Is City Council ready to make Lot J project a reality?

Council expected to vote on much-debated entertainment complex next month

City leaders who were hoping to get some key questions answered on the much-debated Lot J development project during a public meeting Friday morning appeared to be satisfied afterward.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – City leaders who were hoping to get some key questions answered on the much-debated Lot J development project during a public meeting Friday morning appeared to be satisfied afterward.

Councilman Reggie Gaffney, who called the meeting, said he believes there are enough votes to approve the deal and make the $445 million entertainment complex a reality.

“When we come back Jan. 7, I think 13 (the number of votes needed to approve the plan) is going to be much easier to get then because of these last two meetings,” Gaffney said. “I’m just proud that I believe that the city of Jacksonville is really (about) to get a shot in the arm for growth if it passes. But I’m confident we’ll get there.”

News4Jax has been contacting Council members all week for an informal poll on how they’re leaning on the Lot J vote, and our numbers also indicate the plan has the votes for approval.

“I really think it’s at a point now that everything is resolved,” Councilman Aaron Bowman said.

City Council president Tommy Hazouri deferred the vote on the Lot J bill last week and said he’d like to see a final vote Jan. 12.

There has been ongoing drama amongst city leaders over the deal, which 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.

At Friday’s meeting, City Council members got answers to questions and concerns that the council auditor has regarding the deal. The majority of them have been addressed and those in attendance said they feel confident that the Lot J project will move forward.

DOCUMENT: Auditor questions remaining on Lot J project

“I have confidence that we are nearing the end of the process, and I think that is a great thing,” Jaguars president Mark Lamping said. “We have been at this for awhile and a project like this should be difficult and painful at times.”

From now until Jan. 7, council members are going to review the documents and then take a vote during a special meeting. If enough agree, they could pass it then or wait until Jan. 12 at a regular council meeting.

Those in favor of the Lot J project say it’ll bring jobs, boost Jacksonville’s economy, and lead to a thriving downtown.

But critics are concerned about the taxpayers’ share of the multi-million dollar price tag.

Councilman Garrett Dennis said this week he supports the Lot J project, but also said no decision should be rushed without making sure all questions have been answered.

Mayor Lenny Curry’s chief of staff said Monday that several hours-long meetings on the project have been “less than productive,” forcing City Council members to rely on one-on-one meetings to discuss concerns with the development team.

Earlier this week, a handful of people protested against Lot J outside City Hall, blasting the mayor and his staff with obscenities and even naming the mayor’s children. The protest led to the mayor and his family skipping the annual Christmas tree lighting, which was happening at the same time nearby.

Curry told News4Jax this week that he knows council members are doing their job by asking questions, but says eventually, a vote has to happen.

Most in attendance at Friday’s meeting expect that vote to have a positive outcome for those advocating the plan.

“I think it will pass,” Councilman Ron Salem said. “I think there are 14 to 15 council members that feel pretty comfortable today on this agreement.”

About the Authors:

Jim Piggott is the reporter to count on when it comes to city government and how it will affect the community.

A Jacksonville native and proud University of North Florida alum, Francine Frazier has been with News4Jax since 2014 after spending nine years at The Florida Times-Union.