Poll finds 54% of Jacksonville voters oppose funding Lot J development

VIDEO: As City Council is poised to vote on partnering with the Jaguars on a $445 million entertainment complex on a parking lot of TIAA Bank Field, the University of North Florida released a poll showing a majority of Jacksonville voters oppose having taxpayers pick up half the cost.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The University of North Florida on Thursday released a poll showing a majority of Jacksonville voters oppose having taxpayers pick up half the cost of a $445 million entertainment complex on Lot J of TIAA Bank Field.

The UNF’s Public Opinion Research Lab’s latest “Jax Speaks” poll found 54% either strongly or somewhat opposed to the city spending $233 million in direct costs and loan to fund the Lot J proposal, with 43% strongly or somewhat supportive.

Of the people surveyed who believed having an NFL team is important to the city, 72% supported the Lot J plan, while among those who do not think the team is important to Jacksonville, only 15% support the proposal.

A strong majority of all respondents -- 80% -- said the question should be put to Jacksonville voters in the form of a referendum.

“A massive project like the Lot J plan is bound to have mixed public support, but 37% of that opposition strongly opposes the proposal as it is,” said Dr. Michael Binder, director of the UNF Public Opinion Research Lab. “Jacksonville voters would like to have a say in these issues, particularly when it concerns such a large price tag.”

RELATED: Another tense Jacksonville City Council ends without Lot J vote

Of those polled, 33% said having an NFL franchise is very important to Jacksonville and 48% said it was moderately or slightly important. Only 20% said having the Jaguars in Jacksonville was not important at all.

Respondents were also asked whether they support or oppose the city of Jacksonville splitting an estimated $250 million cost of major improvements to TIAA Bank Field with the Jaguars. A large majority -- 62% -- were opposed to this idea, with just 37% supporting the proposal. An even greater majority -- 77% -- opposed building a new stadium for $700 million, with only 21% supported splitting the costs of a new stadium.

“With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the resulting economic uncertainty and a struggling team, it’s not hard to see why voters are hesitant to invest in luxury items like stadium improvements without evidence that there will be a significant return on that investment,” Binder said.

Just under half of those polled -- 49% -- said previous public-private partnerships with the Jaguars -- such as Daily’s Place and stadium upgrades, including the massive scoreboards and swimming polls -- have failed to live up to their expectations.

When asked about the job Lenny Curry is doing as Jacksonville mayor, 42% said they approve, with 56% saying they disapprove. The Jacksonville City Council garnered higher approval, at 49%, while 47% said they disapprove.

Curry’s approval is down several points from UNF’s June 2020 survey when it was at 45% approval and June 2019 at 46% approval.

“City Council having relatively more popularity than the mayor is somewhat unusual, but recent high-profile issues like the JEA investigation may have gotten people’s attention,” Binder said.

Of the people surveyed who believed having an NFL team is important to the city, 72% supported the Lot J deal.

The poll also asked about the approval of Jaguars owner Shad Khan, finding 40% strongly or somewhat approve of the job he is doing, 55% somewhat or strongly disapprove and 5% didn’t know or didn’t answer. When asked about the job Doug Marrone is doing as head coach of the team, 20% said they strongly or somewhat approve, 70% said they somewhat or strongly disapprove and 10% said they didn’t know or didn’t answer.

The poll of 644 registered voters in Duval County was conducted online between Nov. 30 through Dec. 2. It had a sampling error of 3.9%.

Voters weigh in on Lot J plan

News4Jax spoke to voters throughout the city who had mixed opinions on the Lot J plan, just like the UNF poll found.

“The no-interest loan, that’s kind of unheard of in my area,” said Robert Hall, who was skeptical of the Lot J plan terms. “I wish I could go to the bank and get a loan like that, with no interest.”

However, Ulysses Pitt said he’d be willing to invest taxpayer money into the major project.

“Yeah, if it builds us up,” he said.

Tina Daniels was strongly opposed, wishing the city would rebuild what’s already in place and help the homeless and low-income communities more.

“For what?” she asked. “We’ve got enough c*** out here. There’s plenty of hotels here.”

JoJo Grove believes the city is in a Catch-22 with demands for stadium improvements and Lot J funding.

“I agree the Jaguars may not stay if we don’t incentivize and all of that, so I feel like it’s kind of a hands-tied situation,” Grove said.

Clancy Houston said: “We paid a lot for the stadium, and, to some extent, I would reluctantly say it goes with an NFL team. But I’m sure Mr. Khan is going to do very well with the Lot J.”

About the Authors:

Digital election producer in 2022. He created WJXT.com in 1995 and managed The Local Station's website through 2021.

Lifetime Jacksonville resident anchors the 8 and 9 a.m. weekday newscasts and is part of the News4Jax I-Team.