City to pay more for extra Florida-Georgia seats

Stadium renovations forcing city to spend more to accommodate universities

By Jim Piggott - Reporter
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - City leaders learned Thursday the city will be paying $1.6 million a year to add more seats to EverBank Field for the annual Florida-Georgia game.

It's a surprise that came as result of the stadium improvements of the video boards, swimming pools and cabanas.

The cost was approved reluctantly because city leaders believe there was no choice. They have taken some money from the city's special projects, such as the open house and job fair, to pay for the seats.

The Florida-Georgia game brings lots of tradition, as well as about $30 million each year. That's why some say it's vital to the city and why the Chamber of Commerce said the city has to follow through with its contract to add extra seats for the game.

"We have to make sure we accommodate Florida and Georgia," said Dan Davis, president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce. "It is a staple in our community. It's an economic development opportunity in our community. Really, there is nothing else we can do. I fully support it."

The city has spent nearly $288,000 each year to add extra bleacher seats. But now with the addition of new scoreboards and pools in the south end zone, more seats have to be added, increasing the cost.

"We think the Florida-Georgia game and the value of that to this community is probably worth the price tag of putting those seats back in," said Rick Catlett, president and CEO of the Gator Bowl Association.

The cost caused debate during the budget hearings, where Councilman John Crescimbeni said he was not aware of this at all when they approved the contract for the new scoreboards.

"It's either a breakdown of the ability for staff to do their job and present the right information -- maybe they knew what it was and did not want to tell us -- I don't know," Crescimbeni said. "But if we had any information back when we voted on the scoreboard and improvements, as Mr. (Bill) Gulliford said, we would've gone back to the negotiating table."

"The question to the City Council is, what is the value of that major sporting event to our community?" Catlett said.

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