FINE, LET’S TALK ABOUT THE JACKSONVILLE SHIPYARDS

Two weeks ago, as I’m sure you’ve heard, Shad Khan unveiled his plans for The Shipyards in a slick-as-shit video that probably cost more to put together than I’ll make this year. On Feb. 23, his company sent the city of Jacksonville a Term Sheet listing the barest of outlines of what he wants to do; the next day, the company went before the Downtown Investment Authority, the agency that will have to sign off. In neither instance did we learn very much that is useful.

Oh, sure, we know the contours of Khan’s offer: The city would give Khan the land for free and pay to make it environmentally habitable, as much as $35 million (though likely less). Khan would in turn build 1 million square feet of office space, 100,000 square feet of commercial space, 662 residential units, 350 hotel rooms and 525 marina slips, and construct an open-air amphitheater, a football-themed park and mooring space for the USS Adams. After Khan recoups his investment, the city would then get a 20 percent cut of future land sales.

But what we don’t know is how much all of this will cost. We don’t have a price tag on remediating the land. We don’t have a price tag on Khan’s construction plans, or how much the city stands to gain on the back end. We don’t have a price tag on all of the other things Iguana Investments (Khan’s new creation just for this project) wants the city to do: improving Bay Street and the Hogans Creek greenway, completing a river-adjacent walkway from Metropolitan Park into Downtown, maintaining public spaces and restoring bulkheads. And we don’t have a price tag on the tax incremental financing Iguana wants reserved for The Shipyards.

With so much uncertainty — the DIA holds another hearing this week, so we’ll hopefully get answers sooner than later — it’s hard to opine in any meaningful way about it. But what the hell, I’ll give it a go anyway.

On its face, I don’t see any obvious red flags, at least not yet. Or, to put it another way: I’ve seen worse. The city’s going to have to pay to clean up The Shipyards if it ever wants to unload it — to Khan or anyone else — or even to turn it into a greenspace. (It’s not like developers have been beating down the city’s door to buy the property outright.) The city needs bodies Downtown, and Khan uniquely has the financial wherewithal to see this thing through. So on that score, this seems like a deal worth pursuing.

As with anything, however, the devil is in the details, and we don’t have enough details right now to know what the devil looks like.

The Canceled Contract

Last Thursday, Dr. Dr. Herbert M. Barber — the economics consultant hired by Jacksonville’s Office of Economic Development to review the costs and benefits of dredging the port, whose racist, radical polemic of a 2012 book, Fall of a Nation, drew Mayor Brown’s condemnation [Cover Story, “Meet Jacksonville’s New $60K Port Consultant,” Feb. 18] — finally turned in his draft report, which had actually been due 13 days 
earlier, on Feb. 13 (he could be a Folio Weekly writer!). In keeping with Barber’s anachronistic sensibilities, he delivered only a hard copy and not a digital one.

The city, as I first reported on The Flog, responded with a terse letter notifying Barber that his services would no longer be needed. The city was terminating the contract, 
effective immediately.

And that’s a fine, albeit symbolic, gesture. The city, after all, is still going to pay him at least most of his $60,000 fee, as he was nearing completion of his work by the time I alerted the city to his book. Mostly, I would bet, the city wanted to avoid the media circus of Barber coming to town to present his findings to the Port Task Force on March 11. Again, it’s probably the smart thing to do, though I wish someone would’ve Googled the man before signing on the dotted line.

It’s not clear whether the task force will afford any credibility to Barber’s report, given his views on racial integration, environmentalists and the “ugly’ poor — in a surprise to precisely no one who’s been paying attention, Barber thinks deepening the port will be the Greatest. Thing. Ever — or whether this was all an expensive wasted exercise.

The morning after I broke the news that the city had canceled the contract, Barber’s Xicon Economics emailed over a statement, and wouldn’t you know it, Dr. Barber is the 
real victim here:

“Clearly the ‘termination’ resulted from religious (Biblical) statements Dr. Barber made in his 2012 book, Fall of a Nation, a book that paralleled the demise of the US to the demise of the Israelites … . Immediately prior to termination, only a single (1) copy of Dr. Barber’s book had been sold across the entire world over the course of the contract Xicon Economics had with the City. … Obviously, it can be readily concluded that ill-advised decisions were rendered by Mayor Brown, City Council, Office of Economic Development, reporters, bloggers, and others without having ever read works published by Dr. Barber, outside of a few statements posted without context by persons bent on destroying Christianity.”

Actually — while I wouldn’t want to get between a martyr and his cross — it wasn’t the religious statements that got Barber in trouble, but rather the racist ones about integration and intermarriage, the bit about President Obama being “more anti-American than any ten thousand terrorists,” the riff on the “ugly,” “entitled” poor, and the aspersions cast upon environmentalists and “do-gooders.”

Barber, of course, takes the city’s condemnation as vindication: “With no doubt, this unwarranted termination violated Dr. Barber’s freedom of speech, not to mention his freedom to express his religious beliefs… [sic] and other civil liberties. Sadly, the termination only offered credence to the central thesis of Dr. Barber’s book.”

I didn’t realize there was a constitutional right to municipal contracts. But what do I know? I’m just here trying to destroy Christianity.

Fun coda: I inadvertently replied to Xicon’s email — I was trying to reply to someone who had forwarded it to me — with a snarky line about Barber needing to climb down off his cross. Xicon issued a one-word reply: “Whatever.” Then, a minute later, another response: “Hey dummy. You did not make it possible for people to actually read the ‘press release’ [referring to my blog post, and for the record, the PDF image and link both appeared on my browser]. You can’t read that image you put up. Contrary to what you may think, I enjoy your comments. I guess they are too much like mine, albeit on the other side of the fence. Have a nice weekend.”

I’m not sure how to take that.

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