Jacksonville’s proposed Lot J, a sports district development project that will determine the future of NFL football in the city, moved one step closer to reality Wednesday.
The appointed Downtown Investment Authority approved with conditions a plan that could lead to the city spending at least $150 million in capital on a “50/50 development” with the Jaguars that includes sports bars, apartments and a boutique hotel, envisioned as a shot in the arm for the Sports Complex.
DIA review of the proposal was not originally envisioned by Mayor Lenny Curry and Jacksonville Jaguars officials when they pushed forth a formalized proposal earlier this fall.
Indeed, a skeptical City Council pushed for fresh eyes on a deal negotiated closely by the Mayor’s Office and the local team, wanting a DIA recommendation ahead of a planned meeting Thursday to discuss the deal further.
Some members of the DIA wondered why the Council needed the board to look over a deal it wasn’t party to.
At least one board member groused about the Council, in punting to the board, as “policymakers unwilling to make policy.” Another said the board was set up to take “collateral damage” by the referral to DIA.
With the City Council poised to discuss the story, Curry has suggested that a No vote on Lot J could be the end of Jacksonville as an NFL city. Curry tweeted Monday that “our decision point is now” and that if Jacksonville wants to “remain … an NFL city.” the “Lot J development will send a big message.”
DIA CEO Lori Boyer, a former Jacksonville City Council President appointed to the position by Mayor Curry last year, addressed changes in the staff report that led to a compromise between the draft report and the final version hours later. She noted that she finalized the document and the meeting with the developer was “customary” and changes not of a “clandestine nature.”
A draft version of the document sought to take the city off the hook for $92 million in infrastructure costs. While that didn’t make the final cut, the staff report urged the city to remove the interest free $65.5 million “breadbox loan” to the developer.
Jaguars President Mark Lamping pointed out the synergy with Cordish Companies, which can “develop and operate.” The “partnership,” he said, offers a fuller return.
“These live venues around the country have a track record of drawing millions of visitors,” Lamping said, with “an additional 2 to 3 million finding their way to the Sports Complex” per year.
“It’s like you’re bringing a major new attraction to the sports complex … a brand-new neighborhood and we need to create scale,” he added.
Regarding the breadbox loan, the city will be made whole by year 33 of the agreement, Lamping promised. He noted that Khan, who is worth near $7 billion, had to forfeit $13 million on his end to make that happen.
Lamping teased another development deal on the Shipyards property on Jacksonville’s Northbank, which he says will be presented to DIA if the Lot J deal moves.
Lamping said the project was necessary so the Jaguars, with all of one win this year, could fill “their full potential as a football team,” and so “Jacksonville could fulfill its full potential as a city.”
He said that the level of public investment was non-negotiable, given the “two years” and the “millions of dollars” spent to work out the deal with the Mayor’s Office. Any changes would “send a message” to developers, he said.
In response to board questions about how these developments do during pandemics, a representative from Cordish admitted that it has been “challenging” and that Cordish is “in this for the long haul” and would “stay the course” if the project flagged.
“It is a heavy lift. We’ve decided to go big here. The numbers are challenging for us as well, but we do believe in the potential of this market,” said Cordish’s Zed Smith.
“We’re all taking a big leap on both sides,” Smith added.