JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Mayor Lenny Curry threw his support behind a $120 million athletic complex for the Jacksonville Jaguars by filing legislation that would have the city and the team split the cost of building it on a 50-50 basis.
The bill, which officially will enter City Council's legislative cycle on Tuesday, could serve as the first phase of the Jaguars' plan for a "stadium of the future" by giving a place for coaches to meet and players to train during wholesale renovation of the football stadium that will still be in the planning stage for a few years.
The flip side is that if the city and Jaguars fail to reach an extension of the stadium lease that expires in 2030 and the team moved elsewhere, the city would be left with a costly complex of playing fields and building space without an NFL team to use them as intended by the proposed partnership.
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The Curry administration views the athletic complex as step one toward eventual renovation of the stadium.
“We see the sports complex as an integral first phase of what will eventually be a revamp of the stadium," city Chief Administrative Officer Brian Hughes said in a statement. "When that happens, we will look at an extension (of the lease) for the stadium. In addition, we have a number of components in this legislation that provide the city assurances of a long-term benefit.”
Jaguars representatives have said repeatedly the team intends to remain in Jacksonville and they point to investments owner Shad Khan has been making in the city as evidence he is in it for the long haul.
The proposal for the athletic complex, which the city calls a "sports performance center," would have Khan put up $60 million of its cost. If the complex ends up costing more than $120 million, the Jaguars would be solely responsible for paying anything above that amount.
Jaguars President Mark Lamping said if City Council approves the legislation, the Jaguars would want to start construction in January and the goal would be to open it before the team's 2023 season.
He said the team simultaneously will be working with the city and others to come up with a long-term plan for the city-owned football stadium. He noted that the Jaguar's current lease of the stadium would carry through the 2029 season.
Lamping said in order to have a long-term lease extension, it's crucial to first come up with a "stadium of the future solution that will support NFL football in Northeast Florida for generations to come."
"This planning process will take several years to complete and involve many people along the way, including our many friends and neighbors who attended the community huddles we held throughout Jacksonville in June and will continue to offer in the future," Lamping said in a statement.
"We’re very optimistic that a stadium solution can be reached that will benefit all stakeholders, above all Jaguars fans and all guests who attend sports and entertainment events," Lamping said.
For the sports performance center, the city would be the owner of the facility and would lease it to the Jaguars for a 30-year period at a cost of $100 per year with two 10-year renewal options.
The Jaguars would be responsible for maintaining the building and grounds and paying for operating expenses.
Complex would be "new community asset"
The Curry administration says the athletic complex next to TIAA Bank Field would make the Jaguars a more competitive NFL team so it can attract more fans to football games, enhance the health and safety of Jaguars players, and create a "new community asset" for the city, according to a legislative fact sheet given to City Council.
Jaguars head coach Urban Meyer has been a booster for the complex, saying it's part of the "culture of excellence" the team is seeking for the franchise. Meyer is in his first season as head coach of the Jaguars, who are coming off a 1-15 season.
The center would consist of an indoor playing field and two grass-covered outdoor fields that would have 2,300-seat bleachers for fans. Concession facilities and a team store would be at the site. The Jaguars would be able to sell concession items, merchandise and tickets at the performance center.
A 127,087 square foot building would have office space for executives, coaches, football support operations, and scouts. The building would have rooms for equipment, meetings, weight training, and medical care.
When Khan unveiled the proposal on June 3, Lamping said shifting operations that are now inside the stadium to the performance center would enable the Jaguars to keep playing games at TIAA Bank Field during a future stadium renovation.
Lamping said the evaluation for the "stadium of the future" has already shown the existing stadium's condition would allow renovation of it, which means the cost will be hundreds of millions of dollars less than building a new stadium. The Jaguars want a renovation to include providing some kind of cover that will give fans relief from the blazing sun during games at the start of the season.
The legislation filed by Curry would amend the lease the city has had with the Jaguars since 1993 by adding the sports performance center to it. Over the years, some City Council members have argued that if the city is putting more taxpayer money into projects that support the Jaguars, that should come with an extension of the stadium lease beyond 2030.
A stadium lease extension came up recently in City Council debate that rejected a proposal by Khan and The Cordish Companies to build an entertainment center on Lot J by the stadium. In that case, the council voted 12-7 in favor of the development deal but it fell one vote short of the super-majority needed because it would have amended the city's capital improvement budget in the middle of the fiscal year.
As City Council prepares for a vote on the proposed sports performance center, Lamping pointed to the $60 million Khan would be putting into it.
"While we continue to work toward a long-term stadium solution, Shad continues to illustrate his long-term commitment to Jacksonville and building a winning tradition with the Jaguars by agreeing to a long-term lease for the performance facility in downtown Jacksonville through at least the 2053 season," Lamping said.
Khan also is seeking through his development firm Iguana Investments to get city support for building a Four Seasons hotel on the downtown riverfront in the sports complex area. That proposal is separate from the legislation for the sports performance center.
Lamping said the Four Seasons development would involve at least a $300 million investment by Khan and when that's combined with his financial stake in the athletic complex, his commitment "to the community and its residents, and the team and our fans, is clear."
The performance center would be the second time in six years that the city has put money into aiding the Jaguars with the team's practice facilities.
Curry and City Council agreed in 2015 to equally split the $90 million cost of building an indoor practice filed along with an amphitheater and upgrades to the stadium's club seat section.
The indoor filed, called a "flex field," was built as part of the structure that contains the Daily's Place Amphitheater. If the city and Jaguars build the new performance center, then the city parks department would be able to use the flex field portion year-round for its events.