Jaguars President Mark Lamping said negotiations with the city on a development deal for Lot J next to the stadium are “very close” to finalizing a deal that could go to City Council with an eye toward ground-breaking in the spring.
Last July, Mayor Lenny Curry announced a financial framework for a development deal for the city to pay up to $233.3 million, including $208.3 million in hard money, for its share of the cost of building a miniature urban neighborhood anchored by an entertainment district.
The concept dates back to 2018 when Jaguars owner Shad Khan joined with the Cordish Companies, a national developer, on plans to bring new development to the area from the football stadium down to the St. Johns River.
Lot J would be the launch pad for the bigger vision. He said the estimated cost for the work at Lot J originally was about $500 million, but it has risen to near $700 million.
The question I get more than any other one is why aren’t there cranes there?” Lamping said. “Why aren’t we seeing that happen? The reason we don’t is we aren’t at that stage yet. We don’t have a project yet. We have a planned project.”
The area covered by the 1,400 space parking lot and a nearby retention pond would be converted into a miniature urban neighborhood with residential buildings, a hotel and an office building as part of a complex with a venue for restaurants and other entertainment.
Lamping said build-out would take about three and half years. Part of the development would involve cleaning up underground contamination and digging up buried debris, including old shipyard gantries, left over from the area’s industrial past.
Lamping also fielded questions during the editorial board meeting about the Jaguars’ plans for playing games in London and the future of TIAA Bank Field, including the prospect of some kind of cover that would give fans relief from the sun beating down in early-season home games.
The Jaguars have played one of their home games in London every year since 2012. That multi-year commitment runs through the 2020 season, and Lamping said the team wants to extend the agreement.
Asked whether that would mean two games in London per season, he said, “It’s possible.” He added that it might be two home games played in London.
“London has made the prospect of a stable NFL franchise here in Jacksonville greater,” he said.
As for games played at TIAA Bank Field, Lamping said fans having to sit in direct sunlight on hot days is taking a toll on the team’s ability to sell tickets.
“Certainly, people in general are more sensitive to being exposed to the sun than they were when the Jaguars arrived here 25 years ago,” he said. “No question, it’s a priority. It’s a major, major investment that would be necessary to do that.”
He said given the cost, the Jaguars want to focus on completing the Lot J development first. He said that will give the team time to engage with the city on what the future stadium needs are.
“We know that teams that find themselves in trouble have two things in common — they’re at the low end of the league in terms of local revenue, and they have a stadium issue,” he said. “The way to deal with that is to get way ahead of it, from our point of view.”
He said the Raiders, the Rams and Chargers are teams that recently dealt with stadium issues by moving to other cities for brand-new stadiums, but that’s not the game plan for the Jaguars.
“They took actions that devastated fan bases,” Lamping said. “They took actions that devastated communities. Not on our watch, OK.”
He said the goal would be to have the stadium outlook locked down three to four years before the team’s current lease expires with the city. That expiration date is 2030.
Lamping said the team’s terrible on-field performance has hurt the team’s local revenue.
“I can tell you there’s no way the organization can sit here today and look at their fans and say we’ve delivered the type of product on the field you’d expect,” he said.
Still, he said even after the Jaguars were riding high after making it to the conference championship game and sold 52,000 season tickets in 2018, the size of Jacksonville’s market limited the upside of that season.
“To sit back and say winning is going to cure everything — not in this market,” Lamping said.
He said playing in London and the Daily’s Place amphitheater, jointly financed by Khan and the city, have added revenue streams.
He said developing Lot J fits into that strategy “to make sure we have a stable NFL franchise in Jacksonville for as long as you can imagine. That’s the primary reason behind it. That’s tied to the goal to have a vibrant downtown Jacksonville.”
If a development deal for Lot J gets finalized by the developers and Mayor Lenny Curry, it would go next to the Downtown Investment Authority and then to City Council.
Lamping said the financial framework announced by Curry last July was a starting point for talks on hammering out a full development deal. In addition to new buildings, the deal would cover the cost of building streets, sidewalks and drainage for the project.
Lamping said the design and construction would factor in the prospect of rising seas from global warming. Jacksonville’s has miles of waterways, including the St. Johns River, that would be affected.
Lamping said the negotiations have gone through the mayor’s office because developing Lot J would require an amendment to the city’s lease with the Jaguars that sets aside the area for parking at Jaguars games.
The area around the stadium is part of a Federal Opportunity Zone that city officials successfully got designated in 2018 by then Gov. Rick Scott and the federal government.
The national program offers tax breaks to investors who put money into developing opportunity zones. The stadium area is one of several in Jacksonville that got designated.
Lamping said the Lot J development would not utilize the opportunity zone program, however.
He said the program is “really beneficial for projects that are looking for investors,” but “we’re not in that situation.”
He said Khan and the Cordish Companies, which would split the private investment on a 50-50 basis, already are able to finance their portions of the project.