More than 69,000 people watched the Jaguars 2023 home opener at EverBank Stadium on Sunday, Sept. 17, 2023. In its Stadium of the Future proposal shared earlier this year, the Jaguars indicated the team would like to provide shade over every seat in the city owned stadium. | Will Brown, Jacksonville Today

UNF poll: 51% say Jags should pay for stadium renovation with no city funding

Published on September 18, 2023 at 12:49 pm

Jacksonville residents are mostly opposed to spending any of their money on the proposed billion-dollar-plus renovation of EverBank Stadium, according to the latest poll by the Public Opinion Research Lab (PORL) at the University of North Florida.

Still, many are willing to make concessions to keep the Jacksonville Jaguars in town, the poll showed.

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The Jacksonville-centric poll conducted by the Public Opinion Research Lab (PORL) at UNF posed questions on a range of topics to a sample of 511 registered Duval County voters, and was done from Sept. 12 to 15.

The poll shows that 51% want the Jaguars to buy the stadium site and pay for renovations and sports district development with no public investment. Just 6% support the $1 billion public investment currently being proposed by the Jaguars. The remaining 33% were split between $250 million and $500 million of public funds being spent on the upgrades, while 9% said they didn’t know or refused to answer.

But when asked whether they would support the city’s spending $1 billion if it meant the difference between the Jaguars staying in Jacksonville or moving out, 46% said yes and 47% said no. Even among those opposed to spending any public funds, 33% were willing to split the cost when faced with the possibility of losing the team. Of those who initially said they’d support only $250 million in public funds, 57% conceded to the higher cost when given this choice. And 72% of those who initially said $500 million changed their answer in support of a $1 billion investment.

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“It’s no wonder Duval County voters don’t want to foot the bill for stadium renovations, but what’s really interesting is their change of heart when given the ultimatum of a $1 billion public investment or the Jaguars walking away,” PORL faculty Director Michael Binder said in a news release. “This is just one of several reasons that local taxpayers are going to end up shelling out an enormous sum of money for this endeavor.”

When asked what was most important to them in a potential deal between the city and the Jaguars, 45% said community and economic investment in underserved neighborhoods. The chance to create more entertainment Downtown garnered 19%, while 17% said negotiating the smallest possible public investment was most important. Only 5% said minimizing construction time to ensure more games played at home, and just 4% said fixing the temperature problems in the stadium was the key desire, the UNF poll said.

Reflecting on the city’s past dealings with the team, like money to build practice fields, the Daily’s Place amphitheatre and other stadium upgrades, 41% of respondents said that previous public-private partnerships with the Jaguars and owner Shad Khan met their expectations for Downtown economic growth and development. Another 27% said those upgrades failed to meet their expectations, while only 9% said they exceeded their expectations.

“When it comes to the stadium and sports district deal, folks are mainly concerned with the economic benefit to the Downtown area and surrounding neighborhoods,” Binder said. “Voters seem relatively satisfied with the way other public investments like Daily’s Place and the new scoreboards have gone in the past, but study after study has shown that public investments in sports stadiums rarely benefit local economies, despite claims to the contrary.”

Other topics

When asked whether the city should remove all Confederate monuments from public spaces, 50% of respondents strongly or somewhat support that, while 42% strongly or somewhat oppose removal. And 8% said they don’t know or refused the question.

“In previous surveys we’ve seen a much more even split on the issue of Confederate monuments, but support for removal seems to be increasing,” Binder said. “As you’d expect, this is largely split along party lines, with 77% of Democrats in support and 73% of Republicans opposed.”

Support appears to be there for spending an estimated $380 million of public funds to build a new Duval County Jail and Sheriff’s Office HQ to replace the current locations Downtown, along with funds to immediately renovate the current facility due to capacity issues and disrepair. That poll question saw 52% supporting a new jail, with 27% strongly supporting and 26% somewhat supporting. But 40% expressed opposition, with 13% somewhat opposing and 27% strongly. And 8% said they didn’t know or refused to answer.

“The relatively high support for moving the jail and JSO offices away from Downtown, given the large estimated $380 million price tag, is rather surprising,” noted Binder.

Approval ratings for local officials

Job approvals for the new mayor and sheriff, plus the City Council and state attorney, were also requested in the UNF poll.

Mayor Donna Deegan garnered relatively high approval, 47%. Just 15% of those polled expressed disapproval, while 46% said they don’t know or refused to answer.

Approval was higher for Sheriff T.K. Waters, sworn in last November after a special election. There, 64% of those polled said they approve of the sheriff, 15% disapprove and 20% don’t know or refused. State Attorney Melissa Nelson’s job approval is also a net positive, with 31% approving and 13% disapproving, while 56% either didn’t know or refused. City Council’s ratings are more evenly split, with 39% approving, 30% disapproving, and 31% who don’t know or refused.

“Inside her first 100 days in office, Mayor Deegan’s approval is 32 percentage points higher than her disapproval, putting her well above water, even if a sizable group of voters aren’t sure yet,” Binder stated. “With almost a year in office, T.K. Waters has had more opportunity to make an impression — and it’s clearly a good one — with high approval ratings across party lines.”

The final open-ended question asked respondents what they thought was the most important problem facing Jacksonville. The answer: crime, at 36%, with housing costs and improving transportation and infrastructure in a distant second and third place, at 11% and 9%, respectively.

Crime has historically been the biggest problem in past surveys, Binder said, with homelessness becoming an emerging concern for Duval voters too.

Those polled were sourced from the Florida voter file and called between 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Lead photo: EverBank Stadium on Sept. 17, 2023 | Will Brown, Jacksonville Today

author image Reporter, WJCT News 89.9 Dan Scanlan is a veteran journalist with almost 40 years of experience in radio, television, and print reporting. He has worked at various stations in the Northeast and Jacksonville. Prior to joining the WJCT News team, Dan spent 34 years at The Florida Times-Union as a police and current affairs reporter.
author image Reporter, WJCT News 89.9 Dan Scanlan is a veteran journalist with almost 40 years of experience in radio, television, and print reporting. He has worked at various stations in the Northeast and Jacksonville. Prior to joining the WJCT News team, Dan spent 34 years at The Florida Times-Union as a police and current affairs reporter.

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