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Photo by Joe Wilhelm Jr. - Clockwise from left, Alan Verlander, City Sports and Entertainment director; City Council members Richard Clark, Johnny Gaffney and Matt Schellenberg of the Special Committee on Oversight of the Sports Development Events Fun...
Jax Daily Record Wednesday, May 15, 201312:00 PM EST

City staff reviewing potential 2013 Navy-Marine Corps Classic

by: Joe Wilhelm Jr.

A City Council committee charged with reviewing how the City lost about $700,000 on the Navy-Marine Corps Classic basketball game found out Tuesday that despite a lack of answers, there is interest in another game later this year.

Looking at the financials of the Nov. 9 basketball game aboard the deck of the USS Bataan, Council member Matt Schellenberg said he assumed a 2013 game would not be played.

"I guess if anybody asks if we are going to do it this year, I suspect that we are already behind the 8-ball, so we are not going to do it," said Schellenberg, who serves as chair of the Council Committee on Oversight of the Sports Development Events Fund.

Council and committee member Richard Clark and City staff offered a different opinion.

"We should do it again," said Clark.

City Chief Financial Officer Ronnie Belton agreed.

During the meeting, City Sports and Entertainment Director Alan Verlander, provided an update on the possibility of a 2013 game.

"We are in conversations with teams. We haven't signed contracts," said Verlander.

Verlander on April 9 told the City Sports and Entertainment Board he planned to submit a recommendation for the game to Mayor Alvin Brown by April 24, but Tuesday said discussions with teams were ongoing.

The special committee was created to review the event, the ordinances and practices governing the use of the sports and entertainment fund and make appropriate recommendations for improved operational practices to ensure similar circumstances do not recur.

The 2012 Navy-Marine Corps Classic was developed as a celebration of the U.S. military and featured a basketball game and concert.

It was planned to have the game on a nuclear aircraft carrier with capacity for about 8,000 attendees. The Navy supplied a smaller ship for the game, which reduced the number attendees to about 3,500.

Organizers also were hopeful the fees from a title sponsor for the event would cover the loss in ticket sales, but a sponsor was never secured. Concessions also were fewer than expected because the game was stopped at halftime because of court condensation.

In total, it lost about $700,000.

"At what point did the administration or somebody decide to grab the money from the Sports and Entertainment Trust Fund to make up the deficit?" asked Schellenberg.

Meeting attendees could not provide an answer to the question, but established that the funds to cover the losses were pulled from the correct account.

"The (Sports and Entertainment Trust) Fund is designed to deal with projects like this," Belton said.

Clark agreed.

"Here is the difference. They probably would have only lost $150,000 had it been done the old way of sucking accounts from all over the City, where you never really knew (where the money was coming from). Now they did it correctly and we get to see what these events are really doing," said Clark.

"Have all of our events been losing money all along? Maybe it's a loss leader and we want to behave that way?" said Clark.

The committee asked the Office of the City Council Auditor to review other events to provide an answer.

The events include the 2012 Florida-Georgia game — the first major event organized by Verlander, who joined the mayor's staff in May 2012 — a University of Florida versus Florida State University baseball game and the 2008 ACC Fanfest and banquet.

"We have another meeting in two weeks, if we can bring (representatives from the Office of Economic Development) in here to figure out where they were in this and who the players were, and ultimately who above OED knew what was going on," said Schellenberg.

Clark said he also was interested in talking to staff that could provide answers regarding the development of the basketball game.

"I have thousands of questions, but none they are going to be able to answer for me right now," said Clark.

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