Jacksonville Bold for 12.6.23: Billion-dollar baby
Jacksonville, Florida, USA downtown city skyline at dusk.

Jacksonville, Florida, USA downtown city skyline
A new sales pitch justifies the need for a remodeled Jaguars stadium.

Jacksonville Jaguars President Mark Lamping entered the Lions’ den last week to pitch public financing of the team’s stadium renovation project.

“It may or may not come as a surprise to you, but one thing that comes when you get an NFL team is a really rich person who owns that team,” Lamping told Florida TaxWatch members, as first reported by Florida Politics.

The sports executive made the case to the fiscal watchdogs that an investment in sporting facilities brings numerous benefits to the community, an audacious argument to make given the Jaguars want more than $1 billion from the city for the project and that Jaguars’ owner Shad Khan’s net worth is nearing $12 billion.

Mark Lamping makes the case for a publicly funded Jaguars stadium.

Lamping said a positive partnership is one of the goals for the Jaguars, according to Lamping, as they continue negotiations with Jacksonville over stadium renovations, which includes a proposal for a revitalization of Downtown Jacksonville, said to afford “great opportunities” for “a vibrant downtown” and a similar renaissance to what is ongoing in downtown Tampa.

Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik paid to develop the downtown area surrounding the Amalie Arena. After buying the sports franchise in 2010, Vinek partnered with Cascade Development and began work on redeveloping land around the sporting venue. Earlier this year, Vinik sold his shares in the Water Street Tampa development, which had already constructed the Tampa Edition hotel and other revitalizing projects.

Conversely, the Jaguars envision at least $75 million from the city for redevelopment around the stadium, in addition to paying two-thirds of the cost for the stadium renovation itself — which is part of the project residents say they want.

Mayor Donna Deegan has said she is looking forward to a site analysis of the stadium, which she told Action News Jax will help the city “make sure that we can get the type of lease out of that stadium that we need.”

“I was surprised to learn that hadn’t been done earlier,” Deegan said, per News4Jax.

Deegan’s surprise is likely due, in part, to negotiations having begun under previous Mayor Lenny Curry, whose administration got the term sheet proposal from the Jaguars but ultimately left an actual stadium negotiation to the next administration after it couldn’t get Lot J passed by the City Council. Ironically, if Lot J had passed, it probably would have made this a cleaner stadium deal to negotiate.

Time is of the essence. The Jaguars are in a position to not just win the AFC South for the second straight year, but they also have an outside chance to be the No. 1 seed in the playoffs for the first time since the 1999-2000 season. In that context, Lamping’s lobbying for the stadium — which will not get money from the state of Florida, no matter what he might tell a statewide audience — should be seen in the context of the Jags’ recent success being a bubble that stakeholders need to exploit before the salary cap causes the team to fall back to the pack.

— House party —

While the future of the Jaguars’ stadium hangs in suspense, the city of Jacksonville’s Holiday Open House — the first of the Deegan era — is more of a sure thing.

 

“It’s beginning to look a lot like the holidays here at City Hall,” the city posted to social media. “Join us for our Holiday Open House this Wednesday during @DTJax Art Walk from 5-7 p.m. There will be a variety of cookies, desserts, hot & cold cider, as well as lots of holiday cheer. Hope to see everyone there!”

The event feels like it’s a bit early this year. Still, those who attend Art Walk and visit City Hall will see Christmas decorations and tributes to other end-of-the-year holidays, including Hanukkah and Kwanzaa.

Of course, you don’t have to go into the building to experience the holiday celebration.

James Weldon Johnson Park will host the annual lighting of the Christmas tree during Art Walk, continuing a tradition.

— Rutherford ripped —

In a new memoir, former U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney is dropping dimes on Republicans roiled by her belief that former President Donald Trump should not have been impeached.

And one of them is John Rutherford, who accused the Wyoming Republican of not “riding for the brand” after that vote.

“John, our brand is the Constitution,” Cheney said in an excerpt provided to The New York Times.

Liz Cheney rips John Rutherford in her new book.

Rutherford justified his vote not to impeach Trump back in 2021, saying then that a “vote to impeach the President without proper due process and with only seven days left in office only further divides us.”

The former Sheriff has been more amenable to moves to impeach Joe Biden, however, saying in September that “serious allegations against the president and his family continue to grow, and the American people deserve to know the full truth.”

— United front —

A state Senator and a leading lobbyist expect that Gov. Ron DeSantis and the supermajority Republican legislature will continue to walk in lockstep regarding free market economics.

Sen. Clay Yarborough, a Jacksonville Republican, said to expect lawmakers to keep advancing a pro-business agenda.

“We want to continue to make Florida an attractive place to live, work and raise a family,” he said.

Clay Yarborough says to expect more pro-business work from the 2024 Session.

Marty Fiorentino, president of the Fiorentino Group, also believes leadership in the Senate has closely followed the lead of DeSantis.

“They’ve been wildly successful in the programs they put forward,” he said. “You’ve seen a lot of tremendous things and initiatives and legislation passed that I don’t think people five years ago thought would have passed that quickly without rancor and that smoothly.”

Fiorentino noted that under previous Governors, priorities diverged. But under DeSantis, that’s no longer a problem in Tallahassee.

— Davis distress —

A Democratic state Senator from Jacksonville is ripping a redistricting ruling that could protect a status-quo congressional map.

“This redistricting process is a disservice to the people of Jacksonville. The unprecedented interference by the Governor in submitting these maps to the state has made this a tainted, ruined process from the beginning, and it is at the cost of my constituents and my community,” said Sen. Tracie Davis.

Tracie Davis calls redistricting a ‘tainted, ruined process from the beginning.’

“Protected districts were created to give minority voters the chance to have a representative that looks like them and represents their interests, and that chance has been unceremoniously stripped by the Legislature and the courts,” Davis added. “Floridians deserve better than clear partisan gerrymanders and packed courts.”

On Friday, the Florida 1st District Court of Appeal reversed a lower-court ruling and upheld a congressional map signed by DeSantis.

A majority of appellate judges struck down a September ruling by Leon Circuit Judge Lee Marsh that the congressional map effectively diminished the ability of minority communities to elect a congressional representative of their choice in North Florida by dismantling a district that spanned from Tallahassee to Jacksonville, covering several historically Black communities. Marsh said that violated the Fair Districts amendment in Florida’s constitution, approved by voters in 2010.

But appellate judges questioned how the case proceeded through Marsh’s court and his ultimate finding.

“The plaintiffs did not submit any evidence regarding the existence of naturally occurring (rather than court-manufactured) Black communities within the former CD-5,” reads a majority ruling by Judges Brad Thomas and Adam Tanenbaum. “Nothing in the record describes who the Black voters are as members of a meaningful community — nothing about a shared history or shared socio-economic experience among the Black voters in Tallahassee, Jacksonville, and other areas throughout the expanse of former CD-5.”

The court ruling likely isn’t the final word on the matter, as minority advocates who sued the state’s cartography are sure to appeal the issue to Florida’s Supreme Court.

— Fire woman —

Deegan has made significant decisions in the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department, including retaining Keith Powers as Fire Chief.

That was a priority of Republicans on the City Council, described by one connected person as a way to “get right” with the legislative branch after a series of missteps ranging from a no-bid lobbying contract to proposed and failed appointments for General Counsel and the head of the Neighborhoods Department.

Keith Powers is among the familiar faces staying at Jacksonville Fire and Rescue.

However, she also got some of her priorities across the finish line, including addressing a long-standing diversity gap in JFRD leadership.

“When I became your Mayor, I promised to bring more diversity to our city workforce, build the bench for our next generation of leaders and deliver the best service possible for our citizens,” Deegan said. “We have put in place a succession plan to create a pipeline that brings diverse talent to the top of JFRD. These changes will ensure we continue to have the best fire department in the country for years to come. With today’s announcement, the new JFRD leadership team is 38% African American, 6% Asian, 6% Hispanic or Latino, and 50% White, which reflects the demographics of the city.”

As a release from the Mayor’s Office notes, some familiar names have been retained.

Steve Riska is being reappointed as Division Chief of Operations.

Jake Blanton is being reappointed as Division Chief of Rescue.

Daniel Guthrie is being reappointed as Deputy Division Chief of Rescue.

Kevin Jones is being reappointed as Division Chief of Fire Prevention.

Andre Ayoub will continue as the Division Chief of Emergency Preparedness after being confirmed earlier this year.

Meanwhile, Deegan introduced the following new appointments:

Willie King will serve as the new Deputy Fire Chief.

Chris Scott will be the new Deputy Division Chief of Operations.

Teresa Kinstle will be the new Division Chief of Training.

Austin Gambill will be the new Deputy Division Chief of Training.

Renaldo Horn will be the new Chief of Recruiting.

Allen Mason will be the new Deputy Division Chief of Fire Prevention.

Percy Golden, Jr. will be the new Deputy Division Chief of Emergency Preparedness.

Mike Lesniak will be the new Division Chief of Administrative Services.

Terrance Holmes will be the new Deputy Division Chief of Administrative Services.

Berlinda Tookes will serve as the new Assistant Chief of EEO/Ethics.

It remains to be seen if this fixes all issues with the City Council, but it’s probably a good way to mend fences, at least in the short-term. It will especially help the dynamic with Council Vice President Randy White, a JFRD veteran who will likely be Council President starting in July 2024.

The Jacksonville Brotherhood of Fire Fighters, a group of Black members of the force who endorsed Curry twice and Daniel Davis in 2023, objects, suggesting that, as in many recent mayoral elections, they likely will endorse a Republican in 2027.

— Ronnie rallies —

Good news for a former associate of Corrine Brown — he’s finally satisfied his obligation to the federal court from his time working with her.

Per WJXT, Elias “Ronnie” Simmons has paid the $544,137 in restitution he owed after pleading guilty to two charges in a case involving Brown’s dysfunctional “One Door for Education” charity. He served a few years in prison and a halfway house after his 2017 conviction.

Elias “Ronnie” Simmons has paid his debt to society.

A jury convicted Brown on multiple counts related to the charity after the removal of one recalcitrant juror for claiming God told them the Jacksonville Democrat wasn’t guilty. Eventually, her conviction was overturned on appeal, and, in place of another trial, she pleaded guilty to one count, the penalty for which was time served already in prison and $62,650 in restitution to the IRS.

So, ultimately, the employee paid a more significant cost than his boss, who devised and orchestrated the scheme. And justice for all?

— Sustainable solutions —

Teamwork makes the dream work, as the University of North Florida and JEA can attest.

Jacksonville’s leading public university and utility have teamed up to offer the JEA Sustainable Solutions Lab.

“This is a win-win for JEA and UNF. As students work on solutions to sustainability challenges, JEA will learn from their research,” JEA Managing Director and CEO Jay Stowe said. “And our entire community will benefit as well, as this joint effort will establish a pipeline of talented professionals ready to contribute to our clean energy goals for Northeast Florida.”

JEA/UNF gets sustainable.

“We are so excited about this renewed collaboration with JEA to create this Sustainable Solutions Lab,” UNF President Moez Limayem said. “JEA’s support will help our students get the hands-on experience they need to make an impact in areas related to water sustainability and clean and renewable energy. This is the kind of mutually beneficial relationship that not only helps our local partners but also gives our students incredible experience before they graduate.”

The lab features visions of the future, including microgrid solar panel systems, educational laboratory hardware, autonomous vehicle prototypes, and perhaps most compelling for those who live for the links, a “hydrogen-fueled, fuel cell-powered golf cart and an Autonomous Golf Ball Retriever Cart.”

This new lab continues a collaboration that started in 2001 when JEA funded the Clean and Renewable Energy Lab startup at UNF. We look forward to seeing what the next couple of decades hold.

— Big WIN —

Beginning May 2024, Ocean Network Express will launch a new West India North America (WIN) container service directly connecting JAXPORT with seven ports in Pakistan, India, Saudi Arabia, Spain and Egypt.

The weekly WIN service will be operated by a fleet of nine vessels, all operated by ONE. The port rotation will be Bin Qasim, Pakistan; Hazira, Nhava Sheva and Mundra in India; Damietta, Egypt; Algeciras, Spain; New York; Savannah; Jacksonville; Charleston; Norfolk; Damietta; Jeddah, Saudi Arabia; and back to Bin Qasim.

JAXPORT branches out overseas. Image via JAXPORT.

It will be JAXPORT’s first direct container service with each of these seven ports. Damietta, Jeddah and Algeciras are major transshipment hubs in the Mediterranean and the Middle East.

“We are proud of our partnership with ONE, which has now opened up a new gateway for us,” said JAXPORT CEO Eric Green. “These new port calls and connections will link Jacksonville to some of the world’s fastest-growing economies, attracting more cargo and the jobs it supports to our city and state.”

Common commodities in the service are expected to include consumer goods such as electronics, perishable food items and retail goods, including textiles and apparel.

“The addition of this service is a significant step in our commercial strategy to be a (truly) global port that offers direct connections to the world’s major trade lanes,” said JAXPORT Chief Commercial Officer Robert Peek. “South Asia, the Mediterranean, and the Middle East all play an important role in world trade, and importers and exporters are now able to access these regions directly through JAXPORT.”

— Meet the new boss —

The St. Augustine Beach City Commission selected the Mayor and Vice Mayor for the next term during its Dec. 4 meeting.

Dylan Rumrell, who has served on the Commission since 2019, will assume the role of Mayor and Beth Sweeny, who has served on the Commission since 2022, will serve as Vice Mayor.

Dylan Rumrell and Beth Sweeny are now in charge of St. Augustine.

“I’m honored and blessed to be chosen by my peers as Mayor of the City of St. Augustine Beach, and I look forward to continuing working for the people of St. Augustine Beach,” Rumrell said.

Sweeny added, “I am honored by the faith placed in me by my fellow Commissioners and look forward to continuing to serve the residents of St. Augustine Beach as Vice Mayor.”

The terms will run for one year, beginning Jan. 1.

— Jaguars bounce back? —

From controlling their destiny to questioning their credentials.

That’s the swing in position for the Jaguars after an overtime loss to the Bengals on Monday Night Football.

The loss hurt the Jaguars’ chances to earn the top seed in the AFC playoffs. Now at 8-4, the Jaguars trail the Miami Dolphins, Baltimore Ravens, and Kansas City Chiefs in the conference standings. And with injuries to quarterback Trevor Lawrence, wide receiver Christian Kirk, left tackle Walker Little, cornerback Tre Herndon, and defensive tackle Foley Fatukasi all leaving the game with injuries, the future is very much in doubt. Cornerback Tyson Campbell played through a quadriceps injury. He’s listed as day-to-day.

Trevor Lawrence joins the injured list. Will the Jaguars make it? Image via AP

On Tuesday, Jaguars’ head coach Doug Pederson said that Lawrence’s injury is a high ankle sprain and declined to rule the quarterback out for Sunday’s game in Cleveland against the Browns. It would be hard to imagine Lawrence playing six days after an injury of that kind, but he has not missed a start as a professional. Lawrence’s status will be a story all week. Pederson said Lawrence’s injury looked worse than it was.

If he can’t play, C.J. Beathard will get the start. Maybe the Jaguars can beat the Browns, who are dealing with injury issues of their own.

Still, Lawrence’s availability would be a massive boost for the Jaguars.

Even if Lawrence returns, the Jaguars will be without Kirk for the foreseeable future. He has a core injury — he grabbed his groin area after going down on the first play of the game Monday night. He’s expected to have surgery, which could put him out until deep into the playoffs at the earliest.

Little’s hamstring injury could force the Jaguars to play with their third starting left tackle this week.

All in all, it was one of the worst possible results for the Jaguars.

With the Indianapolis Colts and Houston Texans sitting at 7-5 and nipping at the Jaguars’ heels, the season’s focus again goes from the AFC playoff race to the divisional race.

There are other concerns, specifically on either side of the line of scrimmage.

The Jaguars defense struggled at every level. Aside from Josh Allen’s interception and a sack and a half, the Jaguars defense made very few impact plays. They had been among the league leaders stopping the run until the Bengals ran through them relatively easily.

The offensive line appears unable to win physical battles consistently. The running game could be more consistent at best, and the Jaguars struggle in short-yardage situations.

Before Monday’s game, the Jaguars had a solid case to make as the best team in the AFC. They’re fighting for their playoff lives due to injuries and a flat performance in prime time.

Staff Reports



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