By: Mike Mendenhall
Jacksonville Jaguars President Mark Lamping said team owner Shad Khan’s $450 million mixed-use development Lot J “is dead” after the City Council failed to secure a 13-vote majority to approve a $245.3 million public incentives package for the project.
The 12-7 Council vote Jan. 12 rejected the proposed taxpayer investment in the entertainment and retail development west of TIAA Bank Field.
The deal was a partnership of Khan development company Gecko Investments LLC, The Cordish Companies of Baltimore and the city.
The deal required a two-thirds majority vote because $208 million of the incentives package was an amendment to the 2020-21 fiscal year budget.
Council members Joyce Morgan, Matt Carlucci, Garrett Dennis, Danny Becton, Al Ferraro, Randy DeFoor and President Tommy Hazouri voted against the deal.
The dissenting Council members pointed to an expected low return on investment for the city, lack of hard construction costs and a financial viability gap analysis being withheld by Cordish and what the public perceived as a lack of transparency in the deal.
The Council’s vote ends more than two years of negotiations between Mayor Lenny Curry’s administration and the development partners.
Those negotiations, which would have resulted in the largest taxpayer incentive package in a private development in the city’s history, have faced criticism by Duval County residents, community groups and watchdog organizations because of the amount of taxpayer dollars offered to Khan, who is a Forbes 400 List billionaire.
Lamping said Khan now will shift his focus to negotiation with the Downtown Investment Authority for his proposed Four Seasons hotel and medical, residential and retail development on the St. Johns riverfront at Metropolitan Park and the Shipyards.
“We’ve pulled the plug on Lot J. It’s dead, but it doesn’t change the way we started this,” Lamping said.
“We believe there’s three things we have to do to keep (NFL) football here in Northeast Florida for generations to come. That’s put a better football team on the field — there’s a lot of working going on in that front —to come up with a long-term stadium solution and help Downtown realize its full potential. Our belief in Downtown Jacksonville isn’t changing.”
Hazouri said in an interview after the meeting that he doesn’t blame the Jaguars for the deal’s perceived lack of transparency and placed it solely on the Curry Administration.
“I don’t understand why the mayor wasn’t transparent,” Hazouri said. “But it was the same way with the JEA (sale attempt), the same way with other issues. You learn by your past and, apparently, he doesn’t care. They cut the deal and we had to nickel-and-dime it to improve it. But that’s not how you do the biggest development project you’ve had in the city.”
The legislation — Ordinance 2020-0648 — would have authorized the city to issue $208 million in bond debt to pay for the city’s direct cash investment in Lot J that Council Auditor Kim Taylor estimated would have cost taxpayers $395.8 million with interest over 30 years.
Khan and Cordish wanted to anchor Lot J with a Live! Arena, bars and restaurants, retail and office space; two luxury midrise apartments and a boutique hotel.
After the vote, Curry tweeted that “the legislative body spoke and unfortunately Lot J will not move forward.”
“This sends a clear and negative message to economic development in our downtown and city,” Curry wrote. “Again, it’s unfortunate but Lot J will not happen. I look forward to continue working on all the needs of our city for all of our citizens.”