News Article | 6/3/2010

Don’t let naysayers drag down Cecil development


Will Jacksonville take a big step toward becoming a “can-do” city, or will the tale of the crab bucket be a more fitting metaphor?


I’m sure you know about the crab bucket.


Put a single crab in a bucket without a lid, and it likely will climb its way out.


However, if there are other crabs in the bucket, they will pull the one trying to escape back down to share their fate.


The illustration usually applies to individuals trying to better themselves while their peers try hard to keep them trapped in the same environment.


It also can apply to a city that is trying to get off the dime when it comes to economic development and job creation, which is where Jacksonville finds itself today.


For more than a decade, very little has happened at Cecil Commerce Center, which should be a strong economic engine for the city, not a sputtering two-cylinder motor.


After first seeking bids and then after months of hard negotiations, the Jacksonville Economic Development Commission has put forward a proposal to make Dallas-based Hillwood the master developer for Cecil.


Hillwood, owned by the Ross Perot family, has a proven track record of developing major industrial parks and is ready to get started at Cecil Commerce Center.


And unlike previous development deals the city has entered into, Hillwood actually will pay for the city-owned land and spend its own money in preparing it for development.


Another difference: The developed property will go on the city’s tax rolls without property tax breaks.


Now enter the naysayers, which Jacksonville always has an abundance of, who are trying to drag this deal down.


Other major landowners are crying foul, saying the prices Hillwood is paying for the land – an average of $7,500 an acre – are too low.


Shortly before the City Council’s Finance Committee took up the matter Tuesday, an “independent appraisal” paid for by one of the landowners said the Cecil property is worth an average of $90,000 an acre.


Because much of the Cecil property is wet, it will cost $83,000 an acre to bring in fill dirt and to pay for other needed infrastructure such as roads and utilities.


Using the “independent appraisal,” that would put the cost of developing one acre at $173,000.


That’s ludicrous, and that’s not just my opinion.


Others who know a lot more about land values than I do say the same thing. One is Peter Rummell, the former head of the giant real estate company St. Joe.


Rummell has said on more than one occasion that the Cecil property has “zero value” until someone invests a huge amount of money in it.


Hillwood has the money to do it and will under this proposal. Other bidders wanted the land for free. None of those complaining now even put in a bid.


The Finance Committee voted 7-0 to approve the Hillwood deal.


“We have to do what we can do to bring some jobs aboard,” said Councilman Ray Holt, a co-sponsor of the legislation. “This is going to do it.”


The full council should follow the Finance Committee’s lead and get Jacksonville out of the bucket and on track to becoming a “can-do” city that gets things done.