JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – By this time next year, there could be a multi-million makeover of both the outside and inside of EverBank Field that would include an amphitheater, new indoor practice fields and new premium seating.
A bill filed this week for Jacksonville City Council calls for a $90 million upgrade to the stadium, with the city paying $45 million and Jaguars owner Shad Khan $45 million.
The proposal calls for a $45 million amphitheater that would seat 10,000 people for concerts and special events to be located on the south end of the stadium in place of the fan zone. The plan also includes a $20 million indoor practice field and $25 million to upgrade the stadium's club seats.
"I'm sincere in my commitment to Jacksonville and am extremely optimistic that we're moving in the right direction, on and off the field," Khan said in a statement. "Our new agreement to play a home game each season at Wembley Stadium through 2020 is one example, and the joint proposal with the city of Jacksonville to further reinvent EverBank Field and the sports complex is another. We look forward to working with Mayor Curry and his team so we can realize together, and soon, what Jacksonville and the Jaguars are capable of achieving."
The city plans to borrow its half of the money and pay back the loan with bed-tax revenue -- the money hotel visitors are charged when they stay in Jacksonville.
"This is actually money that is bed tax funds which are already designated for improvements to the stadium," City Council President Greg Anderson said.
For many, the idea of an amphitheater is a surprise. A similar idea was proposed for Metropolitan Park in 1997 and residents of the St. Nicholas neighborhood just across the river raised objections over noise concerns and the plans were scrapped.
Nearly two decades later, those homeowners are still wary.
"I would like to know more.," said Bryant Chevalier. "The devil is in the details, but based on the last promises from the stadium, they have not lived up to those. If you live here at night, you don't need the street lights. They leave the lights on at the stadium and the whole place lights up. The concerts are so loud."
The current plan has the stage facing toward downtown, not toward the river, which city planners say could cut down noise.
Councilman Bill Gulliford said the proposed project could help the city, but he still has lots of questions about the funding.
"It goes way beyond football, so if it's a benefit to the community because of what you can do there," Gulliford said. "You know St. Augustine is taking a lot of business away from us, if you look at what their amphitheater (is doing)."
Concerned Taxpayers of Duval County said it was still reviewing the plan but said the idea is not sitting well, particularly since the city just committed $40 million of bed-tax money two years ago to pay off EverBank's new scoreboards.
John Winkler, the president of Concerned Taxpayers of Duval County, spoke about the $90 million dollar upgrade to the stadium, calling the latest project unnecessary.
"Again, why are we doing this? A football stadium is designed, supposedly, for the playing of football. I don't quite understand why we have to attempt to incorporate every other feature of every other entertainment venue into the actual football stadium," Winkler said. "This is the worst kind of example of corporate welfare, where you wind up going to the taxpayers and there's this implicit threat that if we don't pony up as much money as conceivable, that somehow we're going to lose the professional football franchise."
Winkler said many achievements and many other amphitheaters already exist and taxpayers shouldn't have to foot the bill.
"There comes a point where you have to decide that it's not worth the additional mojo that this is going to lend to the city in order to make these payments from a city that is quite frankly, as the mayor discovered in his 90-day audit -- broke," Winkler said.
The plan will be introduced to City Council next Tuesday. If the Council approves it, work should begin in January and completed by the next football season.
Legislation filed Wednesday to be introduced to City Council next week offers a brief description of the project. The improvements still require council approval.