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Developer weighs in on Adams Mark, Incentives

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WHAT'S NEXT: BUCKY CLARKSON: Outspoken developer weighs in on pending Adam's Mark deal, incentives

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Jacksonville developer Charles "Bucky" Clarkson stands in front of the Prime Osborn Convention Center, which he says is now a white elephant.

By CHRISTOPHER CALNAN

The Times-Union

Two years ago, Jacksonville developer Charles "Bucky" Clarkson said "the city's economic development has been largely on autopilot." His earlier plans to build a downtown Marriott hotel were undercut by a new Adam's Mark hotel, and he became a vocal critic of the city's handling and backing of Adam's Mark that was built with a generous city incentive package.

Clarkson's words have a resonance now as the city's political and economic landscapes shift.

Two weeks ago, Marriott International Inc. said it was planning to buy the Adam's Mark, and Mayor John Peyton announced a moratorium on incentive packages offered by the Jacksonville Economic Development Commission. Peyton said he wants to step back to reassess and streamline the city's economic development efforts.

The outspoken Clarkson, who has rarely taken a step back, was more optimistic as he weighed in on the recent events.

What do you think about Mayor John Peyton putting a moratorium on the Jacksonville Economic Development Commission giving incentive packages?

I think what Mayor Peyton is doing is important, putting into focus a better process that will be determined by metrics and measurements. It had become a narrowly based decision process and has lost the consensus-building process that had previously been in place. The JEDC used to reduce the role of the chamber of commerce. It opened the door for more consensus building and made it easier for building community priorities and strategies. This is a very positive step. [Mayor] John Delaney wasn't really comfortable with economic development. John Peyton has made it his priority and his focus. Addressing the JEDC is an important first step in moving forward on economic initiatives and strategies.

What type of jobs should the city try to generate in Jacksonville with economic incentives?

If we're going to promote economic development and the per-capita income, we have to focus on education, especially higher education like FCCJ and UNF. Until we accomplish more in the realm of higher education, it's an uphill battle. In order to increase the per-capita income you need to have at least 30 percent [of the population] college educated, Jacksonville is at 22 percent. Marketing the city, making it attractive to entrepreneurs ... We have to market the city and work at making it attractive by growing our own educated people and keeping the best and the brightest here. We have to market the focus of the community, i.e.: downtown, as an attractive exciting place to invest. You've got to make it attractive to people of higher income, which relates to encouraging visitors to come to the community.

Do you feel validated by Marriott agreeing to buy Adam's Mark?

I think it all really highlights what a mistake the Adam's Mark deal was. Our project went away, and the effect it had on the Landing, on the Skyway, on the Prime Osborn Convention Center, and the ripple effect Adam's Mark had. It was a much worse decision for the taxpayers than the courthouse project. It would be hard to measure during the [past] five or six years the setback downtown had because of it. If Delaney had honored his commitment to us we would have had a Prime Osborn that was functioning instead of a white elephant.

Does it change your plans for the land you own near Prime Osborn Convention Center?

The Marriott coming is a very healthy step forward. Marriott could very well benefit the whole hospitality industry's viability and make room for another hotel. It makes a project near Prime Osborn more feasible. It won't happen overnight, but it could happen in three or four years. There's now light at the end of the tunnel.

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