Jacksonville Jaguars affiliate agrees to buy Downtown fairgrounds

The Greater Jacksonville Agricultural Fair Association CEO says sale proceeds will help pay for new facilities on city-owned land on the Westside.

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Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan’s development company said April 28 it reached an agreement with the Greater Jacksonville Agricultural Fair Association to buy the fairgrounds property near TIAA Bank Field.

A spokesperson for Iguana Investments Florida LLC said in an email that the company has “entered into an agreement with the Jacksonville Fairgrounds to purchase the fairgrounds and are supporting the fair in its move to a new location that is more aligned with its agricultural roots.”

The fair is preparing to relocate to West Jacksonville. After the move, the Jaguars initially will use the Downtown site for parking.

The announcement comes as the city General Government Awards Committee heard presentations April 28 from three engineering and consulting teams competing to design and build-out the site infrastructure for a new fairgrounds site adjacent to the Jacksonville Equestrian Center on Normandy Boulevard. 

The 14.1-acre Downtown site north of 121 Financial Ballpark and northwest of TIAA Bank Field has been home to the fair since 1990 when it moved from the Gator Bowl property, now TIAA Bank Field. The fair says on its website it has operated since 1955.

The Greater Jacksonville Agricultural Fair Association property adjacent to TIAA Bank Field. (Google)
The Greater Jacksonville Agricultural Fair Association property adjacent to TIAA Bank Field. (Google)

The fair owns two parcels Downtown through Duval County Fair Association Inc., county property records show. Its address is 510 Fairgrounds Place.

Fair President and CEO Bill Olson said April 28 the association is negotiating with the city to lease 80 acres to build a new fairgrounds with access to another 60 acres for future expansion.

Olson said the fair will use proceeds from the property sale to finance the construction costs and expenses of the relocation.

The right fit

The fair fielded interest in the Downtown site from other parties, but Olson said selling to the Jaguars affiliate is the right fit. 

“Looking at the whole picture, honestly … what’s best for the city and what’s best for this area, they (Iguana) just make the most sense, right? The team or Iguana having the property right next to their operation just makes the most sense, I think,” Olson said.

Jacksonville Fair President and CEO Bill Olson
Jacksonville Fair President and CEO Bill Olson

Olson and Iguana did not disclose a purchase price. 

The fair will continue to operate Downtown while the Westside fairgrounds is built. It typically runs for 12 days in the fall. The 2022 fair is scheduled Nov. 3-13.

Olson said the fair hopes to complete construction and move by spring 2024 and hold the first fair at the new facility in fall 2024. 

That could be pushed back a year, depending on construction pricing and timelines, he said.

“That’s the goal, but we’re not going to rush into it. You only get one chance for a first impression. So, we want that first fair to be 100% ready to go and how we want it,” Olson said. 

Iguana says it initially intends to convert the property into surface parking to support Jaguars games and other events in the Downtown Sports Complex, according to the statement.

“Removing the existing fairgrounds buildings will allow for the parking capacity at the site to increase by more than 50 percent,” Iguana’s email says.

Selling parking to Jaguars fans and people attending events in the city Sports and Entertainment District has been a source of revenue for the fair for years. 

In October 2021, Jaguars President Mark Lamping said the team would double the property’s parking capacity to 1,600 spaces if the organization acquired the property. 

“As far as what the long-term plan would be, you know, tell me how everything else is going to develop around Jacksonville and I’ll give you the answer,” Lamping said.

Future fairgrounds

According to Olson, moving the fair will alleviate the space restrictions it has Downtown. 

Space has been a barrier for cattle and livestock exhibitors who don’t want to pull animal trailers through Downtown traffic, he said. 

Congestion from event traffic at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena and 121 Financial Ballpark also created problems at fairgrounds.

“It’s just being able to grow the fair event to what we think it should be for the folks of Northeast Florida and to make it really a premier event and have the space to do it,” Olson said.

The fairgrounds also hosts regional and national cattle shows and the annual fall fair draws livestock exhibitions from as far as Miami, Georgia and Alabama. 

The Greater Jacksonville Agricultural Fair Association plans to relocate to this site adjacent to the city-owned Equestrian Center.
The Greater Jacksonville Agricultural Fair Association plans to relocate to this site adjacent to the city-owned Equestrian Center.

The fairgrounds also is leased to other groups for events.

Olsen said having room to expand on the Westside has a longer reach outside of Northeast Florida when it comes to nonexhibitors and spectators. 

City officials have promised fair officials it will deliver a construction-ready development site.

The three design-build teams that bid to build-out the fairgrounds infrastructure are:

• J.B. Coxwell Contracting Inc. and GAI Consultants Inc. 

• AJAX Building Co. LLC and CHW Professional Consultants.

• Philips & Jordan Inc. and Haskell.

City procurement officials will score the April 28 presentations/bids and the committee could make a selection before the end of May.

City Council earmarked $15 million to help relocate the fairgrounds out of Downtown when it approved Mayor Lenny Curry’s five-year Capital Improvement Plan in September 2021.

The fair is working with Scherer Construction of North Florida LLC and Kasper Architecture + Associates Inc. to design and determine the cost of the facilities it wants in a new fairgrounds, Olson said. 

What's planned

Plans include a 40,000- to 60,000-square-foot event and expo center; administrative offices; a warehouse-style storage facility; and an event stage able to accommodate multiday music and entertainment festivals.

There also would be a multipurpose barn that Olson said would be used for the livestock and agricultural activities and be built on the adjacent city-owned Equestrian Center property.

He said the fair leadership is scheduled to meet April 29 with the Northeast Florida Equestrian Society, the nonprofit operator of the Equestrian Center, to continue talks about the barn.

“It’s going to be a benefit to the Equestrian Center because they’re going to use it year-round to do their bigger shows,” Olson said. 

“They have a need, too, for that type of facility.” 

The new fairgrounds will use Finger Lake Street as an access road off of POW-MIA Memorial Parkway and built several entrances and exits on Normandy Boulevard, Olson said. The site is close to Cecil Commerce Center.

He said the fair would take the estimates and obtain funding that would be paid back with the sale proceeds.

Olson hopes the entertainment stage can bring year-round events that can make up for the parking revenue the fair association will lose by moving away from the stadium complex. 

He said the campgrounds, parking and RV hookups at the Equestrian Center could bring in music festivals and even entice the Welcome to Rockville festival back to Duval County after it moved to Daytona Beach in 2021.