JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – In the wake of Thursday’s tense Jacksonville City Council meeting over a $445 million proposed entertainment complex on Lot J of TIAA Bank Field, City Council President Tommy Hazouri said the proposal will not be discussed at their next meeting, scheduled for Tuesday.
“I support what they’re trying to do,” said Hazouri. “What I don’t support, is them refusing to negotiate in a way that I’m not asking for a better deal I want a fair deal and I hope the council expect the same.”
In a statement released late Saturday, Hazouri said, in part, “It is asking too much for the 19 council members to fully process over 200 pages of a very complex financial and legal document in less than 36 hours; and be prepared to take this important vote.”
Hazouri said that the council will instead meet to discuss the project on Thursday, Jan. 7, and is expected to vote on it on Jan. 12.
There are many questions that have yet to be answered and many questions have yet been asked, according to Hazouri.
“They’re asking too much in such a short time for us to make the kind of decision that’s going to impact over $200 million economic development project,” said Hazouri.
He told News4Jax it’s unreasonable.
“The mayor, first, he says take your time. A week later, says let’s get off the pot and vote out or you’re going to lose the Jaguars,” Hazouri said. “I won’t be threatened. He shouldn’t try to intimidate this council. That’s not the way government works.”
Mayor Lenny Curry’s Chief of Staff Jordan Elsbury and Jaguars Senior Vice President and Chief Legal Officer Megha Parekh sat down on this week’s edition of “This Week in Jacksonville.” They said this project is an opportunity for the River City.
“It’s not just about sustaining the Jaguars, but it’s about making what exists here viable for additional uses and bigger events,” Parekh said.
“We’ve been at that endeavor for several months now,” Elsbury said. “We rolled out an initial term sheet almost 16 months ago. We started interacting with City Council members then. And as we filed legislation, we continue phone calls, over 25 hours of meetings with the council auditors about this topic.”
Hazouri said that’s not true.
“We’ve only received the introductory bill less than two months ago, and they have a project that going to take seven to nine years to be completed,” Hazouri said. “I asked in a very honest and open way what’s wrong with another few weeks to get our questions asked and answered.”
Elsbury shared the following statement with News4Jax on Sunday:
“From the beginning this was about getting council members the information and answers they needed to make an informed policy position on the project. In fact, the reason documents have changed is because there have been dozens of edits responsive to the requests of City Council members and their staff. With these changes incorporated, it is unclear why delaying policy decisions and downtown development if members are ready to vote is productive. The development team has asked for a vote if all questions have been answered before the year ends, and we believe that to be prudent government.”
The debate over the project became heated at times during Thursday’s City Council meeting, which ended with no vote on the plan. Hazouri began taking questions when some members wanted a vote on Lot J right then and there.
Hazouri: “Excuse me. I don’t want to get into, we keep the decorum and sit down now, sit down. Sergeant of arms?”
Councilman Aaron Bowman: “Mr. President, you have to operate under council rules.”
Hazouri: “Don’t play games. Sit down.”
Bowman: “This isn’t games, sir. You’ve got people who want to move the bill. That’s the appropriate way to do it. I challenge the chair on his decision.”
Hazouri: “I did not recognize you. I may do just that, but I don’t appreciate the decorum. You break this up every time, and I don’t want to get into this today. We’re not going to get into it.”
That came after the Downtown Investment Authority gave the development deal a tentative thumbs-up. The DIA voted Wednesday to recommend City Council approval, but with some modifications. Jaguars President Mark Lamping had asked for a “yes” or “no” vote from the City Council at least by the meeting Tuesday, but that will not happen.
This week, the University of North Florida released a poll, which found 54% of Jacksonville voters either strongly or somewhat oppose the city spending $233 million in direct costs and loan to fund the Lot J proposal.
Here’s Hazouri’s full statement that was released Saturday:
“‘I have been a proud ticket holder of the Jacksonville Jaguars Football Team for 25 years and I want nothing more than to see the team succeed and have a long, successful, and prosperous life here in our hometown.’ - Council President Hazouri
“Presently, the Council does not have the latest agreement with the substantial changes that were discussed at their December 4th meeting between the Council Auditor, the representatives of the Jaguars, and the Administration. This new proposal that is being prepared, which the taxpayers will be asked to fund over a quarter of a billion dollars for the Lot J development project; the Administration and the Jaguars/Developers want the City Council to vote on Tuesday, December 8th, or hold a special Council Meeting before December 11th to approve the Lot J legislation. It is asking too much for the 19 council members to fully process over 200 pages of a very complex financial, and legal document in less than 36 hours; and be prepared to take this important vote. With that, I have a created a pathway by scheduling a Committee of the Whole Meeting for Thursday, January 7th, so that the agreement can be thoroughly digested and intelligently discussed, allowing a proper vote to occur on January 12th, the next City Council meeting. This will also afford each council member to offer amendments to the bill that were not included or considered.
“This past year as you recall, the people, and City Council were being rushed in another transaction without full disclosure and transparency that ultimately took away the trust of the citizens of Jacksonville, and almost of which became a debacle. The taxpayers of Jacksonville deserve a fair agreement between the City and the Jaguars/Developers. As stewards of this community elected by our constituents, we owe this due diligence to the citizens of Jacksonville, the Jaguars, the Administration and each Council Member. As Council President, in honoring the legislative process, I will not be adding this bill to the addendum on December 8th. It is my expectation that on January 7th, we will spend the time necessary to conclude the discussion on this proposal, and this pathway, will lead us to a successful resolve to vote it up or down at the next City Council meeting.”