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Jax Daily Record Wednesday, Oct. 14, 202005:11 AM EST

Incomplete parking deal holds up Lot J legislation

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City Council President Tommy Hazouri declined to introduce the bill Oct. 13 because of the “procedural problem.”
by: Mike Mendenhall Staff Writer

A missing parking agreement caused City Council President Tommy Hazouri to pause introduction of legislation authorizing taxpayer funding for the Jacksonville Jaguars’ $445 million Lot J development.

City Council was scheduled to take the procedural action Oct. 13 to introduce Ordinance 2020-648 that would allow Mayor Lenny Curry’s administration to borrow $208.3 million in fixed-rate debt and the city’s commercial paper program — a short-term liquidity loan option — to finance the city’s share of the Lot J project. 

Curry’s staff included an economic development agreement with the bill but has not reached final terms for a parking agreement between the city and the Jaguars’ development team.

Deputy General Counsel Margaret Sidman told Council members that excluding the parking agreement could violate Council rules that state a bill must be filed with all supporting documentation.

Hazouri considered waiving the rule to keep the bill moving forward but said holding the bill was out of respect for Council rules.

“I am extremely, extremely disappointed that the administration brought this bill to us incomplete,” Hazouri said. “You can’t file a bill under our rules without it being complete. That’s the key. That is a procedural problem.”

Jaguars owner Shad Khan wants to build a mixed-use project with offices, apartments, a hotel, retail and entertainment venues west of TIAA Bank Field Downtown. Lot J is a joint venture of the city, Jacksonville Jaguars affiliate Gecko Investments and The Cordish Companies of Baltimore.

Holding the bill could impact the timeline Hazouri set for a Council committee of the whole to debate the bill and make it to a final vote by Nov. 10. 

Hazouri could call a special Council meeting to introduce the legislation before the next regular meeting Oct. 27, but he has not made that decision.

Under the deal with the Jaguars, the city would pay for $77.4 million for infrastructure improvements including a 700-space surface parking lot and parking garages totaling 700 spaces.

The parking agreement will be a significant portion of the city’s revenue from the Lot J project, which made its omission Oct. 13 a sticking point for many Council members.

Rules Committee Chair Brenda Priestly Jackson argued the missing parking agreement would constitute a lack of due process, if the Council had approved the bill’s introduction and first reading Oct. 13.

“The first reading notice is not for the Council, it’s for the public. We serve the public. It’s not for us. I would make an argument that it’s insufficient notice to the public if all the documents are not there. It doesn’t conform to the Council’s rules,” Priestly Jackson said. 

Council members LeAnna Cumber and Ron Salem said they didn’t think the incomplete agreement should keep the Council from introducing the bill.

Council member Matt Carlucci was concerned that the Council Auditor would not have sufficient time to review the Lot J bill and hold to Hazouri’s timeline if it was not introduced Oct. 13.

Carlucci, who is Council Finance Committee chair, criticized the Curry administration for not completing the bill before filing the legislation. 

“They certainly need to brush up on their PR skills on introducing major legislation. This has not been very smooth and it makes our job more difficult to a very cynical public,” Carlucci said.

Curry’s Chief of Staff Jordan Elsbury said administration officials cleared the bill by the General Counsel’s Office Chief Governmental Operations John Sawyer before filing and questioned Sidman’s opinion.

“He felt confident, worked with legislative services, that this was a sufficient piece of legislation to file. It’s a little shocking to me that another person from General Counsel’s Office is now saying that it’s potentially not a complete piece of legislation. That’s news to us,” Elsbury said.

According to Elsbury, the Curry administration is not “forcing a six-week cycle” for the bill and welcomes giving Council and the public time to review the deal.

“We confident that both the auditors, the public and City Council will have the time they need and all the legislation in front of them to consider,” Elsbury said.

In addition to the infrastructure, Curry is asking for city debt to pay $50 million of the proposed $100 million Live! District entertainment venue that will be owned by the city. The proposed bill says the Live! District will have 75,000 square feet of restaurant and retail space and 40,000 square feet of Class A office space.

The city would be responsible for up to $15.1 million in cost overruns for the publicly owned portions of the Lot J project. That expense is factored into the debt financing in the bill. 

The developer would pay for all other project cost overruns. Cost overruns could bring the total city investment to $233.1 million.

The bill also offers a 20-year, 75% market rate Recapture Enhanced Value Grant up to $12.5 million on two planned mid-rise residential buildings totaling 400 units and a $12.5 million completion grant for Lot J’s proposed 150- to 250-room hotel.

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