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City Council gets look at $90M EverBank plan

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Two big-ticket items were on the agenda at the Jacksonville City Council meeting Tuesday: The $90 million proposal for upgrades in and around EverBank Field and pay raises for council members.

The multi-million-dollar stadium makeover will include changes both inside and outside of EverBank Field. The bill was filed last week. It would have the city paying $45 million for the upgrades and Jaguars owner Shad Khan paying the other $45 million.

Those improvements could be seen as early as this time next year. They include an amphitheater, new premium seating and a new indoor practice facility. The amphitheater would seat 10,000 people for concerts and special events.

"The stadium is our asset," Mayor Lenny Curry said. "We've got an opportunity here to enhance that asset. Shad Khan of the Jaguars organization is willing to invest in our asset. That's an immediate return for our taxpayers."

The city plans to borrow its half of the money and pay back the loan with bed-tax revenue. That's the money hotel visitors are charged when they stay in Jacksonville.

The plan already has opposition since taxpayer money would be used. The group Concerned Taxpayers of Duval County said it is reviewing the plan but that the idea doesn't sit well since the city just committed $40 million of bed-tax money two years ago to pay off EverBank's new scoreboards.

Another concern for council members is the recent closing of the amphitheater pavilion at Metropolitan Park. Safety concerns about the tent over the pavilion led to the shut down, which some council members just learned about this week.

"I am surprised. I heard that just the other day. I know for the Georgia-Florida weekend it was open and there was a concert," Councilman Greg Anderson said. "Frankly, I'm unaware of what is going on."

The cables supporting the tent are falling apart, and the mayor's staff said the plan is to close the stage until repairs are made. The park itself remains open.

"It's a safety issue, and safety comes first," Curry said. "At the same time, we're also talking about this deal where we're talking about a new amphitheater. These are two separate deals. So we will evaluate getting this place as a safe space in the future."

How long repairs will take and how much they will cost is unknown, but the mayor said the closure has nothing to do with the EverBank Field expansion plans.

Most of the details for those plans will be discussed by the council at the end of the month.

"Some of the details are still being worked out. We have not gotten all of the final documents as far as I can tell," Anderson said. "So once all of those are presented. The general public will have an opportunity to take a look at them, and so the council will as well."

Reaction on the council has been supportive. Even one of the staunchest critics of stadium spending, Councilman John Crescimbeni, said he likes the idea because the money is from bed taxes not property or sales taxes.

"This money is being paid into the accounts by people staying in hotels in Duval County, probably not Jacksonville citizens -- unless I got kicked out of the house or something," Crescimbeni said. "It's very limited on what we can spend it on, and this is what it's intended to be spent on."

Also on Tuesday's agenda, a push that called for a 2 percent pay raise for City Council members. The push comes when the city is in a financial crisis.

Soon, police and firefighters will be getting back pay to make up for cuts in 2012, and now the City Council wants its share.

In 2010, City Council members voted to reduce their pay by 2 percent, meaning each member would make about $44,000 a year.

The legislation introduced by Councilman Matt Schellenberg would have each member making an additional $900 a year. But the council decided Tuesday to send the bill back to committee and vote on it another day.

Right now, council members are limited to serve eight years, which is two terms, but the change would add an additional four-year term.