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City Council hires consultant as stadium talks near

Published on July 26, 2023 at 2:58 pm

The Jacksonville City Council will have its own representative for Jaguar stadium negotiations, which the city says are expected to begin next month.

The council voted Tuesday night to contract with Michael Huyghue of Michael Huyghue & Associates LLC, a sports and entertainment consulting firm based in Jacksonville.

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Huyghue, who teaches law at Cornell University in New York, has more than 30 years’ experience in the industry, getting his start running football operations for the Jaguars in 1994 — back when the team was new to the National Football League. He was later commissioner of the United Football League and more recently has worked with the National Football League overseeing diversity hiring.

The council agreed to set aside $150,000 to contract with Huyghue at a rate of $325 per hour. Any additional funding would need to go through council for approval. The 18-0 vote was unanimous among those who attended. Council Member Rory Diamond had an excused absence from the meeting.

Huyghue is expected to represent the council and keep the body informed as the city brokers a public funding deal with the Jaguars for the estimated $1.4 billion proposed stadium renovation and surrounding multiuse development.

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Council President Ron Salem introduced Huyghue to the council earlier this month. Salem explained that previous experiences, like the Lot J scenario, led him to believe that council needed someone to keep the legislative body informed. He stressed that Huyghue’s resume was stellar and time was of utmost importance.

That looks to be the case. The negotiations are expected to begin relatively soon, according to the city’s interim chief financial officer, Mike Weinstein.

Weinstein said the city has interviewed three law firms “with national expertise and national experience in dealing with this process many times over.” He added that he hopes to bring a representative of the chosen firm to a council meeting in August for introductions.

“We’d like to have the firm basically under contract within the next week or two and notify the Jaguars that we’d like to have our first formal meeting by the end of August,” Weinstein said. “That’s our schedule.”

The Jaguars announced the master plan back in June, releasing a video unveiling what the team called “the Stadium of the Future” — if a public-private partnership with the city comes to fruition.

According to the Jacksonville Daily Record, a investment summary from the city included what Jaguars President Mark Lamping said are rough cost estimates for the project. The document proposes the city pay $800 million to $934 million of the stadium cost and $75 million to $100 million for an adjacent mixed-use project.

There is $2 million in Mayor Donna Deegan’s proposed budget for the Office of General Counsel to hire special counsel to help negotiate the stadium deal. The budget next goes to the City Council Finance Committee on Aug. 10.

Councilman Jimmy Peluso asked for clarification on how the negotiations would work between the administration’s chosen firm and Huyghue.

Salem said the administration indicated to him that it would like to work with Huyghue.

“I believe the law firm will do the heavy lifting in terms of the negotiating,” Salem said, adding that Huyghue would work with them and bring info back to the council as a whole, rather than individually, so as not to run up the legal bill.

Salem stressed that what is most important to him is that the deal includes language that provides a fair-share benefit, not just immediately, but many years into the future.

“There’s so many potential sources of revenue through this stadium renovation that I can’t, at this point, believe or even imagine or understand five, 10 years from now,” Salem said. “I’m really counting on Mr. Huyghue and others to be able to identify those sources of revenue, put language in the lease to make sure that we are getting our fair share five, 10, 15 years from now.”

Huyghue assured council that his experience in law as well as knowledge of NFL “dynamics” will serve the city well — specifically in identifying sources of income.

“One small example is in the Chargers stadium deal,” Huyghue said. “Legal fees ran up over $750 million, that the owner of the team was required to pay, but the NFL paid the bulk of those fees. … Like rebates when you buy a car, there are a lot of those availabilities that the NFL will pick up.”

He said that’s one example of resources the council might not see on its own.

“That’s just one of a number of things that I think I will bring to this body,” Huyghue said. “To understand how you can put yourself in the position of not having to write an open check.”

Council member Terrence Freeman was one of several who spoke highly of Huyghue’s range of experience.

“Your resume does speak for itself and just hearing you talk about the history gives me … confidence,” Freeman said, adding that the council and mayor’s office work best when both work together. “I feel confident that we will have a piece on this … chessboard, and that’s going to be able to give us some insight.”


author image Reporter, Jacksonville Today

Casmira Harrison is a Jacksonville Today reporter focusing on local government in Duval County and surrounding areas.

Harrison can be reached at casmira@jaxtoday.org. You can also reach her on Facebook or on Twitter @CasmiraInJax.

author image Reporter, Jacksonville Today

Casmira Harrison is a Jacksonville Today reporter focusing on local government in Duval County and surrounding areas.

Harrison can be reached at casmira@jaxtoday.org. You can also reach her on Facebook or on Twitter @CasmiraInJax.