The Jacksonville Jaguars have renderings ready to show the public on Wednesday of their stadium and sports complex renovation deal, but the ultimate price tag for the project is known now.
The NFL franchise is set to make their most ambitious ask from the City of Jacksonville: a time-sensitive initiative to upgrade its stadium and the area around it that is certain to be Mayor Donna Deegan’s first major challenge in City Hall.
The effort ultimately could include more than a billion dollars of city investment and up to four years of stadium renovation impacts (and potentially five years of construction total) in what is billed as a “re-imagination of the entire stadium and adjacent property.”
The Jaguars and the Shahid Khan vehicle “Iguana Investments” envision a total investment that could cost as much as $2.068 billion, a number that could include stadium improvements costing between $1.2 and $1.4 billion, as well as between $550 and $668 million for development of a “sports district.” That sports district essentially could be a reboot of the Lot J concept rebuffed by the City Council earlier this decade.
Overall, this would be a 50-50 cost share between the city and the team, according to a document dated May 11 — just days before the mayoral election.
The stadium cost would be largely shouldered by the city government, which could be on the hook for anywhere between $800 and $934 million — two-thirds of the overall price tag. The city share would be more than the $760 million Nashville is spending on its $2.1 billion domed stadium, with the state of Tennessee adding $500 million — an option the state of Florida will not offer.
It would include a presumably retractable roof that affords “sun protection on all seats (and) protection from rain and other severe weather conditions,” as well as better elevators and escalators.
The sports district development, meanwhile, would be largely funded by Khan, with the city obligated to spend between $75 million and $100 million, just 14% of the overall project cost.
All told, the city might spend as little as $875 million, or as much as $1.034 billion. That would be a 50/50 cost split on the whole project with Khan, whose net worth of $11.4 billion is more than seven years of the city’s general fund budget.
According to documents obtained by Florida Politics drafted on May 11 and May 24, the sports district construction would begin in January 2025 if the project is approved, presumably after the Jaguars’ 2024 home schedule is completed. The stadium renovation would begin in January 2026, meanwhile.
“Any stadium renovation will result in some amount of disruption for the team and its fans,” the memorandum of understanding notes in both documents. The earlier document stresses a two-season renovation “optimum approach” schedule that would require the Jaguars, the Gator Bowl, and Florida-Georgia to be played elsewhere in 2026 and 2027.
The May 11 document, unlike the second iteration, outlines potential short-term relocation options for the two-year renovation scheme.
These include temporary expansions at the Baseball Grounds or the University of North Florida’s stadium, which would seem to be non-starters for the NFL. Out-of-town games at Orlando’s Camping World Stadium, Gainesville’s Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, the Daytona International Speedway, and London’s Wembley and Tottenham Hotspur Stadiums are on the table, meanwhile.
The May 24 document includes a second option. As a potential alternative to renovation in a “continuous manner,” the team could use a “stop and start” approach that would impact four NFL seasons. While that would be more expensive, it would allow for games to continue in the under-construction space.
The May 24 document’s inclusion of a second choice may have been a response to Deegan’s position in the campaign, where she said she “expect(s) our team to play in Jacksonville as they have for nearly thirty years.” While that apparently is on the table, it would impact the fan experience for four years.
Regardless of which option is the ultimate choice, the team is eager to move forward. The proposed MOU seeks a June 2023 agreement on a non-binding deal, an impossible deadline given the change in City Hall this month.
A “final agreement,” meanwhile, is sought by March 2024, ensuring that the stadium negotiations will be a major pressure point for the Deegan administration in its first months in office, potentially impacting the budget to be considered over the summer and the first capital improvement plan under the new mayor.
This final agreement would pave the way for “final approval” from the NFL in May 2024, allowing early work to begin in 2025, full construction in 2026, and completion ahead of the 2028 season.
For her part, Deegan isn’t ready to agree to the initial proposal just yet, but does note a familiar name will help the city strike a deal.
“We have received the initial framework that was created and proposed by the Jaguars. I have asked Mike Weinstein to look at this for me. He brings vast experience working on complex deals for the city,” Deegan said Tuesday.
“We are evaluating the framework and working with the Office of General Counsel and Council Auditor to review all prior agreements regarding the stadium and stadium-area developments,” Deegan added.
“As I have said previously, when it comes time for negotiating, we will bring in a team that is experienced in negotiating this type of deal with the NFL. We’re not there yet. Our end goal remains the same. A deal that works for taxpayers, the Jaguars, and the NFL.”
The memorandum of understanding notes that the stadium as it is “does not meet the present or future needs of the Jaguars, fans, and other visitors to the stadium.” The MOU also asserts the “deferred maintenance of the current stadium will require significant investment from the city.”
Due to these preconditions, the team “will not consider an extension to the current lease,” which expires at the end of the 2029 season, “without a long-term resolution to the current stadium situation and the surrounding property.”
Helping the team’s bargaining power: A new lease would have to be approved by the NFL, its Stadium and Finance Committees, and 75% of the league’s owners, who would insist on a hefty local contribution. Expect the term to be 25 to 30 years.
The two documents have some variance. The May 24 document does not include the cost breakdown, instead including an assertion that “current events” and “additional major events” will be “enhanced with the addition of nearby entertainment options for guests.”
“Development in the downtown core represents a significant opportunity,” the Jaguars contend.
In both documents, the team stresses the “strategic and successful alliance” between Jacksonville, the Jaguars, and London, including a “brand enhancing boost” for the team and “job growth and global awareness” for the city. This suggests that no matter what renovations happen, London games will be part of the team’s portfolio indefinitely.
In both documents, the Jaguars also hope to “bring the University of Florida graduate campus to the current Fairgrounds property.” That location would unlock money from Tallahassee, which has already committed $75 million to the UF campus in the 2023 Session, sidestepping the state’s unwillingness to contribute to stadium projects.
The Jaguars offer deal sweeteners in both documents, including $5 million to help meet the statutorily required local fundraising requirement, a donation of the 14-acre Fairgrounds to UF, and the creation of a “vibrant mixed-use neighborhood.”
The May 24 document includes more aspirational language to “support development in the downtown core,” including a so-called “barbell effect” with the proposed mixed-use Eastside development as a “catalyst” for westerly development downtown.
Meanwhile, both iterations enthuse about the Gator Bowl becoming part of the college football playoffs and continuation of the neutral-site Florida-Georgia game. The Gator Bowl is stressed as a reason to get the deal done “at least 12 months in advance” of the expiration of the TV deal and naming rights deal, which runs through the 2025 game.
Both the Gator Bowl and Florida-Georgia would relocate during 2026 and 2027 and return to Jacksonville in 2028 if this timeline holds.
In a May interview on 1010 XL, the outgoing Mayor acknowledged the two-year renovation timeline and alternative venues while that happened and said the next administration would be in a “pretty good posture” for a renovation that creates a state-of-the-art stadium, with deals that look like they do in other cities.
“The team will have to play somewhere else. The goal would be to play somewhere in Jacksonville,” he said. “Those discussions are happening, but two years is the goal.”
Curry said the team wanted to play its rescheduled games in Jacksonville, and he stressed that the “negotiations have to happen now.”
“It would be unwise for the next administration to say ‘oh, 2030, that’s seven years out,’” Curry said, adding that it’s necessary to get the deal “closed and approved.”
Regarding the renovation’s price tag, Jags’ President Mark Lamping said last month “we know exactly what it’s going to cost.” And now, taxpayers have an idea as to the public obligation as well.
One watchdog group is already sounding the alarm.
“Since their inception, it seems as if the Jacksonville Jaguars have had more wins making taxpayers pay for their projects than victories on the field. We hope the Jacksonville City Council and Mayor-elect Donna Deegan will stand up for taxpayers and oppose this new handout the team has proposed,” said Skylar Zander, state director for Americans for Prosperity – Florida.
“As a Jaguars fan and North Florida resident, I truly enjoy seeing the Jags succeed on the field. It’s bad enough we had to endure decades of a subpar product on the field, and now we’re being asked to pay more out of our pockets – which will no doubt lead to price increases for tickets as well. Jacksonville city officials should sack this bad idea, which is corporate welfare that will benefit only the Jaguars – at the expense of everyone else.”