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Jax Daily Record Thursday, Dec. 3, 202011:06 AM EST

UNF poll finds majority oppose city funding for Lot J

It also found fading job approval for Mayor Curry and Jaguars owner Shad Khan.
by: Monty Zickuhr Managing Editor

Plans to spend $233 million in city money on Shad Khan’s Lot J project are opposed by the majority of Jacksonville registered voters, according to a University of North Florida Public Opinion Research Lab poll released Dec. 3.

The poll also found fading support for Jacksonville Jaguars owner Khan, Mayor Lenny Curry and little interest to fund improvements to TIAA Bank Field.

Lot J is the proposed $450 million mixed-use development west of TIAA Bank Field that is a partnership of the city, Khan development company Gecko Investments LLC and The Cordish Companies. The city funding has yet to be approved by the City Council.

When asked whether they support or oppose the city spending $233 million to fund the project, 54% of respondents said they strongly or somewhat oppose the project, with 43% strongly or somewhat supporting it.

Michael Binder, UNF Public Opinion Research Lab director

“A massive project like the Lot J plan is bound to have mixed public support, but 37% of that opposition strongly opposes the proposal as it is,” said Michael Binder, UNF Public Opinion Research Lab director, in a news release with the poll. 

The poll found that 80% of the respondents said the funding should be put to Jacksonville voters in the form of a referendum.

“Jacksonville voters would like to have a say in these issues, particularly when it concerns such a large price tag,” Binder said.

On the horizon is the end of the Jaguars stadium lease in 2030. The team has said that improvements will be needed at TIAA Bank Field before renewing its lease, but those have not been decided.

Respondents were asked whether they support or oppose the city splitting the cost of major improvements to TIAA Bank Field with the Jaguars, costing the city $250 million. 

The majority, 62%, were opposed with 37% supporting the proposal. The poll also found that 77% were opposed to building a new $700 million stadium with 21% supporting splitting the costs of a new stadium.

“With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the resulting economic uncertainty and a struggling team, it’s not hard to see why voters are hesitant to invest in luxury items like stadium improvements without evidence that there will be a significant return on that investment,” Binder said.

The poll also found sliding support for Curry, with his job approval falling to 42%. His approval was 45% in the UNF June poll and 46% in June 2019. Support for the Council was higher at 49%.

“City Council having relatively more popularity than the Mayor is somewhat unusual, but recent high-profile issues like the JEA investigation may have gotten people’s attention,” Binder said.

The poll also found fading support for Khan, with 40% approving of the job he is doing as owner of the Jaguars. 

In October 2017, a UNF poll found his support at 65%. Khan took ownership of the team in 2012. The Jaguars suffered its 101st loss under his regime Nov. 29. 

Respondents also were asked their opinions about previous city partnerships with Khan, such as Daily’s Place and the addition of scoreboards and swimming pools to TIAA Bank Field.

 The poll found that 49% thought that those public-private partnerships have failed to live up to their expectations.

When asked about the importance of Jacksonville having an NFL franchise, 33% said it is very important, 48% indicated some level of importance and 20% said it was not important at all.

“Even though the Jaguars have regressed under Khan’s leadership, there are only 30cities in the country that have an NFL team and that does bring national attention,” Binder said.

While support for Khan and Curry faded, Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone fared the worst in the poll, finding only 20% job approval. The team is 1-10 this season.

The poll of 644 registered voters in Duval County, 18 years of age or older, was conducted Nov. 30 to Dec. 2 using an online survey platform. Of those polled, 41% were Democrats, 35% Republicans and 23% had no party affiliation.

The margin of error is plus or minus 3.9 percentage points. 

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