News Article | 6/3/2010

Hillwood contract for Cecil Commerce Center wins backing of second council committee


Dallas-based Hillwood moved closer on Wednesday to becoming master developer of Cecil Commerce Center after a second City Council committee unanimously backed a proposed contract with a few amendments to the deal.


The 7-0 vote by the recreation and community development committee followed unanimous support by the council’s finance committee earlier this week. The legislation goes next to the full council Tuesday.


At the Wednesday committee meeting, Councilman Ronnie Fussell won support for two amendments affecting land sales and the timetable for Hillwood constructing roads and utilities.


The committee also supported Councilman Reggie Brown’s amendment promoting the use of businesses from the Jacksonville Small and Emerging Business program. The contract would establish a 15 percent goal for the share of commerce center work that would go to JSEB businesses.


Opponents of the deal have argued the proposed contract establishes land prices that shortchange the city. They have pressed the city to do appraisals. The Jacksonville Economic Development Commission has said that would be a deal-killer, and none of the amendments calls for future appraisals.


One amendment states Hillwood would pay the city for land used for roads and easements, just as Hillwood pays for land that becomes the site of buildings. The other amendment pertains to Hillwood’s construction of roads and utilities at the commerce center.


Part of the deal’s calculation for the price of city-owned land is an estimate Hillwood would spend around $42 million on utilities and roads to fully develop 2,800 acres. However, the city projects that over a 25-year period, Hillwood would develop 843 acres and spend just $3.6 million on roads and utilities for those tracts.


Fussell said because Hillwood gets the benefit of buying land at lower prices based on how much it would spend on streets and utilities for full build-out, the company should reciprocate by constructing those improvements at a faster pace. Fussell and JEDC officials will meet about how to draw up that timetable.