Jacksonville rejects deal to fund Jaguars’ Lot J development
Jacksonville City Council on Tuesday rejected a $ 233 million development agreement with Jaguars owner Shad Khan to build his Lot J development project next to TIAA Bank Field, as the deal failed to overcome a barrage of criticism that it demanded too much from taxpayers and offered too little in return.
The surprising vote ended a hectic month for efforts to push through the deal, which faced growing opposition and scrutiny that derailed a final vote slated for before the end of the year. Although the deal looks set to be passed last week when it won 15 votes in a non-binding committee vote, he lost that momentum at Tuesday’s meeting.
Supporters of the bill defeated an attempt by Council Chairman Tommy Hazouri on Tuesday to withdraw a controversial $ 65.5 million interest-free loan from the deal, which Khan’s development team said was a necessary condition for them to build development.
However, their efforts were a Pyrrhic victory. Without the loan‘s cancellation, the deal lost supporters and died in a 12-7 vote, one short of the two-thirds majority it needed to pass.
Council members Danny Becton, Matt Carlucci, Randy DeFoor, Garrett Dennis, Al Ferraro, Hazouri and Joyce Morgan voted no.
“We can’t do the right thing the wrong way,” DeFoor said. “If we vote for this deal in its current form, we have not won the public’s trust.”
Hazouri said he still wanted the project to happen and advised Khan’s development team to negotiate a new deal with the Downtown Investment Authority. He blamed Mayor Lenny Curry for the failure of the deal, whose administration single-handedly negotiated it.
As the Jaguars could return to the negotiating table, Jaguars chairman Mark Lamping said after the meeting Khan was ready to move on and focus on shipyard development, the working name of ” another proposed project on neighboring land belonging to the city where Khan wants to build a Four Seasons hotel.
“I think it’s time to turn the page on Lot J,” Lamping said. “Our belief in downtown Jacksonville is not changing. Our commitment to be part of this process does not change. “
After the meeting, Curry posted a statement on social media suggesting the project was dead.
“This sends a clear and negative email message to the economic development of our downtown and our city. Again, it’s unfortunate but LOT J is not going to happen,” Curry wrote on Twitter.
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The development, which Khan wanted to build next to TIAA Bank Field, would have been anchored in an entertainment district made up of bars and restaurants. It would also have included two apartment buildings with 350 luxury units and a hotel with 125 rooms.
The deal was among the most lucrative the city has ever offered to give to a private developer, and it reportedly saw taxpayers providing developers with $ 208 million in cash.
The city reportedly took on debt to cover the payments, and the cost of interest pushed the total cost up to $ 390 million, according to council auditors. Council auditors also estimated that the city would have won 44 cents in new tax revenue for every $ 1 spent by the city, which is well below the target of $ 1 returned for every $ 1 spent in such public-private partnerships.
Supporters of the deal, which included Curry and a simple majority on the board, said they believed the project would spark a long-awaited downtown construction boom and help keep the Jaguars in Jacksonville. The team’s lease expires in 2030.
“It’s not the perfect deal, but under the circumstances we have to approve it tonight,” said Councilor Ron Salem.
The deal’s price and low return on investment drew criticism from board members and the general public, and board auditors also raised a number of concerns.
The Jaguars have agreed to some changes recommended by auditors, as well as a provision to impose charges on hotel rooms. The team also pledged to invest $ 2 million in a city-run trust fund that would invest in economic development in the adjacent Eastside neighborhood.
However, the Jaguars refused to concede one of the key financial terms of the deal and said they had no interest in renegotiating. The Jaguars also declined to provide internal documents showing their internal projections for construction costs and project benefits.
Although both Curry and the Jaguars have said the project will be a major step towards securing an extension of the football team’s lease, the Jaguars have refused to extend the lease as part of the deal. Instead, the team said the city should improve its stadium in order to convince NFL owners to approve a lease extension.
As Tuesday’s meeting approached, it emerged that the bill had only received five non-votes based on the previous week’s non-binding vote in committee. And while Hazouri’s attempt to withdraw the $ 65.5 million loan from the deal failed, the 12-7 vote was a harbinger that the bill was in danger.
In the last round of debate, doubts over the passage of the bill increased when council members announced their votes. His defeat was almost certain when City Councilor Garrett Dennis, who entered the meeting with a decisive vote, revealed he would vote against the bill.
Although Dennis has been critical of the bill and has a lengthy personal and political feud with Curry – the two were embroiled in a particularly nasty social media brawl earlier this year – Dennis was able to secure several amendments to the deal the most. last week, notably the Eastside Trust Fund.
But despite those gains, Dennis said he couldn’t ignore what he believed to be fundamental flaws in the deal and the people who negotiated it.
“Let’s face it. People don’t want this deal. People don’t want Lenny Curry’s poorly negotiated deal,” he said.