JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - We're hearing the city's sports and entertainment director say he takes responsibility for the mistakes made with the planning of the Navy/Marine Corps Classic basketball game in November that ended up costing the city nearly $750,000 after revenue did not meet projections.
"We had a lot of things we can improve on, I accept full responsibility of that," Verlander told me Tuesday morning.
The city's sports and entertainment board held a meeting this morning in part to discuss the issue of the Navy/Marine Corps Classic basketball game.
The city overestimated how much money it would bring in from the November game, which featured the Florida Gators and Georgetown Hoyas playing on the USS Bataan in Mayport, and as a result the city lost almost $750,000.
"We were disappointed to see it missed the mark by that much," says city council auditor Kirk Sherman.
The city's sports trust fund is nearly depleted as well, meaning future sports and entertainment events would likely have to be funded another way. In the five months since the game, the city has still not paid the vendors the $153,000 it owes them. City CFO Ronnie Belton told the Times-Union the city would be paying off the vendors this week.
The man charged with putting the game together was city sports and entertainment director Alan Verlander. He says this was his first time organizing an event of this magnitude or uniqueness, and with that he says came certain challenges you might not otherwise find in planning a sporting event. For example, Verlander says the cost of hiring someone to be an insurance consultant and make sure everything was up to par was very high.
In addition, the game only went for one half, which decreased the amount of merchandise, food, and other things sold during game time. Verlander says even something like transporting food back and forth between the ground, where it had to be cooked because of safety concerns with propane tanks on the ship, and the ship where it was kept warm created problems. Verlander says hindsight is always 20/20, and this is no different.
"I think with any event that you do, you learn a lot from it," said Verlander.
From a military standpoint, Verlander says he thinks the game was a complete success. He says the game did exactly what it was supposed to do, which was honor the military. And though he was tasked with overseeing the game, not everyone is convinced he's ultimately responsible.
"To say that the mayor did not have his hands in this deal and know what was going on...and passing the buck to Alan Verlander is not a leader," says councilman Matt Schellenberg. "The buck stops at the mayor's office. What happened and how Alan was perceived...as a scapegoat is not right."
Schellenberg says he's disappointed the mayor's office has not made a comment yet. The mayor's office told WOKV in an email Monday that the mayor was not available for comment but that they would contact us if someone was available to speak with us. We have not heard back from them.
Verlander says in the future some sort of event team needs to be organized that keeps each branch of government involved in the know. During their meeting Tuesday they also discussed how to more clearly define what the role of the sports and entertainment board is so there is no confusion about which responsibilities are whose. Some of the board members expressed concern that despite other arms of the government like the Office of Veterans and Military Affairs having a vested interest in the game, the board are the only people who are under fire for the things that went wrong. They say they hope the more clear definition of the board's role as well as the event team will help prevent that from happening again in the future.
We are reaching out to them again this morning for comment.