Jacksonville, FL - They’re still not completely sure it’s the best investment, but Jacksonville’s City Council knows it’s the right deal to make.
By a 14-2 vote, Council has given the final OK to funding improvements to EverBank Field.
“I really think that we were able to resolve most of the concerns that I had,” says Councilwoman Lori Boyer.
Much of that resolution came in the several hours leading up to the scheduled full council meeting, when the body really dived into numbers.
The plan has Jacksonville take out a long term loan and pay that back through a dedicated revenue stream that comes from hotels and visitors and is already used for improvements in the sports complex. One big question centered around the interest that would build on that loan- which is expected to take about 30 years to pay off. Councilman John Crescimbeni wanted to fix the rate that the city will pay back the loan, but that was met with opposition from the Treasury Department. Councilman Matt Schellenberg wants to leave the amount flexible so the city can get the best deal, but wants that deal to start now.
“The longer we wait to go out, the more vulnerable we are to interest rates going up,” he says.
Whether the city would have enough money to cover needed improvements and if, in fact, the plan took any money from the general fund- which is the pot of money from which funding is drawn for police, libraries and other city services- were other points of contention.
While the administration maintains this will not touch the general fund, City Council uncovered a few gray areas. Specifically because the proposed North End Zone party deck would remove seats, the city has to pay to have them temporarily installed every year for certain events like Florida/Georgia. The seats that are added on up to this point are paid for through the general fund, and the administration couldn’t offer any alternative revenue at this time for getting even more seats added on.
“They [the administration] have to find a way to supplement that number without coming out of the general fund,” Schellenberg says.
The Council Auditor estimates the additional cost will be around $376,200 each year to build the North End Zone seats. Roughly $270,000 is spent each year on additional South End Zone seating.
Another question arose over maintenance of the “water features” being built at the stadium. Under the proposal, the city would have been responsible for maintaining them, which is a unique cost that previously did not exist and, therefore, had no designated funding line. The Jaguars stepped up to offer to pay that ongoing cost.
The water features and party deck are just the beginning of the improvements. EverBank would also have the largest videoboards in the NFL under the proposed renovations. The Jags maintain these improvements help them attract fans to the stadium and keep them there. The City also touts the potential to use the improvements as a tool to recruit other big events, like soccer, to the city.
“Stadiums, ball fields, all of these parks are becoming multi-use facilities and it’s becoming very competitive to try to draw events to big cities,” says Councilman Richard Clark.
Councilman Stephen Joost says he is an avid Jaguars fan, but wanted assurances built in to this deal that the Jags wouldn’t be moving at any point in the near future.
“I support improvements, I think we should improve our stadium, but when we spend $43 million, I think we should get a little back in return,” he says.
His concern was not a move to London, so much as nearby suburbs- which we’ve seen with the Atlanta Braves this week. He says the draws provided by Clay or St. Johns counties, and their abilities to sustain the team with local revenue are very strong- so Duval needs to protect against that.
Joost and Councilman Don Redman voted against the proposal, Councilman Greg Anderson abstained because of a potential conflict of interest, and Councilman Reggie Brown and Councilwoman Kimberly Daniels were excused absent.
Construction is now slated to begin in January, with completion scheduled for July ahead of the next Jags season.