Jacksonville City Council members continued on Friday to hash out remaining loose ends on the Lot J deal.
The proposed entertainment zone at the Sports Complex, a joint proposal of the Jaguars and the Mayor’s Office, would come with a hefty city obligation, including upwards of $200 million in hard money, a figure that could nearly double when borrowing costs are factored in.
But for the team, the business community, and the executive branch, the deal is a must do and the terms are largely fixed, pending approval from an increasingly independent City Council.
Getting to yes for Jacksonville on Lot J is this year’s Holiday season wish, seemingly containing the same urgency that finding an exit from the narrative consuming the local utility was last year.
City Councilmember Reggie Gaffney, the second-term Democrat representing the Eastside, called the meeting despite resistance from Council President Tommy Hazouri, who successfully pushed the vote back to next year over objections from the Mayor and the Jaguars.
Only a handful of differences remain between the sides.
“We’re getting to a good place here,” noted second-term Republican Aaron Bowman. “I think on the 7th we’re in position to move the bill, with an omnibus amendment that pulls in everything we’ve agreed to.”
Other amendments are expected, Bowman noted, but the basic structure of the deal is firmed.
“We can get the bill on the floor so we know what the bill is, start working it, and get it through to the Council,” he added.
Republican first-termer LeAnna Cumber noted that policy issues remained, but those were sidebars to the larger deal.
“I believe everyone has what we need to make a decision, either up or down, at the beginning of January,” Cumber urged.
The city would put in $233 million on the project, including $50 million on a Live! Entertainment Venue, nearly $93 million on infrastructure, and a $65 million interest-free “breadbox” loan to the Jaguars. A hotel would be developed on the site also.
Some on hand Friday voiced concerns about the ultimate staying power of the project, noting the Landing, which “deteriorated” a few decades after it was expected to be a forever anchor for downtown.
“Are there things that we can do to ensure it’s more successful,” asked first-term Republican Ron Salem.
A representative from Cordish Companies, the developer working with the city and the team, noted the company was “very motivated” given its “substantial investment” in the Live! venue, so the decline of the Landing could not repeat by the stadium.
The project’s success is contingent on something that hasn’t happened in the last quarter century: people sticking around near the stadium after the game, something especially true near the end of the season when the team is out of playoff contention.
Even Gov. Ron DeSantis has remarked on the Jaguars being a slow draw compared to other NFL teams in the state, saying the team “couldn’t sell out limited capacity” seating when he was pushing for full-occupancy stadiums back in September.
Polling has shown the project to be a hard sell thus far, with a majority of locals polled by the University of North Florida against the deal earlier in December.
However, with Jaguars President Mark Lamping calling the franchise a “free agent team,” it’s clear that this deal, along with a stadium upgrade eyed for after the next round of city elections in 2023, is central to the future of NFL football in Jacksonville.