The Downtown Investment Authority has been in the news lately, due to the revelation that the anonymous scorecards its board used to select former City Council president Lori Boyer as the organization’s new head violated the state’s sunshine law. This snafu was finally resolved with a new vote, but it was just the latest in a series of mistakes and controversies that have plagued the DIA recently. With the DIA plowing forward with bad plans to turn buildings into ever more grass fields, it raises the question: is it time to blow up the DIA too?
How We Got Here
The DIA was founded in 2012 by then-mayor Alvin Brown. Perhaps Brown’s most significant accomplishment as mayor, it was the first city agency tasked exclusively with reviving downtown since the former Downtown Development Authority was effectively eliminated in 2006. The core idea of the DIA is that the agency could speed up the approvals process and execute long-term plans transcending mayoral administrations and city councils - something many of Jacksonville’s peers have adopted.
The DIA has had a number of accomplishments, but the chief criticism about it has always been that it is not independent enough. It has limited funding and its decisions are beholden to the city budget process, meaning the mayor and City Council hold a lot of sway over its decisions. Expert analysis and long-term decision making take a back seat to the prerogatives of the sitting leadership.
This might not be a bad arrangement if Downtown was already on the right track, or if Jacksonville’s political leadership made consistently decent decisions about Downtown. Unfortunately, neither of those things is the case today.
Jump To Today
The DIA did have some measure of continuity between administrations under its first CEO, Aundra Wallace, who served under both mayors Alvin Brown and Lenny Curry. But from the time Wallace departed in October 2018 until Lori Boyer took over in July, Brian Hughes, Curry’s chief of staff and now his Chief Administrative Officer, served as interim CEO of the DIA. His selection removed any pretense that the DIA had some independence from the mayor’s office.
Hughes is by all accounts a brilliant man and effective campaign strategist with an expansive and impressive resume. However, his considerable experience has not been in the areas of downtown development, administration, or frankly Jacksonville - he moved to town only in January 2018, to take the chief of staff position. Making matters worse, the DIA’s humorously bad staff page currently shows that the DIA is down to only three employees: the CEO (fittingly, the website still has Brian Hughes in the role), operations manager Guy Parola, and an executive assistant. And it shows: since October 2018, the DIA has spearheaded some of the worst decisions in Downtown Jacksonville’s recent history.
Yes, this is what the DIA’s website actually looks like.