Jacksonville, FL - The final vote is all but set for Tuesday night, but Jacksonville’s city council still has some lingering questions to sort out before committing to funding $43 million of the proposed $63 million in improvements for EverBank Field.
“My basic question is how do we get a return on our investment,” says Councilman Stephen Joost.
Joost tells me he has several concerns, including whether the city will actually benefit from the improvements, or if it’s a lot of hope and talk. Specifically, he says one of the big selling points so far has been that these improvements will help bring in more events to the stadium in the future- like college football or Major League Soccer- but there are few actual guarantees, like in the proposed contract.
“At the end of the day, all you have is what the written word is,” he says.
Council President Bill Gulliford isn’t as concerned about bringing in events.
“One of the things we challenged SMG to do is to get better utilization of all of our facilities, and they’ve taken that challenge to heart,” he says.
But his concern stems from whether advertising dollars from those events will benefit anyone but the Jaguars.
During a special council meeting last week Jags Owner Shad Khan, President Mark Lamping and other team exec were on hand to begin answering some of the council’s questions. Lobbyist Paul Harden fielded a question regarding the revenue from the advertising on the new scoreboards.
Harden says the Jaguars retain most of that revenue, even for non-Jaguar events like Florida/Georgia. He believes this is a fair deal because he says most of the sponsors that pay to advertise on the board do so to have a relationship with the NFL specifically.
“We need to see if there might be an opportunity for a little bit of a compromise,” Gulliford says.
He wants some of that money to go directly back to the stadium itself rather than the football team. Councilman Ray Holt, during last week’s meeting, questioned whether non-Jags events which bring in sponsors would be able to financially benefit.
Harden says the team has always been flexible and will continue to be. If, for example, Jacksonville were to recruit an MLS team- which essentially plays during the Jags off-season- he says the city and MLS team would just have to come sit with the Jags to figure out how to divvy up the board and advertising revenue.
Joost tells me unless he gets some more of these guarantees in writing, he has hesitations about moving the bill, and its big price tag, forward. While the city does not plan to use any general fund dollars on this proposal, meaning spending on the stadium would not impact police or fire services, Joost says many in the area still view the proposal as a bad deal.
“How do you explain to the folks in Mandarin, where I can’t get the parks cut or the baseball lights fixed or the trees trimmed, but I’ve got $43 million to get a scoreboard,” he says.
Some more of these financial questions will be the focus of Tuesday’s meeting. Because of time constraints, the Council Auditor did not get to speak during last week’s special meeting. The council will meet again at 1 PM Tuesday to hear his perspective.
It’s expected the council, which is technically considered a special committee during this meeting, will vote the bill out and put it on the agenda for Tuesday night’s regularly scheduled Council meeting for its final vote.
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