Sports and entertainment legislation took center stage Monday morning in a Jacksonville City Council committee, with three significant bills considered.
The first was the biggest talker.
A bill increasing city-imposed ticket surcharges for the Veterans Memorial Arena, the Baseball Grounds of Jax, and the Times Union Center for the Performing Arts, while adding surcharges for events at the under construction amphitheater and flex field at the stadium, began its trek through city council committees Monday.
However, it wasn’t smooth sailing. And there is some work to be done before this bill gets through committees, which means it won’t be fully realized until 2017.
The bill had its first hearing in Neighborhoods, Community Investments, and Services. Had it been in effect in the current budget, the city would have realized over $1.25 million in more revenue.
The surcharges would be earmarked for capital expenditures and capital maintenance.
Councilman Bill Gulliford noted that the Jacksonville Symphony, a T-U Center tenant, has an issue with this bill, as they have assumed the fee and did not pass on the cost. Its CEO, Robert Massey, took the floor with concerns.
While there are “desperate needs for improvement,” Massey noted that the start date of January 1, 2017, comes in the middle of the symphony season, which passes on the costs to them.
Massey pointed out that ticket costs necessarily leave the city and go to “wherever the promoter is from” for national acts, but the Symphony tickets are unique in that “98 percent” of them go back into the local economy.
The ultimate impact of these changes for the symphony, Massey said, is to decrease access to the arts, regarding symphony patrons, leading to a possible cutback in attendance and concession sales.
A solution suggested by Chief Finance Officer Mike Weinstein: to “grandfather” the current rates in for the symphony.
There was more pushback from the symphony side.
A “multiyear negotiation of the lease” recently elided any discussion of such a surcharge increase, Massey said.
Given that “every production we produce brings 4,000 people downtown,” for Massey and the symphony, this is a meaningful distinction and impact.
The city, however, retains the right in the lease to change surcharges.
Weinstein noted this is a “user fee,” and the city had given favorable terms to the symphony in lease negotiations.
Councilman Bill Gulliford was not mollified by this, as the symphony would “eat” $150,000 in costs, which would put the symphony’s budget in the red.
It adds pressure to the symphony, Gulliford added, for expenses like HVAC rehab.
Gulliford pushed for a one-cycle deferral. Weinstein pushed back, calling this a “user fee,” an “important piece of our desire to keep up all the buildings,” and noting that failure to pass this would create a hole in next year’s budget.
Gulliford called for a meeting to establish a “reasonable solution” accommodating the symphony’s needs, noting the city hadn’t hiked fees in twenty years, and noting a clause in the bill saying that the hike didn’t affect already scheduled events.
This bill will be revisited in January, when this committee reconvenes.
Surcharge legislation was one of three big bills that the committee considered regarding sports and entertainment.
— A naming rights bill was approved for “the Covered Flex Field and Amphitheater being constructed outside the south end of EverBank Field,” which will be known as “Daily’s Place” through March 31, 2024.
Daily’s is exceedingly well-connected with city leadership; a recent opening of a convenience store of theirs on Jacksonville’s Southside featured remarks by the council president and the mayor, both of whom extolled the community contributions of CEO Aubrey Edge.
The bill passed unanimously. The Finance Committee will mull it Wednesday.
— A measure authorizing $415,000 more for temporary seat installation for the TaxSlayer Bowl, one expected by the city council according to a Florida Times-Union article on it, also got through NCIS Monday.
But even before the committee heard it, Americans for Prosperity’s Florida branch — which has been vocal in advocating the defined contribution proposal for new city hires — gave its stamp of disapproval on Twitter.
Weinstein noted that the current agreement with the TaxSlayer Bowl involves installing upward of 2,000 temporary club seats.
A “placeholder” was omitted from the budget because the city didn’t want to “show its hand” regarding how much it was willing to pay for this, Weinstein said.
“We knew that it would be an issue for the Florida/Georgia game and the TaxSlayer Bowl, but we didn’t know until recently what the would be financially,” Weinstein said.
Bed tax dollars, Weinstein said, are “siloed,” requiring money to come from the general fund.
Weinstein said the city’s profit was realized in money spent in the local economy on the TaxSlayer Bowl; the game will lose money, but the economic impact ($15 to $20 million) for private business justifies costs.
“The bowl turns one of the slowest tourism weeks into one of the busiest,” said Dave Herrell of the Sports and Entertainment department.
The commitment would be for the next four games given responsibilities between the bowl and the conference partners, Herrell said, which gave Council President Lori Boyer pause, wanting the lease agreement to reflect that, getting the city off the hook for this cost after 2019’s game.
Boyer urged that the negotiating baseline should be fixed capacity for the stadium, with any changes to be negotiated.
The bill passed unanimously. It moves on to Finance Wednesday.