Minor league baseball team staying in the loop on plans for Lot J near its home at the Baseball Grounds.
The Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp are taking no active role in redevelopment plans surrounding the Downtown sports complex.
But as one of the complex’s primary tenants, the Southern League baseball team is taking an active interest and is optimistic that redevelopment will come to fruition in its neighborhood.
“We’re going to be here for a really long time,” Jumbo Shrimp owner Ken Babby said last week at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville, pointing to a lease extension signed in September that will keep the team at the ballpark through at least 2033.
“More people coming to the sports complex is great for us,” he said.
Babby said he doesn’t have any fresh ideas for the area, which could include development of parking Lot J, which sits between the baseball stadium and the Jaguars’ football stadium, TIAA Bank Field.
“We’re leaving that for the smart people to figure out,” he said.
While the Jumbo Shrimp isn’t involved in development activities, General Manager Harold Craw said the team is kept in the loop by the city.
“We’re always keeping abreast of what’s going on,” he said. “We’ll support any growth within the sports complex.”
Babby bought the minor league baseball team in 2015, which was then known as the Jacksonville Suns.
“We didn’t invent minor league baseball in Jacksonville. The Suns were here a long time,” he said.
However, Babby said he continues to look at marketing opportunities to enhance the ballpark experience for fans. The most noticeable move was the name change to Jumbo Shrimp two seasons ago.
Craw said fans have become used to the new name.
“I do think it’s taken off and it works for us,” he said.
The team came up with the oxymoronic name to represent Jacksonville as a big (Jumbo) small (Shrimp) town.
The team’s manager sees Jacksonville as a growing city. Kevin Randel was a player for the Suns in 2009 and a coach from 2012 to 2014, and he said he’s seen changes since his last tenure in Jacksonville.
“Every time I leave the hotel, I get lost,” he said. “It’s a big town.”
With VyStar Credit Union starting a 15-year naming rights agreement for the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena and TIAA Bank owning naming rights to the football stadium, the Baseball Grounds is the only facility in the sports complex without a naming rights sponsor.
Craw said with the lease extension, a naming rights deal is something the team will consider.
“Obviously at some point we’re willing to go down that road,” he said. But “we’re in no rush.”
The Jumbo Shrimp’s season opened April 4 at the Baseball Grounds. The final regular season home game is Aug. 27. For more information, visit milb.com/jacksonville.