City Council votes to give taxpayer money to Unity Plaza

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Jacksonville City Council President Bill Gulliford and council voted Tuesday night for the release of some taxpayer money to the developer of Unity Plaza.

The 17 to one vote is in favor of accepting documents presented by 220 Riverside developers proving they will spend at least $30 million on the project.

The Riverside Avenue project is a partnership between the city and the
developer, Hallmark Partners, which dates to 2007. Initially, the city committed almost $13 million, while the developer committed $90 million. That agreement was amended last year. The city's
costs increased to more than $17 million, while the developer's
investment was cut back to $30 million.

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Suspect sought in Thursday evening robbery

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office is searching for a suspect in a robbery that occurred the evening of December 5.

The unknown suspect entered the Sin City Shop at 819 Lomax Street with a gun and demanded money. When the suspect was given money, he ran east along Lomax St.

The suspect is described as 5'7", 160 pounds and at the time he was wearing a black shirt, shorts and hat.

Anyone who has any information about the location or the identity of this suspect is asked to contact the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office at 904-630-0500 or email at To remain anonymous and receive a possible reward up to $3,000, contact Crime Stoppers at 1-866-845-TIPS.

Help homeless students through holidays

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- When you're a teenager and living in a homeless shelter, a lot goes through your mind.

"You don't want to tell your friends," said Sabon

But many of the teenagers we met who were living at the Sulzbacher Center homeless shelter made it clear than homelessness was not living in them.

These homeless students need help, like warm clothes and school supplies. That's where the First Coast News/I'm A Star HELPing Homeless Students initiative comes in.

Sabon, 17, is a a student at Englewood High.

"I'm doing fine, I have a 3.0 GPA," he said.

JSO: Man surrenders peacefully to SWAT team

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- A man is in custody after the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office SWAT responded to the 2200 block of Park Street Friday evening and evacuated the area for the public's safety.

A concerned family member called JSO at about 2:21 p.m. after 35-year-old Joshua Delane Boatman allegedly made suicidal and homicidal threats to his wife, according to JSO Public Information Office Melissa Bujeda.

The SWAT team was then called to the area and a warrant was obtained for Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon. Boatman then surrendered peacefully and was arrested, Bujeda said.

Boatman was set to be Baker Acted and will then be held on $500,000 bond. Bujeda said JSO thanks people for their their patience during the situation.

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New numbers show crime is down in Jacksonville

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- New numbers from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement show crime is going down in Duval County.

The Uniform Crime Report looked at crime in the first 6 months of 2013, and compared to the first 6 months of 2012.

In Jacksonville, the report showed a 15 percent decrease in murders, and a little more than a 6 percent decrease in aggravated assaults. 

Overall, violent crimes are down 1 percent. The number of rape victims are up, the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office said that's in part because of a re-classification.

Business owners in Jacksonville are hoping the general downward trend in crime could change the way some think about the city when it comes to crime.

"Every little bit helps," said Pat Middleton. He's been selling houses in Jacksonville for more than 30 years.

Middleton said his clients ask him about being safe in Jacksonville.

City council to vote on backyard chickens

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- People in Jacksonville might soon be able to legally keep chickens in their backyard.

City council members are expected to vote Tuesday evening on a proposed pilot program.

A number of people within city limits already keep chickens cooped in their backyard.

And while it is against the city's current zoning code for residential areas, chicken owners tell First Coast News that the code is rarely enforced.

Genora Crain-Orth is a member of Hens in Jax, a pro-backyard chicken group that's been advocating for the pilot program.

She said a lot of times neighbors will look the other way if they know someone with chickens in a backyard coop.

"They'll have a really good understanding in some cases," Crain-Orth said.

But under the proposed program, people would no longer have to keep their chickens a secret.

If approved, 300 Jacksonville families would have to pass an agriculture class and buy a $25 permit.

First Coast Finds: Annie Lytle School

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Hundreds of thousands of people drive past her every day without even a notice. Under the busiest freeway interchange in Jacksonville sits one of the city's oldest schools. 

The Annie Lytle School has been closed for decades but a special group of people wants to keep her in the public eye and preserve her dignity.