JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – As the focus for the Jaguars concentrates on the team's improvement on the field, the backdrop at the stadium continues to be hammering and building as workers race against the calendar to have improvements done before the season starts.
“That extra week in August because our first preseason game is on the road is a big help,” Jaguars President Mark Lamping said about the construction schedule.
With all of the things they’re doing and plan to do at the stadium, Jaguars owner Shad Khan was leaning on Lamping’s expertise getting the new Busch Field in St. Louis and the stadium in New Jersey built when he brought him to Jacksonville.
Khan’s renovation of the weight room and the locker room were just preludes to the major projects he envisioned that are now becoming reality.
“We listened to the fans,” Khan said. “Not just here in Jacksonville but all over the world. What do they want, how to they want to watch a game? What kind of experience to they expect? All of those things when we started this project.”
It’s clear that watching the game in Jacksonville is different than almost every other NFL city. Fans want to have different experiences throughout the day.
“If you’re going to commit seven, eight hours to coming to the stadium, you need to enjoy it,” Jaguars director of sales Chad Johnson explained. “You have numerous different things and experiences you can find at the stadium and that’s what our fans want.”
Johnson’s comments came was he was standing in the nearly-completed loggia area of the south end zone, an “add-on” experience that’s unique to Jacksonville.
“You’ll be right here, just about on the field when the players are introduced and when the game is going on. You can’t get that anywhere else.”
As they complete Phase 1 of this current project, the East and West Clubs, as well as the interior of the south end zone will be completely different. In fact, the two clubs are distinct from each other.
“Why not?” Khan said, standing in the east club, when asked about the difference between the two. “The west side will be more of an upscale, urban feel. This one will be younger, hipper, more beachy. We have two different, distinct clienteles that are looking for two different experiences.”
From his time in baseball with the Cardinals, Lamping sees plenty of similarities between watching that sport in St. Louis and football in Jacksonville.
“It’s a lot like what baseball fans want. The ballpark, or in this case the stadium should be a place that has a unique feel, a unique look that belongs to the city. The fans should feel a part of it represents them,” Lamping said drawing the comparisons between the two different fan bases. “We’ve connected them with their digital needs without having them sitting and staring at their smartphones and running up $160 of charges during the game.”
Between the indoor and outdoor spaces, the pools, the party deck, the WiFI and the digital boards within quick view no matter where you are, Jaguars fans will be able to keep track of their “other” team or their fantasy roster constantly.
“That’s something that’s unique to our market,” Lamping said. “You wouldn’t show Eagles highlights to Giants fans, but here in Jacksonville we realize that while everybody wants to the Jaguars to win, most have come here from somewhere else and have another favorite team as well.”
They’re still fine tuning some of the details of Phase 1, like deciding what kind of structure the players will run through when the enter the field from the south end zone, but it’ll be ready when fans show up on August 20 to face Tampa Bay in the second preseason game of the year. After that, Phase 2 will begin on the outside of the south end of the stadium, the long-awaited amphitheater and indoor practice facility they’re calling the “flex-field.”
“That’s going to be something special,” Khan said with a smile adding that they had just finished approving the design of the project. “It’s going to be something iconic, a signature for Jacksonville that will be instantly recognizable.”
Spring, 2017 is the target date for completion of the south end zone project. It will be open for plenty of events before it’s ever used as an indoor football field.
Once that’s done, Khan has plans for the Shipyards project, probably starting a little east of the actual shipyard property with a luxury hotel, a walk-bridge to the stadium, public spaces, some retail, a spot for the USS Adams and, maybe, even docking space for Shad’s mega yacht “Kismet.”
As he says, “You can’t sit on the status quo. If you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backward.”