Entertainment complex site has challenges

City says land under Parking Lot J that the Jaguars might develop is contaminated, would need development agreement for cleanup.

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  • | 6:50 a.m. March 6, 2018
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The Downtown parking lot identified by Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan as his next development site near EverBank Field is contaminated from past industrial use, according to the city.

Jaguars President Mark Lamping said in January the organization plans to turn Parking Lot J, an almost 10-acre plot west of the Daily’s Place amphitheater and a nearby retention pond, into a 250,000-square-foot entertainment district.

Mark Lamping
Mark Lamping

Negotiations continue between Khan’s development company, Iguana Investments of Florida LLC, and the Downtown Investment Authority to develop a larger project at Metropolitan Park and the Shipyards property.

Like most of the surrounding Northbank, the parking lot was once part of maritime and shipbuilding operation in the early 20th century, long before the Jaguars arrived in the 1990s.

According to a city spokesperson Tia Ford, the area remains contaminated with mostly petroleum beneath the pavement.

Ford, speaking on behalf of Mayor Lenny Curry’s administration, said petroleum and other contaminants are contained by a clay slurry wall, an underground barrier that impedes the flow of groundwater.

The city last tested the area when officials agreed to a set of covenants and restrictions determined by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection in August 1996, allowing the city to use the area as a parking lot and practice fields.

According to that agreement, the land is restricted to industrial use. No residential or recreation areas can be developed, nor can any soil be exposed. Additionally, groundwater and surface water on the site can’t be used for irrigation.

The agreement states that the property can be used for other purposes only if the soil and groundwater are “remediated to applicable standards approved by DEP,” meaning that a new vertical development is possible.

The administration said cleaning up the site and the cost to do so depends on the type of foundation and other building elements proposed for the development. A development agreement would determine who would pay for the cleanup.

Jaguars spokesperson Amanda Holt said the organization is in “the very early stages of this project including environmental testing,” and that it would have no further comment or updates until the team’s annual “State of the Franchise” presentation, scheduled for April 19.

The Jaguars have not elaborated on comments Lamping made in January to the International Council of Shopping Centers, which hosted its North Florida Idea Exchange at EverBank Field.

Lamping told the group of 300 real estate brokers, developers and builders that Iguana Investments began thinking about developing Lot J after being involved with the city’s Amazon HQ2 bid in the fall, in which the city asked the developers if they would step aside to allow Amazon.com Inc. to redevelop the Shipyards instead of Khan’s development company.

“Our response was, of course, if we could figure out a way to bring 50,000 jobs to Jacksonville, we’d do just about anything,” he told the group.

The city didn’t make the cut when Amazon narrowed its list of potential HQ2 finalists, leaving the door open for the Jaguars.

“We have tremendously underdeveloped property right behind us,” Lamping said.

Lamping said the idea is to begin developing the complex in phases, while the negotiations and environmental issues are worked out with the city for the riverfront property.

The city owns the parking facilities and EverBank Field. Through a lease agreement with the city, the team controls how the parking lots are programmed.

Like the stadium, the city must provide notice if it wants to use the parking lots for nonteam events, or events at Daily’s Place.

Grant concerns

Contamination isn’t the only issue the city has had to clarify in recent weeks.

The land for the parking lot was acquired in pieces by the city through different transactions with both CSX Transportation Inc. and Jacksonville Shipyards Inc. between 1983 and 1986.

In 1986, The city secured a $1.5 million Florida Recreation Development Assistance Program grant from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to help pay for 20 acres of the combined property that includes the parking lot and part of Metropolitan Park.

The grant is used to provide funds for municipalities to develop public outdoor space or to construct or renovate public recreational trails.

According to late January emails between Assistant General Counsel Emerson Lotzia, the grant program’s Community Assistance Consultant Angie Bright, FDEP Program Coordinator Rebecca Wood, and FDEP Deputy Secretary for Land and Development David Clark, city officials were confused about whether the land was still tied to the grant, which restricts its use.

Lotzia said in a Jan. 29 email to Clark that “it looks like no one on the city or FDEP side realized that Lot J was a part of the FRDAP grant” when the parking lot was paved in the mid-1990s.

Lotzia said in the email that a city official or someone at the state environmental protection department realized the mistake and in 1998 submitted a formal application to remove the property from the grant’s oversight.

The May 5, 1998, FRDAP Conversion Proposal stated that the city paved the area because of the needs of having an NFL franchise and that doing so was allowed under the PBF-1 zoning code, which is used for public buildings and facilities.

Because of the grant’s restrictions, the city had the option of refunding a portion of the grant money or offering an equal amount of land somewhere else.

The city said through the proposal it would find a replacement property in Duval County.

“While repaying the original investment is an option, the City would like to commit to providing outdoor recreational opportunities for its citizens by the acquisition and development of new park property,” the proposal states.

A Jan. 30 email indicates the city offered the replacement property at Bulls Bay Preserve, a 1,222-acre site in Northwest Jacksonville the city acquired in 1999 as part of a conservation easement for mitigation. It provides a buffer to a portion of the Jacksonville-Baldwin Rail Trail.

Woods stated in a Jan. 30 email to Lotzia that the parking lot property was no longer under the FDRAP restrictions, but that the department was “still exploring the repayment of the FDRAP funds under Rule.”

Ford said a portion of Metropolitan Park remained under the grant’s restrictions and the city was seeking to remove it, too. She did not know how much of the grant would need to be refunded.

She confirmed that land at the Bulls Bay Preserve was used in exchange for the parking lot land.

Still, developing the land will take time.

The Jaguars, Iguana Investments, or another entity would need to acquire the development rights from the DIA like it did with the other riverfront properties if it wants to build anything other than a parking lot.

Holt said the team continues to negotiate with the city on both the larger acreage Shipyards development and a possible build-out of Parking Lot J.

Any construction designs also would need approval from the Downtown Development Review Board.

The City Council would have the final say on any economic development agreement that requires a public/private financing partnership.

From there, the city or the team would have to clean up the site before any construction.

The Bigger Picture

The approval for the Parking Lot J development could take six months to a year. That’s a much faster timeframe than Khan’s more ambitious vision for the Downtown Northbank.

Iguana Investments was awarded the development rights to pursue a mixed-use development on 70 acres of riverfront property in April from the DIA.

Those plans are on hold while Iguana conducts environmental testing on the land and the city awaits funding commitments from the state and federal government to remove an elevated roadway extending from the Hart Bridge, which bisects the stadium complex and the riverfront.

Curry and his staff traveled to Tallahassee on Jan. 31 to discuss the ramp removal and several other issues with state lawmakers.

Curry reportedly met with Gov. Rick Scott and members of the Duval Delegation, including Sen. Aaron Bean, Senate Appropriations Chair Rob Bradley, Rep. Travis Cummings and Rep. Clay Yarborough, and House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

The mayor’s office said removing the ramps is beneficial to improving traffic flow and making it easier for large trucks to access the Talleyrand port.

A $12.5 million budget line item for the “Talleyrand Connector” received preliminary approval Friday with other Florida House budget requests during a joint conference meeting of the House Transportation & Tourism Appropriations Subcommittee and the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Tourism and Economic Development.

The budget request is sponsored in the Senate by Bean and would fund $12.5 million of the estimated $50 million to remove the ramps above Gator Bowl Boulevard.

The city also is awaiting a decision from the U.S. Department of Transportation for a $25 million Infrastructure for Rebuilding America grant. Jacksonville is one of three Florida municipalities vying for the funding.

The state budget will be approved before the start of the fiscal year July 1.

The grant is expected to be awarded around the same time the administration asks City Council to fund the remaining $12.5 million as a capital improvement project during the city’s budget negotiations this fall.

The city’s budget will be approved before Oct. 1, meaning movement on the Shipyards project isn’t likely to begin until at least 2019.