Midtown could be home to new law school

Filed under DAYTONA BEACH

BY ANDREAS BUTLER, DAYTONA TIMES: A Jacksonville group met with city officials at City Hall on Tuesday to discuss the possibility of bringing a law school to Daytona.

The school would be located at the old police station on the corner of Orange Avenue and Nova Road in the historic Midtown district, Daytona’s Black community.

The groups who want to create and run the school include Eric Smith, Jim Catlett and Steve Nemerson. They feel that Daytona is a prime location, despite Stetson University already having a law school.

“Daytona is a great place for such a school. It has fine institutions in Bethune-Cookman University, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University –which has an engineering school in avionics – and Daytona State College, which hosts Florida State University’s School of Medicine,” Smith explained.

Smith is an attorney with the Maddox/Horne Law Firm in Jacksonville, and a former Jacksonville politician, TV host and law professor. Catlett is affiliated with Infinity Global Solutions, LLC which has constructed several structures in the Jacksonville area. Nemerson is a former attorney, law professor and law school dean.

Improving Midtown

Bringing a law school to Midtown isn’t a new concept. In the past Florida A&M University was in discussions with officials to bring one here, but FAMU ended up going to Orlando.

Through the persistence Midtown Redevelopment Board Chairman Hemis Ivey, State Representative District 27 Dwayne Taylor and others, the possibility still looms.

“Over the last couple of years, I have had discussions with Taylor, former Midtown Board Chairman Johnnie Pryor and other city officials about bringing something to make Midtown better. Taylor worked hard on it and asked me to come arrange this meeting. The vision and concept was never lost,” recounted Ivey.

Midtown and the rest of the city hope such an endeavor could bring improvements to the area as well as economic opportunity.

“Such a school in our community will enhance the core of our community. Our goal is to change Midtown,” said Ivey.

Catlett added, “The most important thing is jobs. This will create jobs. People with jobs pay taxes, buy cars, buy houses, etc.”

Opportunities for Blacks

Zone 6 Commissioner Cassandra Reynolds hopes that the school brings economic opportunities for those who need it most.

“The commission gives preference to those who provides jobs for locals, Blacks and other minorities during the construction of the project and when the construction is completed,” said Reynolds.

The Jacksonville group assured that it would be an equal opportunity project.

“We’d be very committed to doing that. We have always done such with all of our projects. You can check our track record,” exclaimed Smith.

A different kind of law school

The idea is to open with a staff of approximately 80 people, including 12 full-time and adjunct professors. The goal is to be a different kind of law school which costs less and is more accommodating, compared to others.

Nemerson explained, “We want to be affordable and flexible. We want to explore every avenue available to teach law. Maybe someone works in another career and wants a law degree and can only take night courses…We want to be that institution that can make it happen.

“Teachers will be selected for their ability to teach and be accessible. We don’t want professors to just teach and write academic articles. We will have those who can really help the students.”

The new school may also cooperate with other institutions.

“You may have a student that can’t grasp a subject. There may be a professor at another institution that is an expert who can explain it better. We believe that we can collaborate with the other institutions in the area,” said Nemerson.

Possible obstacles

Several hurdles stand in the way, including the old building itself, which includes a jail.

“The cost cannot be accessed at this time, but we need to see if we can use what is there. The building is one piece, but not the only piece,” stated Catlett.

Storm water retention is another problem. Currently there is none in the area.

“When it comes to storm water retention, building bigger is cheaper. Plus the size of the structure will be a big factor in it,” added Catlett.

Land zoning and whether the property will be purchased or leased are other issues.

“We have gone through the procedure to have mixed use zoning to also allow commercial use. We have put out requests for proposals for this property in the past, with zero responses.” mentioned Reed Berger, the city’s redevelopment manager.

Deputy City Manager Paul McKitrick said, “The city manager (Jim Chisholm) has advocated for something to be done with this land. In the past, former Commissioner Charles W. Cherry, Sr. advocated that the property be used for commercial use.

“Whoever get it will be subject to taxes. We could also do a payment in lieu of taxes like we have done with the Housing Authority (of Daytona Beach). Daytona State did the same with the News-Journal Center.”

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