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Jax Daily Record Thursday, Apr. 18, 201903:48 PM EST

Jaguars moving forward with $500 million plan for Lot J

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Development timeline not defined but elevated highway and Hart Bridge ramp removal will begin next year following the Jaguars’ regular season.
by: Mike Mendenhall Staff Writer

The Jacksonville Jaguars announced Thursday the franchise and its Baltimore-based Cordish Companies partners are moving forward with $500 million in development projects in Lot J, the parking lot on the southwest side of  TIAA Bank Field.

Jaguars President Mark Lamping made the announcement during the Jaguars annual State of the Franchise presentation.

The new plans for the Lot J site now include an arena outdoor live entertainment venue, a 200-room boutique hotel, a 300-unit residential tower and an office building. 

Lamping said the design is not complete,, but he compared Lot J plans to Cordish sites in St. Louis and the Power and Light District in Kansas City, which include upscale residential towers and an outdoor courtyards-style entertainment stage surrounded by multi-level bars and restaurants.

The Jaguars showed this rendering of Ballpark Village in St. Louis as an example of what Lot J could look like.

Lamping and team owner Shad Khan did not announce potential tenants for the Lot J office building, but Lamping told members of the media after the presentation the partnership does have a hotel operator and an arena operator ready to take on the space. 

The Jags and Cordish Companies are waiting for a financing agreement with Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry’s office and City Council before starting development. Given the Mayor’s goals for Downtown development, Lamping said he “has no doubt” the two parties will reach an agreement.

When asked what Lamping thought the city and taxpayer financial obligation should be in the Lot J project, he did not give a specific dollar amount but said “only enough to make the project work.”

“You want investment in Downtown, and the way to get investment is to make sure the person who is making that investment, who is taking that risk, receives a reasonable return on investment,” he said. 

“It needs to be a public-private partnership only to the extent that the risk is so high that the investment won’t come,” he said.

Lamping said the design is not complete,, but he compared Lot J plans to Cordish sites in St. Louis and the Power and Light District in Kansas City.

Downtown catalyst

Jaguars officials are hoping Lot J will be a catalyst for Downtown development. The concern for the franchise is that population centers are shifting southeast in Jacksonville. 

Lamping cited the 150,000 jobs the St. Johns Town Center area now supports that it did not 10 years ago.

“This migration toward the southeast is continuing in this community, and until we counterbalance that with having products Downtown and having jobs Downtown, I think we run the risk of this continuing,” Lamping said. 

“There’s been a tremendous amount of progress that’s been made Downtown, but it’s very slow and nothing major has really happened,” he added.

Lamping remarked that the highest profile recent Downtown project is the relocation of public utility JEA, which passed on an opportunity to build its new headquarters in Lot J for a site near the Duval County Courthouse in the core.

He called that a net-zero for job growth because it is shifting 800 jobs from one part of  Downtown to another.

But, like the University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute in the riverfront area of Tampa, Lamping said government-affiliated entities can anchor Downtown developments.

“What I personally believe is, it’s not like Jacksonville Downtown has so much going for it that we can afford to lose the opportunity to bring a catalyst, something that will deliver other development,” Lamping said. “Somehow the thought that governmental entities, like JEA, can’t be part of major redevelopment … it’s just not true.”

Khan said the Jaguars and the Lot J development were moving on from the JEA deal, and it doesn’t matter what the franchise owner thinks about the utility’s rationale for building elsewhere. 

“To me, it’s not about me being satisfied. I want to focus on things we control,” Khan said. 

“That is for the board to decide. They feel whatever works for them best. I respect them, and we need to move on. We just can’t be tied up in ‘Myles Jack wasn’t down’ kind of mindset. I think we need to focus on that they have decided, and we need to come up with Plan B.” he said.

Before the Lot J development can break ground, Lamping said the Hart Bridge elevated ramps need to be taken down. The demolition project is out for bid, and Lamping said the Jaguars administration expects the city to award it before year-end.

Khan said the elevated ramp removal will make the Shipyards a viable property. “Frankly, all the heavy lifting has been done,” Khan said.

Lamping said the removal is expected to begin at the completion of the Jaguars regular season schedule and take about 18 months. The project could see delays if the Jaguars host any postseason games, he said.

The ramp removal has received funding from the Florida Department of Transportation, the federal government and the city. Lamping said the removal will make the property along the St. Johns River more attractive to developers.

“This is really the project, the necessary first step to unlock the full development potential of the shipyards and Lot J,” Lamping said. 

“We can’t continue to wait because we’ve talked year-in and year-out that we’re only going to be as strong as Downtown Jacksonville. Through partnership with the mayor and his staff, get cranes visible in Downtown Jacksonville for the first time in a long time,” he said.

Khan also said the elevated ramp removal will make the Shipyards a viable property.

“Frankly, all the heavy lifting has been done,” Khan said. “Now, we just want to see the visible proof and that is a big, big impediment to the area, so that is done. We don’t see the progress, but it should be anytime now.”

Stadium upgrades

Although light on details, the administration did say Thursday that the condition of TIAA Bank Field is a priority.

Lamping said a large-scale stadium renovation could be worked into the Jaguars lease extension with the city. 

Currently, the team has about 10 years remaining on its lease and Lamping said discussions for a project of that scope would need to start at least five to six years from a renewal.

“I would think it’s not inconceivable that we’ll start discussions with the city, perhaps even during Mayor Curry’s tenure — some time in the next four years,” Lamping said. 

“I don’t see any reason why this stadium couldn’t be a candidate for a major renovation,” Lamping said. “We haven’t gotten into the details, but we recognize it is an issue for many of our fans.” 

Before the Lot J development can break ground, Jaguars President Mark Lamping said the Hart Bridge elevated ramps need to be taken down.

Khan said Thursday he sees renovations to the stadium as necessary. 

“This is a city-owned stadium. I think it signifies Jacksonville and so I think it will need work upgrades and we want to work with the city,” he said. 

“I think that if you look at all the upgrades that have happened – clubs, scoreboards, pools, Daily’s Place, we have been a big part of spending money with the city. We want to continue to invest with the city to make the stadium be better.”

Jaguars officials are working on the issue of combating the intense local sun. Khan floated the idea Thursday of deploying drones to hold a shade over the stadium — a method Khan said he viewed at the World Cup in Qatar.

“There was a very creative solution with drones during a (soccer) game, kind of holding a cover up. It was very futuristic, but it could be very cost-effective only on the days you need it,” Khan said.

“I don’t know how feasible it is, but as an engineer when I saw that … I thought, ‘Boy, that (would) work very well for us.’”

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