Several Council Members Feeling Good About Lot J Ahead of January Vote

Dec 11, 2020

Some members of the Jacksonville City Council say they’re feeling comfortable with the proposed Lot J deal following a couple public meetings over the past week, which included input from the council auditors and the development team of the Cordish Companies and Jacksonville Jaguars.

“The man above [is] telling me we got 13 [votes],” Councilman Reggie Gaffney said at a Friday morning meeting. “I don't know who they are, but I believe that.”

During Friday’s meeting, the council auditors went over six disagreements they still have with developers:

  • A line removed by the developers in the original agreement that allowed for the city to stop disbursing funds if one part of the project begins defaulting.
  • Language in the agreement regarding cost-savings, where the developer is including a 7.5% minimum developer investment that could reduce the amount the city would get back if not all of the money outlined for the project is spent.
  • Revising language that would make the minimum investment based on private funding, rather than “direct costs,” as the developer wants.
  • Language that would allow the city to profit from any type of sale that the developer might make of the land and development rights, and a minimum requirement of five years before the developer can sell any of the project’s components.
  • A change from the developers on the lease agreement that was initially 35 years, with four 10-year renewal options. The developer changed it to a 50-year term with two 10-year renewal options. The council auditors are asking for performance requirements, such as sales or occupancy requirements to be included in the terms of the lease.
  • Council auditors want language that would protect both parties in the event of a breach of contract on the parking agreement.

John Sawyer with the city’s Office of General Counsel said of the six remaining issues, most of them are minor and are expected to be agreed upon by the end of Friday.

He said the only one that needs more negotiation is the performance requirements for the lease, which he expects to be resolved quickly as well.

After discussion of the disagreements, several City Council members in attendance said they now feel comfortable with making a final decision.

“We have three weeks of break, and we'll have things in front of us, and, I believe that everyone has what we need to make a decision, either up or down,” Councilwoman LeAnna Cumber said.

Councilman Ron Salem said he wished other council members would’ve attended the meetings.

“I feel like there's a group of us that have benefited from this and then a group that has not, unfortunately,” Salem said.

Councilman Aaron Bowman said he was disappointed with the outside noise of criticism that came to the Cordish Companies over the past couple of months.

“I don't in any way appreciate some of the accusations and the comments that have been made to you all, when you've been truly wanting to make our city better and make Jacksonville a better place and be a part of our community,” Bowman said. “So I'm so sorry some of the comments that you've had to endure, and I'm appreciative that you haven't closed up and walked away, because I probably might have.”

Councilman Michael Boylan said a lot of the criticism Lot J has gotten could be short-sighted in his opinion.

“I'm hearing from a lot of folks - many of those people are good business people that I respect - and I think in their world, it's got to be a 50/50 proposition,” Boylan said. “I think our world is different than that. I think our world is one about looking at the long term. In this case we're looking at 70 years in terms of long term.”

Jaguars President Mark Lamping, who had been at the meeting to take questions, said that the criticism shows the public’s passion for the city.

“We're in the criticism business,” Lamping said. “We have very thick skin. If anybody's gotten good at taking criticism, the Jaguars have, with cause.”

Lamping added, “I think everyone who has touched this project, whether from an opponent, or a supporter of it, I think in our very core, we want the best for Jacksonville.”

The council will take a three-week hiatus from meetings until the first full week of January. On Jan. 7, there will be a council-of-the-whole meeting, where the council will discuss three council members’ proposed amendments, along with closure on the remaining disagreements between the auditors and the developers.

Unless the bill is deferred again, it will be up for a final vote on Jan. 12. 

Sky Lebron can be reached at slebron@wjct.org, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter at @SkylerLebron.