JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – While the focus recently has been on Lot J, the proposed entertainment complex outside TIAA Bank Field, the stadium itself is now in the spotlight.
Even though there have been upgrades with the pools, scoreboards and seats, Jaguars President Mark Lamping said Tuesday that the team is looking for stadium renovations, which would be part of a new lease agreement that the NFL owners would have to agree to and sign for the Jaguars to stay at the stadium.
“And if Shad [Khan] were to ask fellow NFL owners and the league to approve a lease extension right now, there are really two questions that are unanswered that need to be answered before you even consider that,” Lamping said.
Lamping said 75% of NFL owners have to vote “yes” to any lease extension. One of those outstanding items, Lamping said, would be asking: “Does the stadium meet the needs of NFL fans and other stakeholders?”
“There are a few things that are really important making sure that there will be NFL football in Northeast Florida for generations to come. We have to put a better football team on the field. First and foremost, we have to do what we haven’t done. We have to be better in the future. We have to have a stadium solution. Somebody has to answer the question if you’re going to do a 10- or 15-year extension that takes you out 25 years from where we are now, how do we know what the condition of the stadium is going to be to meet the needs of the fans during that extension period?” Lamping said.
Lamping said the other item is how the NFL views the team’s city and its vibrancy, including downtown.
“Downtown Jacksonville, beginning to realize a greater portion of its potential, and we think that’s really important. We know it’s important to other NFL owners,” he said. “Asking for a lease extension right now, we would get the answer that none of us want.”
Lamping pointed out that the stadium is home to more than just the Jaguars. He said the team has launched a process called “Project Lifetime,” analyzing long-term stadium design needs. Lamping said that should not be a surprise and he said it’s not a threat about the team leaving if it doesn’t get what Jaguars owner Shad Khan wants.
“Forget about trying to guess what somebody could do in the future. You usually have a better indication of what people are going to do by looking at what they’ve done and what they’re prepared to do,” Lamping said. “And, you know, we stand by what we’ve done as assurance that Shad Khan is committed to Jacksonville or he wouldn’t be doing what he has been doing.”
Lamping said there’s good news from the “Project Lifetime” work: TIAA Bank Field is structurally sound and could be significantly improved without structural changes. He also repeatedly said stadium improvements benefit other stakeholders like the Gator Bowl and the annual Florida-Georgia game.
Mayor Lenny Curry on Tuesday issued a statement, saying: “More than 20 years ago we made a decision as a community to be an NFL city. As mayor of Jacksonville, I’m going to continue to demonstrate that commitment. The sustainability of this franchise is not a new conversation for the administration. The partnership with the Jaguars organization over the years and today as we move forward on the Lot J development are reflective of a joint effort to ensure Jaguars football remains in Northeast Florida for decades to come.”
The $450 million Lot J project, which could take seven years to be built, would be a split between the Jaguars and the city, but it’s already causing a split with the City Council. That split was apparent Thursday when City Council President Tommy Hazouri and the mayor’s staff went at it. The argument was over information, or the lack of it being available, about the deal.
On Tuesday morning, City Councilman Matt Carlucci called a meeting with City Councilwoman LeAnna Cumber. Both want to see the Downtown Investment Authority involved in reviewing the deal. But Carlucci wants to go further -- he wants a whole new negotiating team to look at the Lot J deal and come back with new recommendations.
“Right now, there is no trust in this project. None,” Carlucci said. “And I think the best way is to start over with a group of highly qualified professionals that our DIA has and let them do their damn job.”
Cumber said the City Council should move forward and let the DIA look over the deal and make recommendations -- not start over.
After that meeting, a second meeting took place Tuesday afternoon with a number of City Council members, along with the mayor’s staff, the negotiating team, the Jaguars and others. Noticeably missing was Hazouri.
At Tuesday afternoon’s meeting, City Council members all asked questions about the Lot J project, what was involved and what the city’s role would be. Most got answers, and several members said that this time, the meeting was productive. They hope to have more in the future.
The head of the DIA told News4Jax the group is already reviewing the deal but will follow the wishes of the City Council.
And at Tuesday evening’s City Council meeting, there was discussion about amendments that would demand the involvement of the DIA and debate about wanting to make sure the project happens as long as it’s fair.
“Our constituents are looking to us to be their eyes and ears. We have a responsibility, a fiduciary duty, to be prudent with the taxpayers’ money,” said City Councilwoman Randy DeFoor. “I don’t think anybody’s trying to derail this, by the way. I think actually everybody wants this.”
“Had we started out at the very beginning with the DIA, yes,” said City Councilwoman Brenda Priestly Jackson. “I also think that there are ethical conflicts at this point, and assigning it to the DIA that is headed by a former chair, or president of this council, I’m going to go on the record and state that, so I don’t want the DIA involved at this point.”
The next City Council meeting about the Lot J development is scheduled for Dec. 3.