During the only televised debate before the May 16 runoff election, Jacksonville mayoral candidates Daniel Davis and Donna Deegan sparred April 20 over contrasting negotiating styles to broker a deal with Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan for public spending on the anticipated renovation of TIAA Bank Field.
The 7 p.m. debate was co-hosted by the University of North Florida and Action News Jax and moderated by Action News anchors John Bachman and Tenikka Hughes.
The line of stadium questions sparked the first of several direct interactions between Republican and JAX Chamber CEO Davis and Democrat and The Donna Foundation founder Deegan.
When Bachman asked the candidates how much public money they are willing to commit to help fund the estimated $1 billion renovation of the stadium and why, Deegan said she wouldn’t “negotiate that deal here on stage.”
But she outlined a plan to bring in outside negotiators with experience brokering deals with the NFL. Deegan also said the city needs to “keep that stadium” and wants a long-term lease.
Deegan, a former 25-year Jacksonville TV journalist and First Coast News anchor, said she knows “the pride that this city has in that team.”
“But we also need to make sure that we’re creating a deal that doesn’t open the pocketbook like we’re doing right now for everything the Jaguars always want, but that actually creates a deal that works for the taxpayers and the citizens of Jacksonville plus the Jaguars and the NFL,” she said.
Davis, a former City Council member and state legislator, said 25 years of negotiating large business deals for Jacksonville qualified him to lead stadium negotiations with Khan.
“I’m not going to bring anybody in from the outside to negotiate our deal as a city,” Davis said.
“The citizens of Jacksonville need, the citizens of Jacksonville deserve to have a mayor who knows how to be a CEO and has the experience and the qualifications to step up to the negotiation table,” he said.
Davis said he would negotiate a “fair deal where everybody has skin in the game.”
“I love the Jags. We get so excited when the Jags win in our house and I believe Jacksonville loves the Jaguars,” Davis said. “But we’re not going to give away the store either. We’re going to find a transparent process where the citizens can be involved.”
Term-limited Jacksonville Mayor Lenny said in January that the city is in early talks with the Jaguars on steps to renovate TIAA Bank Field.
Jaguars President Mark Lamping said in June that the team wants to complete designs and planning for a full stadium renovation “well in advance” of the 2029 season when the team’s current lease expires.
City contributions to the renovation could be the largest single expense for the next mayoral administration.
Hughes followed up that question by asking Davis and Deegan how they would negotiate with Khan, who she pointed out has “a lot of influence” in Jacksonville and has a net worth “about 12 times” the city’s annual general fund budget.
Davis repeated his previous answer that he would “step up to the negotiating table” and “speak on behalf of the citizens.”
Deegan said she’s met with Khan and believes that “he definitely wants to be part of the renaissance of this city.”
But Deegan used the moment to critique Davis’ on his support for Khan’s ended $450 million proposal to bring a mixed-use entertainment and residential development in parking Lot J adjacent to the stadium.
City Council killed a proposed $245.3 million incentives package for the project in 2021. Davis and the JAX Chamber supported the project, but it was unpopular with the general public.
“The same guy that wanted to give us the Lot J deal is going to be the tough negotiator with the Jaguars? I’m sorry, I don’t buy it,” Deegan said.
“Listen, a good CEO knows how to put the right people on the bus to create the vision and bring that vision in for a landing,” she said. “He’s not going to do everything on his own. I’m not going to do everything on my own. You have to create the team to get it done.”
In his rebuttal, Davis said part of his plan as mayor is “negotiating strong business deals with big companies like the Jacksonville Jaguars.”
“I don’t really mind if Donna Deegan doesn’t want me to negotiate that deal,” Davis said. “Frankly, I’m going to win and I don’t want her to negotiate that deal.”