Conservative group Americans for Prosperity-Florida is pushing back against a proposed stadium deal between the Jacksonville Jaguars and the city of Jacksonville, equating potential city funding to a corporate handout.
First reported by Florida Politics, the Jaguars rolled out plans for a multibillion-dollar stadium upgrade and sports district development that the NFL franchise bills as a “re-imagination of the entire stadium and adjacent property.”
Documents obtained by Florida Politics put the overall cost of the project — which could interfere with Jags home games for up to four seasons — at just over $2 billion.
It would be a 50-50 cost share between the city and the team, with taxpayers covering up to $934 million of the stadium portion and an additional $100 million to develop the surrounding entertainment district. At the low end, the city’s share would be $875 million.
The deal is not yet official — stakeholders hope to agree on a nonbinding memorandum of understanding this month and enter a binding “final agreement” by March 2024. As laid out, construction would begin in January 2025.
Still, AFP-FL is putting forward its best goal-line defense, trotting out the same arguments against public funding for professional sports venues that the organization honed during the 2010s, when stadium funding was a perennial issue in the Legislature’s budget-writing process.
“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 AFP-FL State Director Skylar Zander.
“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.”
Zander is indeed a devout Jags fan known to draw parallels between the team and AFP-FL’s policy wins. Not long ago he compared the universal school vouchers bill passed by lawmakers last Session to the Jags’ unexpectedly successful 2022 season.
Despite staunch opposition from AFP-FL and other organizations over the past decade, politicians have resisted fully eliminating sports incentives at the state level.
A 2019 bill by former Sen. Tom Lee that would have put the kibosh on public funding for sports venues gained some traction but ultimately died in committee. The issue has been less of a flashpoint in the years since, with the pandemic and now culture war issues leaving little oxygen in the room.
Local governments, meanwhile, have been undeterred with most of the back-and-forth being on how much taxpayer money should be forked over rather than philosophical discussions of whether public money should be part of the equation at all.
The long-running saga of the Tampa Bay Rays-St. Petersburg ballpark deal could very well end with the two parties splitting a $1 billion tab; the initial build of Raymond James Stadium was financed entirely by tax dollars; and about 90% of the $480 million spent to build the Amway Center, where the Magic play, came from local bed taxes.
The Dolphins are the exception to the rule in recent memory — franchise owner Stephen Ross ponied up an estimated $500 million to update Hard Rock Stadium in advance of Super Bowl LIV.
A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics contributed to this report.