City Council is nearing a vote on renovation of EverBank Stadium. | Casmira Harrison, Jacksonville TodayCity Council is nearing a vote on renovation of EverBank Stadium. | Casmira Harrison, Jacksonville Today
City Council is nearing a vote on renovation of EverBank Stadium. | Casmira Harrison, Jacksonville Today

City Council slices community benefits from stadium deal

Published on June 20, 2024 at 5:29 pm

When City Council votes next week on renovating EverBank Stadium, money for the historically neglected Eastside and other neighborhoods won’t be part of the deal — for now, at least.

Council members agreed Thursday to split apart the Community Benefits Agreement in the stadium agreement. A $56 million city contribution to finish several parks projects will remain in the agreement, but $94 million for other community benefits will be pushed into separate legislation to consider later this summer, during budget season. 

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Also, the Jacksonville Jaguars have an eye on a piece of property the city owns on the riverfront. Jags owner Shad Khan may eventually want to develop the lot near Metropolitan Park into an “entertainment center.” For now, the property could be used as parking for stadium events, and the Jags are offering $25 million for a “right of first refusal” for six years. The city and the Jags are still working out details on that part of the larger stadium agreement.

Splitting up neighborhood funding

As originally proposed, the $1.4 billion stadium agreement included $300 million for community benefits. The city would pay $150 million up front, and the Jaguars would pay $5 million annually for the 30 years of the agreement.

The $150 million from the city included $56 million for parks projects; $50 million for workforce development, affordable housing and homeless initiatives countywide; $30 million for economic development Out East, including affordable housing and homelessness; and $14 million spread across all council districts.

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Now, $94 million of that will be considered later.

Outgoing council President Ron Salem said he has been “shouting from the rooftops” that the Community Benefits Agreement — referred to as the CBA for short — should be pushed past the deal negotiation process and into the budget discussions.

“I’m ecstatic with the White amendment,” Salem said of a recommendation by incoming council President Randy White to break apart the legislation. “I was always supportive of the park portion. The 56 (million) for those parks — I think they should be completed.”

But he said the rest of the funding really needs to be weighed against the coming year’s budget, as well as the city’s financial projections through 2027.

“Ladies and gentlemen, my council members, we need to see the ’24-’25 budget,” Salem said. “I’ve been saying that from Day One. … These are major dollars to just come out and say, ‘$30 million.’ We don’t know where it’s going to come from. We don’t know if we have those dollars.”

Salem noted strong support for the Eastside money — and he said he was touched by the outpouring of voices from the area who showed up at City Hall to speak about the need for funding there.

“We’re not delaying anything,” Salem said. “But we do not have a money tree in this city.”

District 11 Councilman Raul Arias said he also was compelled by people Out East, but he said he doesn’t see any specifics on how the countywide funding portion of the agreement will be used and he wants to have input on how it will benefit economic development. He echoed others in saying it was more fiscally responsible to sever the agreement and discuss it more fully.

“There’s a lot more work to do here with the CBA,” Arias said.

Others wanted the agreement to remain intact.

“I believe if we begin to sever this agreement, that it will be watered down,” said District 14 City Councilman Rahman Johnson, who voted against the amendment. “I, for one, believe that I have a responsibility to keep this agreement … undiluted so that it can do the work.” 

District 7 Councilman Jimmy Peluso also voted against splitting up funds, adding that he expects it will be difficult to explain to people Out East why that portion of the funding was pulled out of the legislation.

“Man, it’s going to be hard for them to understand,” Peluso said. “It’s going to be hard for a lot of folks to understand.”

In the end, only Johnson and Peluso voted against the amendment. Ten council members voted to support White’s suggestion; five members abstained due to potential conflicts of interest regarding the bill; and two members were absent from the meeting — council members Michael Boylan and Rory Diamond.

Future ‘entertainment center’?

Once the City Council finished discussion about the CBA, several presentations were given on other portions of the agreement. Those included the terms of a new proposed stadium lease with the Jags and a construction and development agreement for the renovation. They also included a parking agreement that spells out how the parking will be used, where it will be and how revenue and expenses from parking will be split between the parties.

Part of that agreement includes about 150 parking spaces on a slice of riverfront land owned by the city that Jags owner Shad Khan is eyeing for development into an “entertainment center,” according to Jags President Mark Lamping.

The Jaguars and the city are still in negotiations on details, but the Jags have offered the city $25 million up front for the right of first refusal to purchase the property near Metropolitan Park and the future Museum of Science & History building. 

At-large Group 3 Councilman Nick Howland asked Lamping about plans for the parcel.

“You know, we have felt for quite some time that Downtown could use an entertainment center,” Lamping said. “We believe that that will make the investment in the stadium provide a greater return to both the city and the Jaguars.”

Lamping said that was the basis of the original Lot J proposal and the need for Downtown entertainment has not changed since then. 

“The only thing that has changed is the cost of doing that project is looking a lot more expensive and the cost of financing that project a lot more,” Lamping said.

The city’s chief negotiator on the stadium deal, Mike Weinstein, said that was the reason for separating the lease from the parking agreement. 

“This is going to change, hopefully, pretty dramatically as we go forward,” Weinstein said. “The Jaguars have a right to park there, which is a substantial right. But they don’t have a right to necessarily develop there. I mean, so everything that — whatever happens going forward, we’re sort of tied together.”

The City Council will meet again at 9 a.m. Friday at City Hall to weigh the entire agreement with the Jaguars before an expected final vote on the agreement Tuesday. The meeting can be livestreamed here.

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

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