Jacksonville, FL - It’s a $63 million plan that could improve the fan experience, increase ticket sales and help the city bring in other big ticket events.
And was under the microscope today.
“One more step to get us close to getting the project done,” says Jaguars Owner Shad Khan.
Khan, Jags President Mark Lamping and other team execs were before Jacksonville’s City Council this morning to answer questions and make the case for planned improvements to EverBank Field. The improvements include large, one-of-a-kind video boards, water features in a party deck at one end zone and similar changes. While initially the team branded the water features as “pools”, they took one step back when questioned about it today, instead saying they’re more comparable to fountains.
The Jags are shelling out $20 million to the city’s $43 million.
“I think we’ve got to stand behind this gentleman and this team,” says Council President Bill Gulliford.
The city plans to borrow that sum of money and pay off the long term loan through the “bed tax” or a special portion of tax on hotels that is already used for maintenance at the sports complex. One of the concerns by some councilmen up to this point is whether paying off this loan leaves enough money for other maintenance or needed improvements. A FAQ sheet distributed to the council today says the city Sports and Entertainment Department is confident there will be enough money left.
Khan kicked off the meeting with brief remarks and Lamping followed by making the case for the improvements. He says the stadium has deteriorated and, if there are no improvements, fans will have no incentive to come to the stadium itself and ticket sales will suffer.
“Nothing would solve some of our problems quicker than a better football team on the field, we know that. But we also know it’s not the only thing,” Lamping says.
He says the improvements will also help bring in other big ticket events to EverBank. Lamping told council members the BCS bid recently submitted already included the improvements and the Gator Bowl is also excited about the recruiting benefit of the rennovations, as an example.
But for some councilmen, there needs to be more than the prospect of other events in the future.
“What I don’t see is how the city of Jacksonville makes more money on the $43 million,” says Councilman Stephen Joost, who was the only person present to vote against discharging the bill.
Councilman Matt Schellenberg also started to question the cost of installing the additional stands needed every year for Florida/Georgia because building the “party deck” will mean removing some of the stadium seating. That question, and many others, were left hanging today because of time constraints on the meeting.
Jags lobbyist Paul Harden also addressed the council, saying we are at a “critical” time to make progress in this bill. He says voting to move forward soon means more time to solicit competitive bids and a lower chance that some of the events happening at EverBank during the offseason will throw the construction schedule off.
Ultimately, the special committee formed today discharged the bill from all the separate committees it was working through, but they have not yet formed a consensus on putting it up for a final vote. They will meet again Tuesday at 1 PM in an effort to get all of their questions answered in time to put the bill up for a final vote Tuesday night at the scheduled City Council meeting.
Despite the lingering questions and two-part debate, Khan says he is optimistic the project will be approved. He says it is the executive level’s main focus right now, although other “big projects” undertaken by Khan were alluded to today without any specific details.
He also tells us he hopes to put rumors about a team move, specifically to London, to rest.
“Deeds, not words, are what’s here- so just look at actions, they speak a lot louder than words,” he says.
Khan says the organization has put its money where its mouth is, and making this kind of investment personally wouldn’t happen if he wasn’t serious about his partnership with the city.