Having been in the media for most of my life, and almost all of my professional life (I was a bartender before my first TV job), I’ve lost a lot of confidence in this profession. Between the election, the reporting on the pandemic, lockdowns and everything else, it’s hard to figure out who to believe.
I’ve always been kind of a news junkie, always looking for information to make up my own mind. “News” coverage seems anything but what it supposed to be. Every outlet has an opinion and an agenda and everybody these days, professional reporters and everybody else, has a platform. Social media has given voice to every person with an idea.
Which is why this Lot J situation has me confused. I’m not sure I believe anybody. Not the media, not politicians, pollsters, nor businessmen involved.
I watched as Mayor Lenny Curry, Jaguars Owner Shad Khan and his guy on the ground here, team President Mark Lamping, laid out the scheme with impressive graphics for the whole Lot J plan.
I liked everything about it. It’s vibrant, it’s supposed bring people downtown and start to revitalize that side of the river.
The problem, it seemed, as the plan was fleshed out and scrutinized, was how to pay for it? Who’s making the money and what does the city get for it? Public, private partnerships need to be easy for the public to understand with everything out in the open.
It’s a great looking plan, reminiscent of what happened in New England and other NFL towns near their stadium. A mixed-use spot with entertainment, restaurants, a hotel, apartments and parking garages.
We thought the way downtown would come back to life would start somewhere near the Main Street Bridge. Or somewhere around Hemming Park.
But if it’s Shad’s plan to work on downtown by starting at the stadium and marching west, then so be it. I’m all for hitching our wagon to Shad and seeing where he takes us.
I’m also all for Shad making money. Heck, I’m all for everybody making money. And as Times-Union columnist Mark Woods said earlier this week, having an NFL team and the accouterments that go with it is more valuable than just the dollars it may, or may not contribute to the local economy.
Keeping the Jaguars here is important on a lot of levels.
Mark also pointed out:
“And then there’s the almost comical nature of a franchise that hasn’t won a game since September getting impatient about this. In the two months since the Lot J deal was unveiled, the Jaguars have lost seven games, extending their losing streak to ten.”
It is almost comical. Winning at a 29% clip over the last eight years isn’t any way to build leverage.
What I don’t understand is why all of the cloak and dagger stuff around the whole development? While making a big show about the economic impact and how great this development would be for the city, there were some of the economics involved that, well, just didn’t seem right.
Perhaps the whole deal is on the up and up. Maybe it’s a way the city will continue to prosper and flourish at a new level, Shad will make money, and everybody will be happy. I sure hope that’s the case.
But all along, something just doesn’t feel right. I don’t know what it is, maybe it’s that little voice that Magnum used to hear in his head just saying some of the pieces don’t fit. Not enough transparency as Curry made the deal, supposedly on behalf of the city, with Khan and his development group.
This past Thursday the City Council said they didn’t want to push for the Lot J deal for a quick approval. You’ve got to agree with Council President Tommy Hazouri when he said, “If it’s going to take seven to nine years to build this project, what’s another two or three weeks?”
Using a Twitter storm to get his position out, Curry started babbling on about how the city needs to get this deal done, about how we had to decide if we wanted to be an NFL town or not. How we needed a decision by the end of the year and how if we didn’t have one, it would send a clear signal to everybody involved. It all sounded like a bunch of nonsense.
On top of this Lot J deal, Lamping threw out an opening salvo about how the team needed to have stadium improvements in place before signing a lease extension past 2030. I get how negotiations go. The city’s opening position should be, ‘OK, we’ll guarantee stadium improvements when a lease extension is signed.’ After all of that posturing, we all hope, and maybe they do as well, that they’ll meet somewhere near the middle.
And it all needs to be part of a big plan. Lot J, stadium improvements and a new lease all wrapped up in one big, happy deal.
It’ll be a very complicated deal, with tax credits, big loans, long-term payoffs and everybody getting somewhere near what they want.
What never has made sense to me is how these negotiations get played out in public here in Jacksonville. Do we ever hear about the Steelers and Pittsburgh squabbling about a lease extension or stadium improvements? The Chiefs and Kansas City? Chicago and the Bears?
The NFL is a business and good business deals benefit everybody involved. If we’re going to be an NFL city, we’ll have to pony up the money to keep improving the stadium and perhaps at some point, build a new one. That’s the price for playing in that arena.
So, where’s the Jaguars part in all of this? Shad’s ill-advised comments about fans “embracing” the idea of the Jaguars playing two home games in London were met appropriately with a “What?” Luckily, all of that was put on the shelf by the pandemic.
If playing a game in London ensures the financial well-being of the franchise here, that’s fine. Two home games over there won’t cut it. If the NFL wants to see what it’s like to have one team over there for more than one game, the Jaguars can figure out how to play a home game there and stay and play a game as the visitor.
As I’ve said before, oftentimes it feels like the Jaguars are an alien entity operating in our town. When was the last time somebody in management over there went to the Westside or the Northside? That’s where a lot of their ticket-buying fans live and you can learn a lot by hanging out there, talking to people, eating in their restaurants and knowing a little bit about the culture of our city.
Jaguars lobbyist Paul Harden (who has represented me in the past) said this week it was important to Shad to have a deal struck by the end of the year. He cited the changing tax code to “deal fatigue” among the reasons Khan wants an answer.
I can all too well remember the ups and downs of the chase for an NFL team. The times when it seemed dead. The times when Wayne Weaver didn’t see the support he needed and was calling the deal off. The times when some arbitrary deadline was set, only to be moved to see a deal through.
And they got it done.
I’m hoping Harden’s suggestion, that a lot of the issues we know about could be worked out before the council meeting this Tuesday, turns out to be true.
If they all went to the Westside and sat down in Leo’s or sat down in Cotton’s on Main Street and talked to some of the locals there, they’d get a feel for what makes this town tick. Then, on Tuesday they can have an open discussion about how it’s all going to play out.
Something we all can understand.
Something where everybody wins.