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Times-Union name removed from performing arts center

Times-Union Removal
A worker removes the Times-Union name from the entrance of the Jacksonville Performing Arts Center.

The Times-Union name is gone from Jacksonville's performing arts center after nearly three decades.

The city-owned concert hall is dropping the Times-Union name and will be known as the Jacksonville Performing Arts Center until the city secures a new sponsor, Brian Hughes, the city's chief administrative officer, said Tuesday.

The Florida Times-Union bought the naming rights in 1994 for $3 million, while under the ownership of Morris Communications. The deal did not involve annual payments as current naming contracts usually do.

Gatehouse Media, a division of New Media Investment Group, bought the Times-Union in 2017, and Gatehouse bought the Gannett Co. — the nation's largest newspaper publisher — in 2019, retaining the Gannett name.

The city approached the new owners about naming rights for the performing arts center, but they were focused on operating their newspaper and were not interested, Hughes said.

"There's no scenario where a naming right is a one-time payment in perpetuity; it's just not how naming rights is structured, certainly not in the modern era," Hughes said. The goal would be to have a contract similar to the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena, a 15-year agreement in which VyStar Credit Union pays the city annually to keep its name on the venue.

The Times-Union sign was taken down Wednesday, though promotional materials, tickets and the center's website still retain the old name.

"The Performing Arts Center has recurring needs every year, and as structures age, some of them become substantial," Hughes said. "As the building gets older, things need to be fixed. They can either be deferred if they're not serious or they're taken on by the taxpayers."

According to Hughes, the idea to remove the name started last year in discussions with the center's main tenant, the Jacksonville Symphony, and the city's management company for venues like the Performing Arts Center and TIAA Bank Field, ASM Global.

ASM identified ballooning costs related to the center while the city was establishing its 2021-2022 Fiscal Year budget around January of last year.

Hughes said the management group will be in charge of finding and securing a new sponsor for the building, with the hope that the process will be far enough along that City Council can vote on a contract before approving a new budget in the fall.

The center's three halls, a theatre, concert venue and recital room, are primarily rented by the symphony, its youth orchestra and Florida State College at Jacksonville.

The Jacksonville Symphony did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

"We look forward to working with the symphony folks, other stakeholders, City Council," Hughes said. "The formal push, when there is one, is about making sure it's a naming rights partner that shares the goal and values of the Performing Arts Center and potentially has an existing relationship with the symphony and other arts organizations."

Heather Schatz contributed to this report.

Reporter Raymon Troncoso joined WJCT News in June of 2021 after concluding his fellowship with Report For America, where he was embedded with Capitol News Illinois covering Illinois state government with a focus on policy and equity. You can reach him at (904) 358-6319 or Rtroncoso@wjct.org and follow him on Twitter @RayTroncoso.