by Glenn Tschimpke
After the last touchdown is scored in the 2005 Super Bowl and the last cruise ship churns through the mouth of the St. Johns River, the National Football League wants to make sure it leaves behind more than a hangover from the biggest sporting event in Jacksonville’s history.
As a token of thanks, the NFL has made a habit of helping establish Youth Education Town Centers in Super Bowl host cities since 1993. Los Angeles, Atlanta, Miami, New Orleans, Phoenix and San Diego all have YET Centers. Tampa has two. Jacksonville will soon have one.
“There is a YET Center built in every Super Bowl town that’s designed to benefit the host community,” said Heather Surface, chief of communications with the Jacksonville Economic Development Commission. “It’s the legacy that the NFL leaves behind in every Super Bowl city.”
The aim of YET Centers is to create educational opportunities for at-risk children by creating or augmenting existing facilities and programs. In its bid to land the Super Bowl, the Jacksonville Host Committee proposed a plan that could make Jacksonville’s YET Center one of the most comprehensive. The Host Committee partnered with the Jacksonville Children’s Commission to devise an $8.3 million, 56,000 square-foot facility called the Jacksonville Children’s Center slated for construction near Alltel Stadium. Within the Children’s Center will be various components, including the YET Center, the Jacksonville Youth Development Institute, Don Brewer Early Learning Institute and the Child Care Resource and Referral Center.
According to the bid, each of the components is scheduled to open incrementally, possibly with the Don Brewer Early Learning Institute later this year. If all goes as planned, the YET Center component would open in 2005 in conjunction with the Super Bowl festivities, which is not typical timing.
“We just opened ours formally last week from last year’s Super Bowl,” said Tampa’s Super Bowl coordinator Michael Kelly, who will take the helm of the Jacksonville Host Committee July 1.
Funding comes from a combination of public and private sources. For the YET Center, the NFL contributes $1 million and the Jacksonville Host Committee promises to match that with $1.6 million. The Children’s Commission, which receives $13 million from the City and $38 million in federal, state and other sources, will provide additional funding. Additional private donations will be sought.
The NFL’s million dollar gift isn’t a one-time thing. Every time the NFL championship game comes to town, the league hands over an additional $1 million. The money can be used to augment existing centers or to help build a new one. Tampa, which has hosted a number of games, just opened its second YET Center. Miami opened a second location in Ft. Lauderdale. This year, New Orleans used the money toward improvements to its existing facility.
The reasoning for putting the Children’s Center’s in the shadow of the stadium is evident. It’s a tribute to the money that helped make it possible. It’s also in close proximity to some of Jacksonville’s economically-depressed areas. According to JEDC literature, nearby Springfield and East Jacksonville are home to over 22,000 residents with a median household income of $14,450. Thirty percent are between ages 5 and 19.
The Children’s Center will provide a positive after school atmosphere for at-risk children through mentoring programs, educational assistance and other interactive initiatives.