Jacksonville Bold for 5.26.21: Political sunset?

Sunrise, sunset

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry lauded the City Council’s choice of Sam Newby as President-designate and Terrance Freeman as Vice President-designate with a congratulatory tweet that recalled the 15 years of shared history between Newby and Curry.

This man is a rare person in this business. We have travelled this road together since 2006. As I approach my political sunset in 2 years, I enjoy seeing Sam continue to rise. He has a bright future and I’m in for him. 15 years of history. He is special. https://t.co/ZSbGnf6w19

— Lenny Curry (@lennycurry) May 26, 2021

“As I approach my political sunset in two years, I enjoy seeing Sam continue to rise,” Curry noted.

This Mayor has seen Council Presidents come and go. He enjoyed a boost from veteran pragmatists in his first term. But the Anna Brosche presidency was pure war, leading to her failed 2019 challenge to Curry.

The Mayor worked with Tommy Hazouri, who hated Brosche at that point, to win reelection. Hazouri got what he wanted: the presidency. But he, too, has been a burr in the Mayor’s saddle.

The Newby presidency should involve less pyrotechnics. The incoming President does not push his agenda via media leaks. He and Curry will likely align on most things and figure out the rest long before giving quotes on the subject.

Newby distanced himself from Donald Trump Republicanism, linking himself to the Bush/Reagan iteration in his remarks Tuesday night. All of that is probably just semantic landscaping, though, in a post-partisan city where Curry himself has figured out meaningful dialogue with Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’ administration.

Much media coverage has focused on the historic nature of the Newby/Freeman duo: two Black Council members in the top spots for the first time in Jacksonville history. But race was not a focus in the contested vote for VP. Black and White members of the Council supported both Freeman and Councilmember Randy DeFoor in the VP race.

Like so many other Jacksonville stories, the story of this vote is more complex than headlines sometimes allow, driven by personal narratives and relationships that go far beyond demographic distinctions. People’s decisions to support Freeman or DeFoor were prompted by policy and political positioning questions, a measure of progress for a City Council and a city with a history before the current era of struggling with racial divides.

Turkey salad

The budget hawks at Florida TaxWatch released their 2021 “Turkey” this week, and Northeast Florida was almost nowhere in sight.

Turkeys, for the uninitiated, are appropriations that may not merit direct funding from the state government. They can include items from the so-called ‘sprinkle list,’ member projects that address stakeholder needs.

Among the gobblers this year: $3.5 million for dune restoration in South Ponte Vedra Beach, a priority of Rep. Cyndi Stevenson and Sen. Travis Hutson. TaxWatch also critiqued $300,000 for a river access project in Green Cove Springs, which was a priority for Sen. Jennifer Bradley and Rep. Sam Garrison.

Dune restoration in South Ponte Vedra Beach was labeled a ‘turkey.’

Duval, Nassau and Baker counties were turkey-free.

Perhaps the regional delegation could have brought home more bacon. The TaxWatch list, though not as robust as other years, saw plenty of business-as-usual turkey projects from around the state.

These projects are subject to the approval of Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Decision time

The Senate District 6 Democratic primary should heat up soon, with what will be arguably the most fiercely contested primary in Northeast Florida in 2022.

Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Gaffney is about to file. Gaffney, though a Democrat, has enjoyed strong Republican co-branding throughout his political career. The Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce has consistently backed him, and indeed, Gaffney was at the event last week heralding the corporate relocation of Dun and Bradstreet to Jacksonville.

Gaffney also was prominent when a major Democratic candidate for Governor was in town. The Councilman wrapped Charlie Crist in one of his trademark bear hugs, a move that was good for Gaffney but may not help Crist in the end.

Reggie Gaffney is on the verge of a Senate run. Charlie Crist approves. Image via A.G. Gancarski.

Rep. Tracie Davis, who has worked closely with termed-out incumbent Sen. Audrey Gibson, is also looking at a run for the Senate. Davis votes with the Democratic caucus in the House, and they will back her. But will it be enough to overcome the concerted, GOP-aided efforts of Team Gaffney?

Davis would not tell us when she was filing, but she said on Facebook recently that she would leave to seek higher office, and it doesn’t take Jacques Derrida to deconstruct that.

Millage boost

Another year in a surging housing market means that Duval County property tax collections are increasingly robust.

The Florida Times-Union’s David Bauerlein had the scoop: an extra $56 million, a number short of the $61 million that went into the current budget.

The insight, as he notes, comes amid Council debate on doubling the city’s gas tax to 12 cents per gallon.

Will gas tax critics like LeAnna Cumber message on this issue? Image via News4Jax.

Some, such as Councilmember LeAnna Cumber, have noted that Duval is getting well over $300 million in American Rescue Plan funds and question the need to raise taxes further. Some also kvetch that the gas tax is a functional “slush fund” for the next Mayor, potentially Jax Chamber CEO Daniel Davis.

At last

The Florida Times-Union left the Brooklyn neighborhood some years back, but it has taken until now to clarify what will happen with the building and space they once occupied.

The Jacksonville Daily Record’s Karen Mathis reports that Atlanta developer Jeff Fuqua is looking to spend $250 million on a multiuse project at the 18.8-acre site. The new name will be One Riverside, its iconic address on the doorstep of downtown.

A decades-old fixture comes down. Image via Florida Memory.

The build will be quick, happening this year and coinciding with the restoration of McCoy’s Creek. The current building will come down, replaced by mixed-use new construction.

Steve Diebenow, a partner with the Driver, McAfee, Hawthorne & Diebenow PLLC law firm, represents Fuqua, Mathis notes.

Not that anyone’s asking our advice here, but hopefully, parking is considered more here than at Fuqua’s last two area projects. Both the Riverside Publix and the Fresh Market across the street from One Riverside suffer from a lack of spaces, which may work in Atlanta but has frustrated locals for decades with these projects.

St. Johns refresh

St. Johns is looking for more people to enjoy the great outdoors, with a new logo and website highlighting activities that focus on the county’s natural beauty.

The St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce developed the new site to focus on “natural assets found in the Ponte Vedra Beach, Ponte Vedra and Palm Valley communities.”

At the heart of the refresh is five activities under five different themes — hiking, biking, kayaking, birding and fishing.

“The site intends to offer visitors additional attractive experiences beyond golf and history, enticing them to extend their stay in our county, which in turn brings more revenue to our community,” said Isabelle Renault, president and CEO of the St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce. “Our research shows that 81% of overnighters visiting our region are at the front door of Ponte Vedra but never make it to the destination and only 13% of day visitors coming to St. Johns county experienced Ponte Vedra.”

St. Johns wants visitors and residents to focus on the county’s natural beauty.

The theme and design of the website came from Naturally Ponte Vedra Product Development Working Group. Main sponsors are the GTM Research Reserve, St. Augustine/Ponte Vedra & The Beaches Visitors and Convention Bureau, the St. Johns County Tourist Development Council, St. Johns County Cultural Council and the St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce.

The Chamber’s goal was to address how visitors could overlook the array of natural assets in St. Johns County.

“The timing of the launch of this website couldn’t be better,” explained Renault. “After more than a year of stress and isolation, now is the time to explore the outdoors. This area is not defined by busy highways but by the many planned pockets of natural paradise. The region features miles of ocean shoreline, acres of intracoastal waterways and lakes, a Wildlife Management Area, and one of the country’s protected estuarine reserves at the GTM Research Reserve.”

While the website will promote and convey outdoor activities for visitors, the Chamber wants residents to enjoy them as well. Visit the website here.

More on the St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce is at sjcchamber.com or connect on Facebook at facebook.com/sjcchamber.

Palm Coast health

Starting in July, Flagler Health+ will break ground on the new Flagler Health+ Village at Palm Coast.

On approximately 7 acres at the southwest corner of Matanzas Woods Parkway and Belle Terre Parkway, the health village will incorporate family practice with on-site behavioral health services, orthopedics, specialty care, imaging, and laboratory services all within a community-centric setting.

The village will serve as the home for the Flagler County division of Care Connect+, which connects Northeast Florida residents in need with available services to address social factors of health.

Groundbreaking nears for the new Flagler Health+ Village at Palm Coast. Image via Flagler Health+.

“We are excited to move forward with our health village project — and others — to better serve the residents of Flagler County in ways that advance their physical, social and economic health,” said Flagler Health+ President & CEO Jason Barrett. “We have a long history of serving this community, and I look forward to further expanding that relationship.”

In addition, Flagler Health+ is planning to buy an additional 71 acres located on the west side of U.S.-1, where it intersects Palm Coast Parkway, to build an inpatient hospital.

Student mental health

Care Connect+, a social health organization led by Flagler Health+, is partnering with the Putnam County School District to increase access to mental health services for the more than 10,000 students in the district’s 15 schools.

The Be Resilient and Voice Emotions (B.R. A. V. E) program will encourage young people to address their mental health early on, be open to receiving help, and supports access to behavioral health services via navigation and technology.

As part of Care Connect+, the program will work with the whole family to address social factors of mental health — helping find the proper care at the right time and place.

Flagler Health+ is pledging $15,000 to the expansion of B.R. A. V. E in Putnam County Schools. The money will go to help 300 and 400 students access mental health services. B.R.A.V.E. offers multiple resources for families’ needs, including care coordination, navigation services, access to virtual mental health counseling visits, and a 24-hour crisis text line.

Care Connect+ will use a unified intake process, allowing staff to find unmet social needs for the family and connect students with eligible resources and the best behavioral health providers.

Mental health support is on the way for students in Putnam County.

Services in the program include Children’s Home Society, SMA Healthcare, All Therapies, and St. Augustine Youth Services.

In Florida, six out of 10 youth (66.8%) either deal with depression or are most at-risk for depression and do not receive any mental health treatment.

According to the most recent Putnam County Community Health Needs Assessment, local children under 18 made up nearly 23% of all Baker Act initiations, higher than the 16% statewide average.

Add the effects on mental health stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, and experts agree that the need for mental health services is greater now than ever.

During the 2019/2020 school year, 400 Putnam County students were referred for counseling or mental health assessments. Only 175 of those students received care, mainly due to a lack of insurance, high insurance deductibles, transportation barriers, difficulties navigating the mental health services system and social stigma.

“There is no easy fix for addressing the complex issues around behavioral health that are facing our youth today,” Barrett said. “It is only through sustained resolve, investment, and resources from every stakeholder in our community that we will eliminate stigma and increase much-needed access to care.”

Launched by Care Connect+ in 2019 in partnership with the St. Johns County School District and support from THE PLAYERS, the program made considerable progress. Before B.R. A. V. E’s implementation, only 35% of students referred to mental health providers were actually seen by a medical professional. Through the B.R. A. V. E program, the rate increased to 93%.

Golf for INK!

The St. Johns County Education Foundation Inc., which runs Investment In Kids, has received a donation designed to increase the program’s reach.

Davidson Realty Inc. has donated $15,000 to the nonprofit program. Davidson Realty is the presenting sponsor for the Pro-Am Women’s Golf Tournament for St. Johns County. The professional event set for Oct. 24 at World Golf Village is designed to be part of a development tour for women golfers. The day after that, on Oct. 25, will be the Pro-Am tournament where local amateur golfers will pair up with some of the professionals.

That will be an additional fundraiser for INK!

Donna Lueders, executive director of INK!, said the event will significantly boost the program.

“INK! fits right in as the official charity partner of the PXG Women’s Match Play Championship since the overall tournament week is about creating opportunities. As part of that theme, the INK! Charity Pro-am presented by Davidson Realty together with all of our sponsors and players are making a financial investment in our public schools,” Lueders said. “This is a major golf fundraiser for the organization, and we’re thrilled about the opportunity.”

Donna Lueders wants supporters to hit the links for an Investment in Kids. Image via INK!

Sherry Davidson, the owner of Davidson Realty, said the event is a big opportunity for INK!

“Our goal is to shine a light on the importance of quality education in St. Johns County and the up-and-coming professional players of women’s golf while creating opportunities for players in the tournament, the boardroom, and in the community,” Davidson said.

JAA exec honored

The top executive for the Jacksonville Aviation Authority has been honored for his service to the industry.

Mark VanLoh, CEO of the JAA, was named a recipient of the Distinguished Service Award by the American Association of Airport Executives. The award marks contributions officials make to the airport industry.

VanLoh was presented the award by the JAA board of directors Monday.

Pictured (from left): Mark VanLoh, Kelly Campbell, A.A.E., executive director of aviation at Lubbock Preston Smith International Airport, presenting the award on behalf of AAAE; Patrick Kilbane, JAA board chair.

Kelly Campbell, chair of the Association of Airport Executives, said VanLoh earned the honor for work that began before and including his service in Jacksonville.

“For more than three decades, Mark VanLoh has served as a model airport professional, a respected aviation industry voice, and an effective leader in the communities that have been fortunate enough to have his services,” Campbell said. “Mark is the rare breed who has proved adept at getting things done while always being agreeable and respectful. It is fitting that AAAE is honoring him for his dedication, his professionalism, and his significant career achievements.”

VanLoh was first certified as an airport executive in 1989 and has served in the executive branch at airports including Rockford, Illinois, Toledo and Cleveland, Ohio, Tulsa, Oklahoma, and other locales.

VanLoh is also an active member of the American Association of Airport Executives.

Jazzy jams

After a break for more than a year, the Jacksonville Jazz Festival returns this fall, and preparations are already underway for special fan packages.

“VIP Experience” packages for the jazz fest go on sale Friday. The packages cost $349 for the event that runs from Sept. 29 through Oct. 3 in downtown Jacksonville.

A jazz fest news release said the special VIP package “includes access to all VIP areas, upfront seating, exclusive cuisine and dedicated bars, a wristband loaded with $200 in food/beverage credit, air-conditioned bathrooms, admission to the Jacksonville Jazz Piano Competition presented by Keyboard Connection — The Piano Place and VIP merchandise. The VIP Single-Day Experience package includes access to all VIP areas.”

There are more ticket packages for VIP entry and single-day entry as well.

The Jacksonville Jazz Festival returns for its 40th anniversary. Image via Facebook.

The jazz fest returns to the fall dates after taking place in May 2019 and scrapped in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

This VIP package exclusive offer runs through Memorial Day weekend. Those wishing to buy the special ticket package deals can go to the event’s website.

Prices will increase after the initial holiday weekend offering online.

The single-day special VIP ticket packages start at $149 during the special offering.

Go and see it

With the pandemic in the rearview mirror, normalcy returns to Flagler College. They will resume tours of the historic Hotel Ponce de Leon this week.

Tours are returning to the historic Hotel Ponce de Leon. Image via Flagler College.

“Tours will resume with a limited summer schedule starting Thursday, May 27, through Aug. 8. Tours will be limited to Thursday through Sunday at 10 a.m., 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 2 p.m., and 3 p.m.,” asserts a media release. “Due to limited availability, attendees must purchase tickets in advance at legacy.flagler.edu/pages/tours. Tours depart from the main lobby (Rotunda) of the College located at 74 King Street.”

The campus is closed to the public unless they are on an approved tour, meaning this opportunity will particularly appeal to those who waited out COVID-19 to tour. Tickets are $15 apiece.

“We are excited to welcome the public back to the Flagler College campus to experience the history and grandeur of the Ponce in a safe manner,” said assistant director of Flagler’s Legacy Nikki Liberatore.

Online Memorial Day service

Being the military town that it is, the city of Jacksonville will remind residents what Memorial Day is all about Monday morning.

The city’s Military Affairs and Veterans Services Department hosts a virtual Memorial Day service online beginning at 8 a.m. Those wishing to view the service can go to the City of Jacksonville YouTube channel. The event will also be available on the city’s online social media platforms.

Curry will present remarks honoring fallen service members from Jacksonville, and the event will feature addresses from military leaders. It will include a musical performance from the Jacksonville Voices and Jacksonville Pipes & Drums.

Jacksonville will honor military veterans Monday morning. Image via Florida Politics.

The event recording took place at the Veterans Memorial Wall outside TIAA Bank Field on Adams Street in downtown Jacksonville. The event will run for about an hour.

The wall commemorates military personnel from Jacksonville who fell in the line of duty. It’s a 65-foot-long monument made of granite that features an eternal flame torch and lists military personnel from the city who died in the line of duty. The memorial is the second largest wall dedicated to military personnel in the United States.


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