JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Additional details on the relationships between key participants are emerging as the city evaluates new bids to run city entertainment venues such as EverBank Field.
On Monday, the city's Professional Services Evaluation Committee recommended that Global Spectrum should get the contract. Incumbent SMG, the other company that bid on the contract, was the favored pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
SEE ALSO: SMG and Global Spectrum make final pitches
Spokesperson Michael Munz says SMG is responding with an appeal for reconsideration. Next, the full committee will make its own recommendation to the mayor.
Mayor Alvin Brown is good friends with William Gray III, a congressional lobbyist for Comcast, the company that owns Global Spectrum.
Before he was a lobbyist, Gray, a former Democratic congressman from Pennsylvania, served as co-chair of the $20 million Bush/Clinton Katrina Interfaith Fund, where Alvin Brown worked.
Gray and his family donated $2,000 to Brown's mayoral campaign, and Brown invited Gray to be the keynote speaker at his Interfaith Celebration in April.
Gray's name is also linked to a Florida Bar investigation of Alvin Brown regarding $27,600 in political donations that Alvin Brown made between 2005 and 2010. The campaign records listed him, erroneously, as attorney for the Law Office of William Gray. Neither man is an attorney. The Bar dismissed the complaint last July.
City Chief Financial Officer Ronnie Belton, who helped write the RFP (request for proposals) and sits on the subcommittee that evaluates bidders, has his own cross connections with the Jags ownership -- and, by default, SMG. In 1990, Belton joined Touchdown Jacksonville, Inc., the original group formed to bring an NFL team to Jacksonville. He and another member of that original group filed two lawsuits in 1995 saying they were forced out when the other owners, including Tom Petway and Wayne Weaver, formed a new company, "Touchdown Jacksonville Limited." The parties settled out of court and the court records were destroyed in 2006.
There is also a cross connection among the various players. William Gray's son, Justin Gray, is president and CEO of his father's lobbying firm, Gray Global Advisors. He is involved in the redevelopment of Laura Street Trio, a signature historic mixed-use project in downtown Jacksonville, which Jaguars owner Shahid Khan has offered to help finance.
Local lawyer and lobbyist Paul Harden helped craft the original lease agreement between the city and the team, and has since worked for both SMG and the Jacksonville Jaguars. He recently became a lobbyist for Shahid Khan and his company Flex-N-Gate.
Harden has overseen a mutually beneficial relationship between SMG and the Jaguars owners dating back to 1991, when SMG loaned $300,000 to the team's ownership group Touchdown Jacksonville, Inc. to help them woo the NFL. In return, the local powerhouses behind Touchdown Jacksonville promised to help SMG get the facilities management contract. The documents can be read here.
Since then, SMG has paid 15 percent of its annual contract revenues to Touchdown Jacksonville. The money initially went to repay the $300,000 loan, but as recently as 2005, the Jags gave Touchdown Jacksonville's principals about $130,000 a year, according to the documents.
For the past 20 years, SMG has operated the city's sports and entertainment centers without rebidding the contract it won in 1992. The city has renewed or extended the contract four times, but never re-bid until now.