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Jax Daily Record Thursday, Sep. 26, 201312:00 PM EST

Lamping considers Shipyards 'front door to the sports complex'

by: Mark Basch Contributing Writer

Looking out the window of The River Club Downtown Wednesday, Jacksonville Jaguars President Mark Lamping had a clear view of EverBank Field and the riverfront properties leading up to the team's stadium.

During a luncheon speech to the Jacksonville Bankruptcy Bar Association, Lamping explained why Jaguars owner Shad Khan is interested in development of the vacant, blighted-looking Shipyards property.

"We think the Shipyards are really the front door to the sports complex," he said.

"We think having that developed will strengthen the state of the Jaguars."

Make no mistake – Lamping knows the biggest problem attracting fans to Jaguars games right now is the team's poor performance on the field.

"Winning can mask a lot of problems," he said.

"If there are 10 things to do, the first five are to put a better team on the field. But in some respects, it's not the only thing," he said.

Lamping outlined some of the other steps the team is taking to attract more fans, including Khan's involvement in economic development in Jacksonville.

Khan told the Daily Record in June that he was interested in the Shipyards. Lamping said Khan is hoping to attract other parties for development projects at the site.

"Almost view us as the developer of last resort," Lamping said but he added, "We're not going to sit another five or 10 years."

Khan has demonstrated his commitment to Jacksonville in other ways in recent months, including financing development of the Laura Street Trio and the old Barnett Bank Building Downtown. He also recently met with Gov. Rick Scott to discuss economic development in Jacksonville.

"We know the stronger Downtown is, the stronger the Jaguars will be," Lamping said.

Just last weekend while the Jaguars played in Seattle, Khan hosted representatives of a Seattle area company who are interested in Jacksonville in his suite at the game, Lamping said. He said he could not name the company involved.

Of course, the Jaguars are also working on projects to improve the experience for fans coming to the stadium, most notably a $63 million project that would include new giant video boards and a swimming pool in the north end zone of EverBank Field.

Lamping said the team wants to entice fans who may be inclined to just stay in the comfort of their home and watch the game on their high-definition televisions.

"It's so easy to sit at home and watch the game on TV," he said. "We have to figure out ways to deal with that."

The video boards would include features like a section for highlights of out-of-town games, so fantasy football players can keep track of their fantasy teams while also watching the real game on the field.

"That's why the size of the video boards are important," Lamping said. "It's not just trying to be the biggest and the best."

The swimming pool idea is designed to give "the stadium a personality that's unique to Jacksonville," he said.

"We're a water city," he said, referring to the river, ocean and the port. "Integrating water into the building is an important point for us."

When the stadium was new and the Jaguars were successful on the field in the late 1990s, the team ranked second in locally generated revenue among all NFL teams despite being in one of the smallest markets, Lamping said.

"That Jaguars are now at the bottom of the NFL" in local revenue, he said.

"That was one of the things Shad knew when he bought the team that had to be fixed. It's our responsibility to fix, not the community or the fans' responsibility," he said.

The Jaguars have been trying to attract new fans from beyond the five-county Jacksonville metropolitan area, including markets in South Georgia and Central Florida, Lamping said.

The team put its preseason games on an expanded television network that reached markets totaling 5 million potential viewers, up from less than 3 million two years ago, he said.

Unfortunately, Lamping didn't have any encouraging news about the Jaguars' performance on the field, admitting the team is probably a year or two away from contending for the playoffs.

"This is going to be a very slow building process," he said.

Lamping hinted that the team will be looking for a new quarterback in the offseason to lead the building process.

"Things can turn around in a hurry but you have to have a quarterback. You have to have a franchise quarterback," he said.

Lamping thinks the Jacksonville community is ready to rally around a contending team.

"This is a great football community. It has a great history," he said.

"Everybody in Jacksonville wants us to be successful."

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