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Council President Criticizes Mayoral Administration’s Handling Of Lot J Project

Jacksonville City Council President Tommy Hazouri
City Council President Tommy Hazouri's Facebook Page
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Jacksonville City Council President Tommy Hazouri

Jacksonville City Council President Tommy Hazouri is blaming the administration of Mayor Lenny Curry for the setbacks and confusion that have surrounded Jaguars owner Shad Khan’s proposed $450 million Lot J project.

Mayor Curry’s legislation, which would see the city borrow more than $200 million to invest in the development, bypasses the city’s Downtown Investment Authority (DIA).

In what was at times a tense Committee of the Whole meeting Thursday night, the mayor’s Chief Administrative Officer Brian Hughes said they opted not to involve the DIA because the city already has an agreement with the development team on the property as part of the stadium lease.

“We already have this existing relationship with the development team that is atypical. It doesn't exist in any other parcel I'm aware of,” Hughes said.

But many City Council members have said they are not comfortable with the DIA being left out of the process.

As WJCT News partner the Jacksonville Daily Record reports, City Councilman Matt Carlucci has filed substitute legislation that would add DIA oversight but otherwise leave Curry’s bill as is.

Meanwhile, Councilwoman LeAnna Cumber proposed an amendment Thursday night that would, like Carlucci’s legislation, require the DIA to review the Lot J deal.

“I would like to have DIA involved as soon as possible,” Cumber said, explaining her amendment. “What it does is get DIA involved now. They can look and analyze everything that we have and it gives us another point and more information in order to make our final decision.”

Much of the meeting was spent debating what the differences between Carlucci’s and Cumber’s proposals were and how the councilwoman’s amendment would be implemented. In the end — with no quorum present and without all the details of the proposed development in writing — nothing was decided, leading several council members to voice their frustration.

“At this point, we really do need a lot more information,” Councilwoman Joyce Morgan said. “I've been going through what we received, and I feel very strongly that we have to have some clear cut legislation that we can either vote for amendments on or we can vote for a substitution. At this point, I think that we have neither one of those.”

Hazouri laid the blame at the feet of  Curry and his administration.

“I’m not going to deal with stuff like this. This is too important of an issue, too complex of an issue for us to just sit here and hurry up and wait for them to make their presentation,” he said. “Shame on this not getting any further and us getting into more depth of the discussion of this. We’re at wits end on being able to do that because we have no information and weeks have gone by.”

“You just disparaged my team, my staff and my mayor,” Hughes responded. “Your characterizations are wrong, sir.”

“My opinion is my opinion and I know what I’ve seen and what I’ve heard and what’s taken place over the last several weeks,” replied Hazouri.

It all seemed a moot point, in the end.

“I’ve just been informed by the administration they’ve already initiated DIA to do a study on this,” Councilman Danny Becton announced towards the end of the meeting.

But Hazouri still called for a resolution to be taken up during Tuesday’s City council meeting.

Brendan Rivers can be reached at brivers@wjct.org, 904-358-6396 or on Twitter at @BrendanRivers.