Jaguars owner Shad Khan and president Mark Lamping told the Times-Union on Saturday they expect to get approval for the development of Lot J by January and anticipate ground-breaking to begin by the end of the 2020 first quarter.
Khan said the Lot J development, viewed as the city’s most significant centerpiece in a decades-old battle to build up downtown Jacksonville, is necessary to break a negative historical trend.
“This has been like a 50-year objective in Jacksonville to do something downtown,” Khan said. “I’ve talked to enough people. We are probably as anxious as anybody to break this curse and get something going.”
In a wide-ranging, 17-minute interview with the Times-Union and jaguars.com from his London hotel, Khan also shared his thoughts on the Jaguars’ drama-filled 2019 season, extending the contract (it expires after the 2020 game) to play at least one home game in London each year and hosting more mega-events at the stadium like a Rolling Stones concert and a soccer friendly involving the U.S. Women’s World Cup champion.
But Khan’s strongest opinions were about Lot J and how it could bring a new energy to Jacksonville and revive downtown.
Three months ago, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry announced a tentative deal for the city to pay up to $233.03 million toward the cost of Khan’s proposed $450 million development on parking Lot J next to TIAA Bank Field, but there’s no agreement yet in place.
Curry said at the July 31 announcement that the Lot J development would “position Jacksonville for world-class events that we simply cannot compete for today.”
Khan’s development team, which includes The Cordish Companies as a partner, would build the entertainment district containing restaurants, bars, a 300-unit luxury high-rise tower, a 200-room boutique hotel, an office tower and outdoor stage, though the plan does have flexibility.
Khan was especially passionate about building a high-end hotel on the river to serve as a focal point of a revived downtown area. His group is talking with three hotel operator candidates about being part of the Lot J development and remains hopeful another five-star hotel can be built if a Hart Bridge overpass comes to fruition.
“We definitely want to have a better hotel experience than we do right now in Jacksonville,” said Khan. “I get that all the time from executives who come in and leave town. It would be a higher hotel [on Lot J] than what we have [in Jacksonville].
“I think the ultimate thing is, we would like to envision a Four Seasons. That’s what we’re targeting on the river once the [Hart Bridge] overpass comes in. That’s going to define the city. Really, what a difference that would make to have people come in who are going to stay in the city.
“Right now, the decision-makers, the influencers want to come to Jacksonville for business and get the hell out of there. It’s bad for the image, and it’s bad for business.”
Khan relayed a story from an unidentified executive who stayed in Jacksonville but left unsatisfied with his hotel accommodations.
“He goes and comes to Jacksonville, and he says [the hotel experience] is the worst part of my thing,” Khan said. “I could stay there a week, but I only want to stay two nights.”
“We want to get out of the bottom quartile of the league,” said Lamping. “Next year, three teams [Los Angeles Rams, Los Angeles Chargers and Oakland Raiders, who are going to Las Vegas] that were in the bottom quartile with us are all moving into new stadiums.”
As important as the Lot J development is for the Jaguars and the city, Khan cautioned it’s “a journey of many steps. I think it’s a critical step, but there’s no magic silver bullet.”
Khan reiterated that enhancing the Jaguars’ local revenue begins with continuing to play at least one regular-season home game in London. The team is currently in negotiations with the NFL to extend the contract beyond 2020. Khan didn’t rule out taking a second home game overseas, contingent upon the agreement terms and length of the extension. The only extension after the first three-year deal, signed in 2014, was a five-year extension.
“I think we definitely want to extend,” Khan said. “I think it’s worked great for us. Frankly, I can’t imagine not having it, the value it’s added for Jacksonville. We’re talking to the league, and I’m very optimistic we’re going to get an extension.”
Khan added he hopes staging non-football events at the stadium like the Rolling Stones concert last year, the Women’s World Cup friendly on Nov. 10 between the United States and Costa Rica and the Green Day concert next August will become an annual trend, which also helps the Jaguars’ bottom line.
“What’s driven this for us is we want to give the community a different experience,” Khan said. “That’s why we’re playing games here in London. The community can’t support selling out eight [regular-season home] games. So maybe there’s something else we can do so the hot-dog vendors, the hotel rooms, all the stakeholders who make a living off the games [can benefit].”
“No, I don’t live in Jacksonville,” said Khan. “I think both of these are going to be voted on, and we’ll leave it up to the people who vote in Jacksonville to decide.”
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