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Council withdraws bill to lease armory to Sons of Confederate Veterans

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The Jacksonville City Council withdrew a bill Tuesday that would have leased the former National Guard Armory Building to the local chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

The bill faced the prospect of defeat. Withdrawing the bill means City Council member Kimberly Daniels, who introduced it, won't have to wait a year to try again. She said she plans to refile the bill immediately to fight another day.

In another closely watched project in the downtown area, the council approved a contract amendment clearing the way for the developers of 220 Riverside to get $2.6 million from the city for construction of Unity Plaza.

The council voted 17-1 for the amendment after that documents provided Tuesday night to the council would be sufficient to show the developers are investing at least $30 million in the 220 Riverside project, which features a seven-story apartment complex.

Unity Plaza will be a park with an amphitheater able to hold about 2,000 spectators in tiered seating and on grassy sides.

At issue was what type of documents would be acceptable to the city to comply with a previously executed contract between the city and Hallmark Partners. Daniels voted against the contract amendment. She said she wanted more time to review the documents, which included a construction change order showing a price of $30.8 million for the project.

Other council members were satisfied the developer is meeting its end of the deal and said 220 Riverside promises to be a catalyst for more downtown-area development.

But on the matter of leasing the abandoned armory building, council members balked at inking a deal with the Sons of Confederate Veterans, Kirby-Smith Camp 1209.

The city-owned two-story building, located at 851 N. Market St., was built during World War I and used for military purposes until 1973. The city hasn't occupied the flood-damaged building since the parks and recreation department moved out of it in 2000.

Daniels and City Councilman Reggie Brown said the Sons of Confederate Veterans, Kirby-Smith Camp 1209 deserves an opportunity to renovate the building after the group was the only organization that responded in 2011 to the city’s request for ideas about using the building.

“I think personally that we are doing this organization a grave injustice,” Brown said.

He said the group is interested in doing what the city has failed to do. The city “has no plans for the building,” he said. “There is nothing.”

City Councilman Bill Bishop agreed it’s the city’s fault the building has fallen into a deteriorating state.

“Shame on all of us,” he said of the neglect.

But he said he couldn't support leasing the building to Kirby-Smith Camp 1209 or a coalition of arts groups that expressed interest this year because neither group has shown financially viable plans for the multimillion dollar renovation expenses.

“Where is the plan?” said City Councilman Warren Jones. “How will it be renovated?”

He said neighborhoods in the area of the old armory building haven’t been part of the process in deciding how to use the building.

City Councilman Johnny Gaffney, whose district contains the armory building, said the process has been flawed and the city should reopen consideration of all organizations interested in using the building.

“I think it should go to the best organization,” he said.

Daniels said she thinks the Sons of the Confederate Veterans have faced an unspoken “stigma” that has blocked council members from supporting the bill.

She read aloud a volunteer service award given by President Barack Obama to the Kirby-Smith Camp 1209 for its civic work.

“It's a confirmation that they deserve better than they've been treated,” Daniels said.
 

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