So! Last Thursday the Jacksonville city council’s committee of the whole voted 15-4 in favor of granting more than $200 million in subsidies to Jaguars owner Shad Khan for his Lot J development project, making it a fait accompli that the plan would get the needed 13 votes for approval when the full council (the exact same people as the committee of the whole) voted on it last night. And then this happened:
The Jacksonville City Council on Tuesday rejected a $233 million development deal with Jaguars owner Shad Khan to build his proposed Lot J development next to TIAA Bank Field, as the deal was unable to overcome a barrage of criticism that it required too much of taxpayers and offered too little in return…
Supporters of the bill defeated an attempt made Tuesday by Council President Tommy Hazouri to strip a controversial $65.5 million interest free “breadbox” loan from the deal, which Khan’s development team said was a necessary condition for them to build the development.
However, their efforts were a pyrrhic victory. Without the removal of the loan, the deal lost supporters and died in a 12-7 vote, one shy of the two-thirds majority it needed to pass.
Wha’ happened? In last night’s vote, councilmembers Randy DeFoor, Garrett Dennis, and Joyce Morgan switched sides to join Al Ferraro, Matt Carlucci, Danny Becton, and Tommy Hazouri in opposing the deal. Media reports aren’t entirely clear on what caused the defections — the Jacksonville Daily Record cited concerns about “an expected low return on investment for the city, lack of hard construction costs and a financial viability gap analysis being withheld by Cordish and what the public perceived as a lack of transparency in the deal,” but all that was as true last week as this one. (A financial analysis of the deal by the city auditor way back in November projected that the city would only get back 44 cents in revenue for each dollar it spent on subsidies.) It surely didn’t help when Dennis and Mayor Lenny Curry had a Twitter war last week accusing each other of cheating on their wives, but that still doesn’t quite explain why all three members voted one way last week and the other way yesterday.
Anyway, since the council still approved more than $155 million in Lot J subsidies (the $65.5 million interest-free loan would have only been worth maybe $30-40 million in value to Khan), what normally happens next is that the team will go back to the drawing board to see if it can rework the deal, maybe splitting the difference to, wait, what’s that now?
“We’ve pulled the plug on Lot J. It’s dead, but it doesn’t change the way we started this,” [Jaguars president Mark] Lamping said…
Lamping said Khan now will shift his focus to negotiation with the Downtown Investment Authority for his proposed Four Seasons hotel and medical, residential and retail development on the St. Johns riverfront at Metropolitan Park and the Shipyards.
There are a couple of things that could be going on here. The first, and less likely, one is that Khan is trying to grease the skids for a move out of Jacksonville by making a series of crazy demands and then throwing up his hands when the council rejects them, saying, hey, I tried. Or, the Lot J scheme was genuinely such a money-loser that Khan really only was into it if he could get a huge pile of city cash to do so; and now that the city has only offered a chintzy $155 million, he’ll move on to his next project and see if that raises less of a stink with the council. (And/or helps him revive interest in his Shipyards plan, which was fading as of last summer.) And, of course, the as-yet-unspecified amount of money he’s seeking for renovations to his stadium, which was just renovated in 2014 and again in 2017. Shad Khan is determined to have his publicly supported payday someday, somewhere, it’s just a matter of figuring out where to squeak his wheel.