The Plaza’s Second Dip Into City’s TIF Funds Raises Concerns, Ultimately Passes City Council

By Benjamin Cox on June 3, 2024 at 8:38am

Unwritten rules for the city’s TIF district grants were a topic of debate last Monday night at the Jacksonville City Council meeting.

The city council had 3 TIF applications to consider last Monday night. The first and the largest was an application by Rohn Investments to make improvements at 73 East Central Park Plaza, known simply as The Plaza. John Rohn had came to the city in September 2022 asking for approximately $300,000 for improvements to the building.

At the same time Rohn asked for money in 2022, three other requests were placed – including one request from Rammelkamp Bradney law firm of over half million dollars to renovate the now-demolished Lair Building. The TIF fund at that time had a little over $450,000 in its coffers, and was all but depleted after the four requests were granted portions of their requests. At that time, Rohn was told by members of the city’s TIF committee and the Jacksonville City Council, according to city minutes, to reapply for another TIF application for his building. In April 2023, the city rescinded $100,000 in TIF money from Rammelkamp Bradney due to the law firm’s choice to demolish the Lair Building.

City Treasurer Beth Hopkins says that Rohn basically reapplied for the TIF money on the following day after his initial application was only partially fulfilled due to unwritten rules and what was perceived as the city’s intent to grant him the additional funds if and when they became available: “Historically, applications to the TIF aren’t considered when we receive that application within 5 years of a previous request. Mr. Rohn’s project was bigger. One of the TIF agreements was rescinded the last time, so he asked for additional funding. The council directed him to apply again, and he did even though it was within that 5-year window, indicating that the city council might have given a larger grant at the time if they had known there were funds available. Mr. Rohn did file another request for another TIF grant, and that was what was presented.”

In a rare pull for more discussion from the consent agenda, Second Ward Alderwoman Lori Oldenettel says that the TIF Committee should consider getting the TIF application into a more formalized set of directives rather than having unwritten rules. Mayor Andy Ezard attributed those rules to previous TIF Committees and the consent of the City Council. In a phone call to WLDS News on Friday, former TIF Committee Chair and City Planner Kelly Hall said that the unwritten rules were put together via a consensus with the city’s administration and the previous city councils. Hall says that the previous city councils always agreed to the rules from the previous TIF applications in the past.

The council eventually voted 9-1 in favor of the TIF application, with Alderman Kent Hannant, Jr. voting no. Hannant said that he was about playing fair, in that other applicants had been told in the past to not apply because they had not waited 5 years between TIF projects.

The other two TIF applications by the Amvets and Hamilton’s North East both passed with unanimous consent. Hopkins told the city council that the Amvets fell just outside the 5-year time frame, with their last TIF project coming in early 2019, while Hamilton’s previous request came in 2018.

Hopkins says Rohn intends to use the money to renovate the second floor of his property and repair the elevator.