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Of all his memories, Jake’s favorite story

Tom Wills recalls his last in-depth interview with former Jacksonville mayor

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – As the city prepares to celebrate the life for former Jacksonville Mayor Jake Godbold on Thursday, I thought back to my last sit-down interview with him -- in January 2019. It was just before the city was going to implode its old riverfront City Hall where Godbold became a public official in the 1960s and worked until 1987.

We sat together in his living room and reminisced about his years working in that Bay Street highrise -- first serving on City Council, then two terms in the mayor’s office.

As mayor, Godbold wasn’t shy about his ambitions of putting the city on the map. Starting in 1978, his initiatives kicked off a development boom now known as The Billion Dollar Decade." His administration built Southbank Riverbank and Metropolitan Park, modernized the fire department, rescued the crumbling Florida Theatre, attracting the Mayo Clinic to Jacksonville, attracted a developer to build the (just demolished) Jacksonville Landing and started the Jacksonville Jazz Festival. He even converted the abandoned Union Terminal train station into the Prime Osborn III Convention Center. It’s appropriate his celebration of life service will be held there.

SPECIAL SECTION | Remembering Jake

The memory of Godbold’s years in office burned into most people’s minds -- including his own -- was “Colt Fever” in 1979.

“It turned out to be very important to Jacksonville -- and very exciting," Godbold told me. “At the time, I had mixed emotions about whether we ought to do that.”

Those mixed emotions gave way to awe-inspired wonder as thousands of people turned out at the Gator Bowl to watch the mayor and then-Baltimore Colts owner Robert Irsay land on the field in Channel 4′s helicopter.

The crowd wanted Irsay to know he should move his NFL team here to Jacksonville.

"Remember, Tom, I went to the White House about three or four days after this happened. I was going to talk to them about the People Mover project (what we now know as the JTA’s Skyway). They said, 'Before we talk to you about anything, we want to know how in the hell you got 50,000 people, over 50,000 people, to come out and say, “We want the Colts!”

We all know that the Colts didn’t move to Jacksonville -- eventually escaping to Indianapolis. But the football fever wouldn’t go away and over the decade a committee was formed, a potential owners’ group was formed and, in 1993, the NFL expanded and the Jacksonville Jaguars were born.


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