for new economic development projects. The JEDC wants that to change starting with the 2011-12 budget, but the slow-moving economy continues to pressure the city’s finances.

The JEDC plan also hinges on garnering funding from the state Department of Transportation, which has its own budget constraints. JEDC Executive Director Ron Barton said being able to provide local financial support would strengthen the city’s hand in seeking funding from the state.

“We have a mechanism that can change the conversation with DOT,” Barton said. “It can change timing. It can change the allocation of dollars.”

The community redevelopment area is one of three designated in Jacksonville. The other two are downtown. All three have tax increment financing districts that set aside a portion of city taxes generated from the long-term growth in taxable property values. The tax revenue can then be funneled back to the redevelopment areas to promote further growth.

The Northside redevelopment area was formed in 1993 and started by bankrolling financial incentives for several companies that moved into Jacksonville International Tradeport, an industrial park near the airport. In the 1990s, the city’s deals brought Coach Inc., Sally Beauty Co. and American Body Armor and Equipment — now known as Armor Holdings — to the tradeport.

In 2004, the city used tax increment financing for incentives that paved the way for construction of River City Marketplace, the 881,385-square-foot regional shopping mall off Interstate 95.

But the redevelopment area hasn’t taken on anything since then. This year, it will generate almost $6.5 million in city taxes that can be used for economic development. Of that amount, about $2.1 million is paying for debt and other costs of the previously approved incentives and $300,000 is going toward Airport Road sidewalks. The remaining amount of almost $4.1 million will help balance the budget for the city’s daily operating expenses.

A trust fund for roads

The JEDC’s plan calls for reducing the amount that is transferred to the city general budget over a four-year period, starting in the 2011-12 budget. The money would be put into a trust fund for the road projects. Over a 20-year period, the redevelopment area would have $124 million available for road construction, according to JEDC projections.

At an October JEDC meeting when the commission first discussed the proposal, Barton said using the money to balance the budget was a “necessary evil” in light of the city’s budget woes, but it’s time to start using the money as it was intended when the city created the community redevelopment area.

One point of debate among JEDC commissioner was how to prioritize the road projects. Originally, the top-rated project was construction of the JIA North Access Road, which would be a new road running from Airport Road north to Pecan Park Road. It would be the northern extension of an existing road that connects Airport Road and Interstate 295.

The second-ranked project was construction of a flyover ramp from northbound I-95 to Airport Road, the route that is most commonly used by people going to the airport.

The state Department of Transportation favors starting with the JIA North Access Road because the state already has money budgeted for design and purchase of right-of-way. The flyover ramp doesn’t. The access road would give people another route to reach the airport by exiting at Pecan Park Road and taking the access road. The road also would open land for development.

The flyover ramp would ease traffic congestion. Currently, drivers heading north on I-95 use the same exit ramp to reach the airport and River City Marketplace. The shopping mall has spawned additional development, and over time that could cause traffic to back up along I-95 during busy shopping seasons.

Neither the access road nor the flyover ramp emerged as a clear favorite in the discussion. One option would be to build the JIA North Access Road as a two-lane road rather than four lanes at first, and focus then on rounding up the money for the flyover ramp.

JIA Community Redevelopment Area: Where the money goes

The 22.5-square-mile redevelopment area captures a portion of city property taxes for economic development. If the tax money isn’t used for that purpose, it goes to the city’s general fund. Here’s the breakdown for this year’s budget.

$4,064,064: Amount transferred to city’s general fund to balance the citywide budget.

$1,407,721: Payment of debt and grants for financial incentives given in 2004 for the development of River City Marketplace shopping mall.

$507,000: Payment of debt for financial incentives given in 1994 for Coach Co. distribution center in Jacksonville International Tradeport.

$300,000: Airport Road sidewalk improvements.

$89,876: Payment of debt for incentives given in 1996 for Sally Beauty Co. distribution center at the tradeport.

$89,552: Payment of annual debt for incentives given in 1997 for American Body Armor, now known as Armor Holdings, to locate at tradeport., (904) 359-4581

For more information, contact Debbie Jones


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