Jacksonville City Council members heard Thursday from the local NFL team about why the city needs to spend at least $150 million on a proposed mixed use development at the football stadium.
Then they heard from locals who were less than convinced.
But first, the chief executive of the team made his case unobstructed.
Jaguars CEO Mark Lamping said there was “no better evidence of Shad Khan‘s commitment to Jacksonville” than the Lot J proposal, a public/private development deal designed to juice the area near the football stadium.
The proposed expenditure is eye-popping: $152.7 million in public investment. That would buy 75,000 square feet of retail, a hotel with between 100 and 200 rooms, multi-family housing amounting to 400 rental properties, 40,000 square feet of class A office space, and a 100,000 square foot “entertainment center” in the city-owned Live! District.
“Private developers can’t do this alone,” Lamping said. “If they could they would have done it by now.”
Council members wanted more information on the deal, and to that end a Thursday night “town hall,” where lawmakers and locals had a rare opportunity to have their voices heard.
Lamping noted his participation “came to a close” when he finished his remarks, but the Council members who called the meeting were wowed by the presentation.
“Wow, that’s an incredible video,” remarked first-term Republican Randy DeFoor.
Her colleague, first-term Republican Matt Carlucci, was also impressed and said Lamping was always fair to work with.
Another Republican, second-termer Danny Becton, noted the true city investment includes $65 million in interest-free borrowing for Jaguars owner Shad Khan. But Carlucci noted this was not a Q&A and answers wouldn’t be available until next month.
Speakers from the public were less enthused.
As one put it, perhaps not cognizant of the double meaning: “Even when Shad Khan loses, he makes money.”
Ray Roberts of Riverside denoted “so many unanswered questions” about the project, including a subsidy that’s “too high” compared to other downtown projects.
A man named Arpen warned against “political malpractice” in consideration of the deal absent a “master plan” for the area.
“How much more can we do with this money,” he asked, “and what are we getting for it?”
Kevin Wyatt focused on the $65 million string-free “breadbox loan” to Khan, wondering why a billionaire can’t pay for the interest on his borrowing rather than shunting the burden to “ordinary folks.”
Chriss Brown of downtown wanted to know the ROI for the deal in terms of jobs provided.
“I think we’re giving up way too much,” she said.
Mike Miller wanted to know about clawbacks for non-performance, another seemingly unresolved question about one of the biggest development deals in city history.
Sherry Magill wondered why the proposal was mute on the future of Metropolitan Park, noting that Lamping said this was Phase One.
“What will Phase Two cost,” Magill wondered.
The Jacksonville Jaguars over the last decade negotiated two cost share deals with the city on stadium improvements with no meaningful resistance. Whether the qualms of the public lead to a defense from the Council better than what the team fields in the NFL, however, remains to be seen.
Speakers noted that the amphitheater project from last decade looked nothing like the artist’s renderings, wondering if that would repeat. Others suggested that may not be such a bad thing.
“It looks dated … like something from the 90s,” one speaker sniffed. Another said it was from the 1970s, emblematic of a failed architectural vision for the city.
It is an open question whether Council members will be that combative when the matter is brought to the floor for a vote later this year.
The Jaguars may be 1-6 in the NFL, a record that is just the tip of the iceberg of historic futility for owner Shad Khan.
But when it comes to the games that matter, the give and take with policymakers in the St. James Building, the team is undefeated.