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Another tense Jacksonville City Council ends without Lot J vote

Jaguars president, lobbyist pushing for quick approval of deal

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The proposal to build a $445 million entertainment complex on Lot J of TIAA Bank Field -- the sole topic of another tense Jacksonville City Council meeting Thursday -- will not be voted on until Tuesday at the earliest.

The deal calls for the city to invest $233 million in direct spending or loans by the city of Jacksonville to the developer for Jaguars owner Shad Khan, the Cordish Companies.

The development deal got a tentative thumbs-up Wednesday from the Downtown Investment Authority, but that was not enough to convince some skeptical council members to commit millions of taxpayer dollars to the deal, some of them saying that many of their questions have not been answered.

About 90 minutes into a meeting set to last four hours to go through the details over the proposal and reviews by the council auditor and Downtown Investment Authority, Councilman Aaron Bowman appeared ready to close the discussion and proceed to a vote. That drew a sharp response from Council President Tommy Hazouri and questioning of the rules before the review of the plan resumed.

Later in the meeting, Bowman and Hazouri had another testy exchange:

Bowman: “Obviously, a disappointing day for me today, the way you disrespected me and the council rules. I look back at all the favors you asked me, moving Mr. Dennis out of his office.”

Hazouri: “You make too many statements, ask your question.”

Bowman: “There you go again, calling the sergeant of arms on me. Are you going to do that again? It’s disappointing.”

Hazouri: “Not as much as you. Not as much as you. Keep your personal opinion to yourself. Show some decorum here. That’s it. You’re on the clock. Go ahead and say what you want to say.”

In the first hour of Thursday’s meeting, the City Council auditor told the members that the developer had made some concessions on parking garages, fees and costs, but there are still concerns that the city is investing millions into the project before Cornish spends any money. The auditor shared the same concerns the DIA expressed, especially about what the proposal costs a $65.5 million no-interest loan known in the industry as a breadbox loan.

The DIA, which was asked to review the plan last week, voted Wednesday to recommend City Council approval, but with some modifications.

DOCUMENTS: DIA report on Lot J proposal | Council Auditor’s Office’s things to consider/concerns

Mark Lamping, the Jaguars president, has asked for a vote by the council by its last scheduled meeting of the year, which is next Tuesday. Hazouri deferred the vote Thursday -- opting to spend the last half-hour of the meeting on public comment -- and postponed a review of several amendments to the bill and a review of more documents until Tuesday at the earliest and raised the possibility might spill over until next year.

After the meeting, Hazouri said the deal could still happen “if they can hammer out some differences and get all these questions answered in a reasonable time.”

“It’s not fair to this council. Whether you’re for or against it, we deserve to get answers,” Hazouri said.

Lamping wasn’t pleased but has no choice but to play by the council’s rules.

“I don’t know if we even have a choice on this,” Lamping told News4Jax. “We don’t control the process. All we can do is focus on is those things that we control and we continue to focus on everything we can to make sure that Jacksonville remains an NFL city for generations to come.”

Mayor Lenny Curry said Thursday that the Jaguars never threatened to leave Jacksonville if the city if Lot J isn’t approved. Curry’s chief of staff, Jordan Elsbury, said if the decision is delayed, they will work with it.

“What we can live with is council getting every question they need answered. And if that’s the timeline, fine,” Elsbury said.

RELATED: Downtown Investment Authority recommends approving Lot J ‘with some conditions’ | 54% of Jacksonville voters opposed to Lot J deal | Watch Jennifer Waugh’s interview with Councilman Matt Carlucci

On Wednesday, Lamping speaking to the DIA board stopped just short of calling the breadbox loan a deal-breaker and expressed the urgency of the city making a quick decision.

“We’ve spent millions of dollars to get to where we are right now. And when you go through that process, the expectation is you know where the goalposts are. Doesn’t mean you’re going to score but you know where the goalposts are, and to have the threat of moving the goalposts, I just, I think that’s the wrong message,” Lamping said. “If there is a renegotiation on the public investment and it says that the public investment is going to be decreased by $65 million, the project is no longer viable.”


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