Drafting the future: Looking ahead to the Jaguars’ influence on the shape of downtown Jacksonville

With all eyes being on Thursday's NFL draft, we spoke with Jaguars President Mark Lamping to get an update on Shahid Khan's investment in the city and what projects the team's owner might be drafting in the future.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The NFL Draft is Thursday, and the fans hope Jacksonville drafts key players to help turn around the Jaguars’ fortunes. After all, it’s been a while since they’ve had a winning season -- only one in the last 14 years, in fact.

Still, the Jaguars are about much more than just football to this city. They are also about turning around Downtown Jacksonville’s fortunes.

In an interview only with News4JAX, Jaguars President Mark Lamping spoke with Anchor Bruce Hamilton about Shad Khan’s investment in the city and what projects the team’s owner might be “drafting” in the future.

Bruce asked him about the polarizing comments from Brian Kilmead of Fox & Friends, who recently said Jacksonville is a mess.

Considering Khan’s investment in the city, you would think the Jaguars’ front office was a bit taken aback by the criticism. But Lamping said he takes things like that with a grain of salt.

Well, I guess it’s sort of interesting coming from someone who has a home in Jacksonville in Brian,” Lamping said. “That’s beside the point. I think I’d probably point him to a story this weekend in the Wall Street Journal that focused on Jacksonville being in the top five cities in the country in terms of job growth, you know, behind cities like Austin, Nashville, Salt Lake City, that’s where Jacksonville is today, top five in the country. And we were 30, not more than two or three years ago, and we’ve made this steady climb, and you know what I love Jacksonville.”

Jaguars President Mark Lamping talks about practice facility

Lamping’s focus is on the fact that this is one of the fastest-growing metropolitan cities in the country. The city and Khan entered into a deal worth a quarter of a billion dollars that includes a sports performance complex. Work is underway northwest of TIAA Bank Field.

The state-of-the-art facility will ultimately house team offices, an equipment room, weight training and medical facilities. There will also be an indoor practice field; two outdoor natural-grass fields with about 2,300 bleacher seats; a team store; and concession facilities. If things move ahead on schedule they could be up and running by the start of the 2023 season.

And there’s Khan’s $321 million plan to bring a luxury Four Seasons hotel to anchor a project on the former Metro Park site. The deal moved closer to breaking ground earlier this month when the Department of Environmental Protection agreed to lift certain restrictions.

People around town have been talking about the NFL Draft and the Jags’ choices to improve the team’s performance on the field. So, what if the Jags were to enter a development draft. What type of projects might they draft with the city looking toward the future?

“Well, I think it’d be something that would really boost the tourism economy,” Lamping said. “You know, Jacksonville has a lot of infrastructure for people that live here, a lot of infrastructure for people that work downtown. I think we could use a major, major tourist attraction, whatever that might be.

“We certainly have a lot of people that travel to Jacksonville for events, and they come here to the sports complex,” said Lamping. “That’s where most of the events occur. But in terms of having a world-class museum, a world-class piece of public art, something that would define this community, and be something that those thousands and thousands of people that drive through Jacksonville on highway 95 would be motivated to actually get off the grid off the highway and check it out.”

Lamping also talked about plans to renovate the stadium. The Jags’ lease with the city runs out in 2029. He said they are making progress and working on plans.

The Jaguars actually started developing the partnership two years ago. Lamping said it’s difficult to say how long it will be before an actual pitch is made because he’s still not sure exactly what they’re going to build.