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A rendering of what the amphitheater and multipurpose indoor practice field could look like at EverBank Field. The amphitheater would be tucked between the stadium and practice facility and face north, away from the St. Johns River.
Jax Daily Record Tuesday, Dec. 1, 201512:00 PM EST

$90M upgrades at EverBank Field clear Finance Committee

by: David Chapman

After three or so hours of offense, defense and a time out, the proposed $90 million in EverBank Field improvements came out on top Monday.

The City Council Finance Committee by a 6-1 vote approved the slate of improvements that include new club seats and the construction of a multipurpose indoor practice facility and amphitheater at the Downtown stadium.

Three other committees will review the project today.

The first victory for the Jacksonville Jaguars and Mayor Lenny Curry’s team didn’t come quickly.

Questions like who would keep money from naming rights for the new city venues? The Jaguars would, as they have in past stadium-related deals.

How many events does the city get to host? Five, but more when it doesn’t conflict with other events.

And how exactly is the city paying for its $45 million share? A portion of the tourist-driven bed tax.

That last question was the crux for much of Monday’s debate.

A third of the bed tax would be dedicated toward the latest stadium improvements. That’s on top of the $43 million the city contributed toward the scoreboards and pools upgrades two years ago. The money is intended to be used for sports complex upgrades and maintenance.

In the past five years, the funding source has brought in $4.4 million to $6 million. Based on projected increases of 2 percent to 4.8 percent, it could be as much as $6.4 million to $7.3 million in five years.

Yet, dedicating so much for these upgrades had some council members questioning how much would remain for other maintenance needs for the city-owned facilities.

Charts show debt service payment on the all stadium-related projects sapping more than what’s available.

“I am just concerned about having nothing left,” said council Vice President Lori Boyer.

Mike Weinstein, Curry’s chief financial officer, said he was confident the bed tax will be “more than enough” to pay the debt service the projects would need.

The city would borrow the money, first through commercial paper while rates are extremely low — debt service wouldn’t hit all at once.

That would allow the bed tax-related fund to accumulate more money in the short-term.

Eventually, the projects would be bonded with fixed debt.

The bed tax is a “very volatile” tax source, said Council Auditor Kirk Sherman. However, there’s been strong growth in the past couple of years since the recession ended.

Sam Mousa, Curry’s chief administrative officer, told council members there would be a bill filed in legislation that could increase the amount headed to maintenance funds.

The city has not raised surcharge rates on tickets for events at the Veterans Memorial Arena and Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts since the mid-1990s. Both are $1, while the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville events have a 50-cent surcharge.

Along with rates for the multipurpose facility and amphitheater, Mousa said the bill would increase rates for those three city-owned facilities.

Such surcharges for the new facilities could generate up to $800,000, Mousa suggested, and include a biannual match by the Jaguars.

Estimates for the increases at the other venues weren’t available.

Mousa called the deal in place “pretty equal on both sides of the table,” but council member Danny Becton disagreed.

He didn’t like the parameters of the deal and peppered Curry administration officials with questions. Despite the 50/50 split for costs, a Jaguars subsidiary would operate and manage the amphitheater and keep all revenue earned from events it put on. It also would be responsible for the costs.

Likewise, the city would keep revenue and be responsible for costs for those events it put on.

Becton also didn’t like that the city received only five scheduled events. With 60 days’ notice to the team, the city can host other events.

You can’t analyze this deal based on how many events each entity put on, Mousa said — and any event in general would add to the city revenue.

Weinstein added that deals of this nature have to account for quality of life benefits and this is the “best package” for the city.

Both the practice facility and amphitheater would be owned by the city. Jaguars President Mark Lamping told the committee that team owner Shad Khan was putting money into the municipal venue because the long-term stability of the team depended on Downtown development.

Still, Becton pushed for a more equitable split. A 50/50 deal should have 50/50 splits of revenue and costs. He was the only one who favored the idea and his push to amend the deal fell flat when no other committee member seconded it.

Becton ended up the lone vote of opposition.

Others will have their chance today in Rules; Recreation, Community Development, Public Health and Safety; and Land Use and Zoning.

It is scheduled for a full vote next Tuesday and, if it passes, construction would start just after the New Year and be ready in time for next football season.

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