Jacksonville, FL (December 8, 2015) Bill 2015-781 was passed to support the partnership agreement with the Jacksonville Jaguars, to spend $90 million to reconstruct the East and West Club Seats, build a new Amphitheater, and to build a Covered Flex Field practice facility next to the stadium. The ordinance called for each party to contribute $45 million with the Jaguars in charge of design and construction and the city having oversight and approval rights.
In vetting this Bill, District 11 City Council Member Danny Becton serving on the City’s Finance and Land Use and Zoning (LUZ) Committees was on the offensive in looking to get the best deal possible for the city. Having concerns regarding the affordability, future maintenance costs and how the depletion of funds would affect other city venues, his push back with intense questioning and committee votes of 6-1 on Finance and 5-1 on LUZ proved to be a hill too steep to climb, as CM Becton was unsupported by his fellow colleagues or the administration during these debates.
The city is generating funds from Ordinance 2009-817 that dedicates 2 cents of the 6 cent bed tax as previously named the “Convention Development Tax”. This tax having originally been used to pay off the Prime Osborn Convention Center is now by definition used for capital maintenance, upkeep for the sport complex (Everbank field, Arena and the Baseball Stadium) along with previous modifications to include the debt service of the scoreboards per Ordinance 2013-694. This tax having brought in approximately $6 million dollars in 2014-15 is scheduled to pay approximately $3.4 million of those dollars for the next 15 years in debt service for the scoreboards. Leaving only approximately $2.6 million, which it’s those dollars being targeted.
The thought behind these expenditures is to meet the ever escalating demands of fans and the league to expand the game-day experience. It is less expensive to make these changes than to leave the stadium as is, only to have to construct a new state-of-the-art facility within the next decade.
The Covered Flex Field will not only be used by the team to practice during bad weather, but it can also be used as an event venue. It is foreseen that when the 4,000 to 5,000 seat amphitheater is constructed, home games will not be just a game day affair. Concerts could be scheduled the night before the game and events planned for the Covered Flex Field to encourage visiting fans to make Jacksonville an entertainment destination for an entire weekend.
The contract calls for the Jaguars to be the primary booking agent for these events. The city can produce events at the venues as long as they do not conflict with planned Jaguar uses. Proceeds from Jaguars promoted events will go to the team.
It was this arrangement and the lack of future capital maintenance dollars that bothered CM Becton. During debate whereby he fought for the city to press for a better deal, he argued that the city was using all of the revenue leaving little to nothing for capital maintenance. Also a concern that the city was not getting its share of guaranteed event dates and use of the new facilities.
The argument in defense of the lack of perceived revenues, the City of Jacksonville receives ticket surcharge revenue from all venues. In this agreement, ticket surcharge revenue from the Amphitheater and Covered Flex Field will be matched by the Jaguars or the Event Company. These dollars unfortunately can only to be used for maintenance to those specific facilities. CM Becton concern, “What dollars will be left to maintain those other venues that will require badly needed capital maintenance repairs”?
In addition, the changes to Everbank field are substantial and posed a few problems. The club seat redesign will remove approximately 5,000 seats. The removal of those seats will cause problems with other contracted events as seat guarantees for the annual Florida-Georgia game and the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl will require more temporary seating to be installed. These changes will increase the cost to the City of Jacksonville, “Where will these dollars be allocated from”? asked CM Becton.
“At the end of the day, we left a better deal for the City of Jacksonville and the taxpayers on the table,” CM Becton said. It needs to be stated that CM Becton is a longtime team supporter and has been a season ticket holder since inception, having never missed a game in the twenty seasons of the team. “It is my role to make sure that the dollars and cents add up on deals like this”, explained CM Becton. “Making sure that future projections are realistic and that our sports and entertainment costs do not dip further into the General Revenue fund to make up the difference”. As the final vote came to the full council, the Bill passed 19-0. CM Becton supporting the final Bill was quoted as saying “I fought a good fight in trying to make a better deal and highlighting the concerns about future costs. But with the lack of support, I have done what I can. My final vote in favor of this bill is reflective of my belief that this project and upgrades are the right move for the city”.