Moving RP Funding offices from Baymeadows is part of the plan for the proposed stadium complex.
There’s more than one goal for the Jacksonville Armada FC’s quest to build a new stadium near the Downtown Sports Complex.
The club’s proposed deal could bring along a corporate building for some of team owner and Florida entrepreneur Robert Palmer’s businesses.
Palmer is the founder of Maitland-based RP Funding Direct Mortgage Lender, HomeValue.com, Listing Power Tools and other business ventures based in Lake Mary.
RP Funding opened in Baymeadows in 2016 and leases 26,500 square feet of office space at 8381 Dix Ellis Trail in Prominence office park. It has 175 employees.
Armada President and General Manager Nathan Walter said in an interview Friday that Palmer hopes to relocate Robert Palmer Companies operations from Baymeadows to the new stadium complex.
Walter said the announcement is expected within a year, but he could not confirm which companies will expand or how many jobs will be created.
“Robert has three or four companies in what we would call expansion mode right now. Part of this deal would be to bring those companies into that facility as well,” Walter said.
“We have some nationally expanding facilities right now. Robert will be making those announcements here shortly. The idea is to host them there at the stadium office,” he said.
City Chief Administrative Officer Brian Hughes said Nov. 12 that Palmer is “developing new lines of business” that “may either expand here or move here.”
Palmer seems on board.
He posted renderings to social media last week showing the RP Funding logo on the office building attached to the proposed stadium.
The Armada deal could result in a $10 million capital investment in the city’s Eastside neighborhood, an area targeted by city and community leaders for reinvestment to provide jobs and services.
That’s another Armada goal.
Walter said choosing the site in the urban area near the Downtown Sports Complex was deliberate.
“We want to be an advocate for the community,” Walter said.
As well, officials in Mayor Lenny Curry’s administration want to be able to say Downtown prosperity is moving into the adjacent neighborhoods.
“It’s something that we were very interested in from a community standpoint and location,” Walter said.
The proposed Armada site is at a distance from TIAA Bank Field that creates separation as well as opportunity.
“We want to be part of the Sports Complex. That allows us to be part of the sports family but not be too deep into all the stuff that’s going to be happening at Lot J,” Walter said.
Just as Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan expects his proposed $450 million Lot J development at the stadium to be an economic catalyst for the city and Downtown, Walter said he hopes the soccer stadium can do the same for the Eastside and rejuvenate that area.
As a company, Walter said Jacksonville Armada FC would base 40 to 50 full-time employees at the complex to include players, general staff and coaching staff.
It also will bring more events to the area.
“We’ll be looking to host different sports. We have an academy affiliate. We want to host top academy affiliate games in the stadium,” Walter said.
Jacksonville Armada FC has been searching for a permanent home field since Palmer bought the soccer club from the National American Soccer League in July 2017.
The property agreement includes 29 parcels bounded by A. Philip Randolph Boulevard and Grant, Albert and Georgia streets to build a stadium with up to 10,000 seats and 175,000 square feet of commercial office space and other buildings for soccer and “other related ancillary” events.
A proposed option agreement between the city and Palmer company RP Sports Investments LLC made public Nov. 5 would reserve 5 acres of city-owned property northeast of the Downtown Sports Complex for the Armada to build a soccer stadium, breaking ground by January 2024.
A summary of the development terms provided by the city states that the stadium must be a minimum of 2,500 seats.
The complex also would provide 100 to 200 parking spaces.
RP Sports would be required to begin construction on the facility and parking by Jan. 31, 2024, and be substantially completed by July 31, 2025. If the company fails to meet the completion deadline, it will pay the city fair market value for the property.
There are procedural benchmarks before the stadium can break ground, including approval by City Council.
The Mayor’s Budget Review Committee approved a request Nov. 12 from the city’s Office of Economic Development to file legislation by Nov. 26 asking Council to approve the agreement.
The 5 acres is zoned for public buildings and facilities and needs to be rezoned for commercial use before the stadium can be built.
The city also will have to obtain consent from the University Athletic Association Inc. in Gainesville and the University of Georgia Athletic Association Inc. to exclude the property as available parking for the annual Florida-Georgia game.
Walter said the agreement will give the Armada time to conduct environmental site testing as well as draft a project proposal.
“The agreement allows us to do those things and make sure we do it right. But if things move forward with comfort and ease and there are not major concerns, we’ll be putting it (the stadium) in,” Walter said.
RP Sports will make a $5,000 payment to the city within three days of executing the agreement. After 30 days, the city would enter a purchase agreement for the property with RP Sports for $1.
The option would expire Jan. 31, 2023, if no action is taken. If RP Sports hasn’t closed on the property by Jan. 1, 2024, it will revert to the city.
The land option would mean stability for the Jacksonville soccer club, a mandatory bargaining chip as the Armada prepares a bid to join a top-tier professional U.S. soccer league.
The Armada is a U-23 soccer team, which is a club for players ages 15 to 24, in the National Premier Soccer League, but Palmer wants to grow.
The team was formed by the Sunshine Soccer Group in 2013 and joined the NASL.
The league took control of the Armada in February 2017 until Palmer bought the franchise.
The NASL then folded after the 2017 season.
“We made an announcement two years ago that we’re pulling the professional team out of the market until the stadium is built,” Walter said.
He said when the Armada starts conversations with a league will depend on having a stadium site ready to develop.
The Premier League is the fourth tier in the U.S. professional soccer hierarchy. The Armada wants to move into one of the three leagues governed by the United States Soccer Federation — USL League One, the USL Championship or Major League Soccer.
Walter said that $10 million-plus is the starting price for a majority of the soccer stadiums being built in the U.S.
The proposed Jacksonville stadium will be comparable to the home pitches of the Charleston Battery and Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC, said Jacksonville Armada FC spokesperson Morgan Purvis.
Highmark Stadium in Pittsburgh is a 5,000-seat complex completed in April 2013 for $10.2 million.
MUSC Health Stadium in Charleston, South Carolina, was sold in June for $6.48 million, according to the Charleston Regional Business Journal. The sale included the surrounding land, practice field and offices.
The 5,100-seat stadium was built in 1999 as Blackbaud Stadium.
“Before you choose a league you have to have a stadium site,” Walter said.
“This allows us to have a stadium site and go to a league and say, ‘Look, here’s our project. Here’s where we are. This is the opportunity here that we’ve got, is it of interest?’ That’s what it allows us to do.”
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