The first thing that leaps off the page about the Jacksonville Jaguars’ unveiling of their TIAA Bank Field renovation plan is the sticker shock.
Both the projected price of the renovated stadium at $1.3-$1.4 billion, plus the Jaguars proposing the city paying 67 percent of that cost ($871 million-$934 million), are astoundingly big numbers to digest.
Obviously, to make those prices somewhat more amenable to taxpayers, the Jaguars are presenting this plan to the public as a “50-50 split” when including a mixed-use neighborhood and entertainment district around TIAA Bank Field of $500-$668 million, with team owner Shad Khan paying $475 million-$568 million of that tab.
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Call it voodoo economics if you wish, and a lot of naysayers will surely do that. But such is the escalating price of doing business in the NFL world when building new stadiums or gutting an old one.
So buckle up, Jaguars fans and every Duval County taxpayer who doesn’t care a thing about football. This negotiation — getting a renovated stadium done is tied to the Jaguars agreeing to a lease extension — figures to be a rough, fascinating ride that will test the patience of mayor-elect Donna Deegan, the City Council, team owner Shad Khan and everybody with skin in the game.
For starters, a period of 8-10 months negotiating any potential agreement between the Jaguars and the city will likely be required, and that may get ugly and contentious at times.
While those eye-popping numbers — as well as each party’s portion of the bill — could be amended, it doesn’t change the proposed total price tag range of $1.75 billion-$2.068 billion.
It’s impossible to talk about the largest investment of tax dollars in Jacksonville history and not think there’s going to be turbulence.
At-large City Council member Matt Carlucci, the only one among a 19-member body to vote on every Jaguars negotiating deal with the city, put it succinctly: “Whatever is finally negotiated is not going to be 100 percent accepted by the taxpayers of Jacksonville, but I have faith in the future that we’ll come to a good resolution on this.”
One thing can’t be emphasized enough: there’s massive incentive on both sides to reach an agreement on a stadium deal, so it’ll almost certainly get done regardless of the path taken to get there.
Remember, Khan has already invested hundreds of millions of dollars in development with the Jaguars’ stadium or the city, so packing up and moving anywhere would be a personal blow of significant magnitude.
“It’s a pretty short line of people that are ready to invest that kind of money in downtown Jacksonville,” said Jaguars’ president Mark Lamping. “I just hope we figure out a way to not let the opportunity pass us by.”
As for the politicians, especially Deegan, none of them will want the embarrassing outcome of the Jaguars actually leaving the market on their watch.
“This is a chance for Jacksonville to be bold,” Carlucci said. “I think when it’s all said and done, we’re going to take care of everybody’s needs as best as possible.”
A moving target
Be careful about looking at the Jaguars’ proposal and thinking this is a take-it-or-leave-it offer.
There are so many onion layers for both sides of these negotiations to peel back when it comes to costs, who will incur them and at what percentage.
In terms of a long race, the runners are getting in place, but the starter’s gun hasn’t been fired.
Deegan doesn’t take office until July 1. Beginning Monday at Strings Sports Brewery, the Jaguars are having 14 town hall meetings over a 10-day period to present their case to all citizens who wish to have their input on any component of the renovation plan.
Negotiations and all the nuances attached to it could go in 100 different directions. Lamping has said repeatedly that whatever the team might want, it’s conceivable that city officials may envision something totally different.
In a Times-Union interview, outgoing City Council member Randy Defoor, who represents District 14, says everybody should be prepared for a long, tough negotiation.
“It’s basically their first negotiating position, which typically means you ask for everything,” Defoor said of the Jaguars’ rollout proposal. “It’s not their last negotiating position. The new administration hasn’t had a seat at the table yet. I believe this [proposal] is not where it ultimately ends.
“There’s no doubt the stadium is going to be built. The question is who’s going to pay for what? The price tag [for the city] is much bigger than it was initially relayed to us, going from $500 million to over $1 billion.”
Of course, construction prices on projects of this grandeur can vary by timeline. That’s why if the TIAA Bank Field renovation starts on the Jaguars’ desired schedule of Feb., 2026, and finishes in July, 2028 — as opposed to a four-year process where the Jaguars could keep playing games at their stadium under a stagnated construction option — it would save an estimated $190 million.
“We want the project totally complete before our lease expires [after the 2029 season],” Lamping said. “We think we’ve built in enough time to do that. The real construction starts after the 2025 season, but we need to begin advancing the design from where it is right now.
“Starting in October , that’s an important checkpoint because we need to invest $1 million a month to keep the project on schedule.”
Lamping’s point reflects what should become apparent throughout the negotiations and whenever an agreement might be reached: prices will vary and both sides are going to haggle over numerous cost details.
The Jaguars’ renderings from architect HOK of the renovated stadium are undeniably gorgeous, but will city officials want all the bells and whistles beyond wider concourses, a cooler air flow and a protective roof? Or do they ask the Jaguars to remove some amenities to reduce the costs?
“It’s a dance,” said Defoor. “One party is going to make demands and the other is going to respond. It’s a balancing act, right? The level of funding they’ll be discussing is almost the annual budget of the city. How do you pay for it?”
Bear in mind that until sometime in early 2024 (the Jaguars prefer a decision by March), all negotiations will remain a fluid situation. The goal posts are bound to move.
That’s why Carlucci is reluctant to speculate on what might happen, saying: “I don’t want to make too many comments on how much [the Jaguars] are asking us to share in the cost or how much they’re willing to pay because it’s too early. We should allow the Deegan administration to put together their negotiating team and move forward with that.”
Calm, deliberate negotiations needed
This dance, as Defoor called it, becomes even more intriguing when you consider one of the big players will be a new mayor, one the Jaguars are just starting to establish a relationship.
From a timing standpoint, Deegan could be a harder sell. If the Jaguars had rolled out this proposal a year ago, when the black-and-teal, pom-pom waving Lenny Curry was mayor, he might have been more willing to help with some of Khan’s heavy lifting.
Not that Deegan will be any kind of Jaguars impediment, for she is a football fan and wants as much as anybody to get a stadium deal executed.
“As I have said previously, when it comes time for negotiating, we will bring in a team that is experienced in negotiating this type of deal with the NFL,” Deegan said in a statement on Tuesday. “We’re not there yet. Our end goal remains the same. A deal that works for taxpayers, the Jaguars and the NFL.”
The sticking point on both sides is going to be the costs and how much leverage each is willing to attempt to get what it wants. They can’t let ego get in the way of reaching a viable resolution.
You might remember that’s partially what torpedoed the initial deal in 1993 for then owner Wayne Weaver, who backed out of the deal to bid for an expansion team before a new secret agreement was brokered with the city, enticing him to get back in the race. Jacksonville ultimately got a team, but the birth of the Jaguars was an immensely tense process.
Coming to terms on a renovated stadium and lease extension is far different, but it’s naïve to think there won’t be testy moments.
“I prefer these negotiations be done in a deliberate way, not rushed,” said Carlucci. “It’s too early to talk about costs, but I don’t want us to drag our feet either. We need to do our job.”
Deegan has asked Mike Weinstein, an attorney who served as chief financial officer in the mayoral administrations of Ed Austin and John Delaney, to be her point person on examining the Jaguars’ Memorandum of Understanding, which gives a preliminary timeline on the “framework for a reimagined sports and entertainment complex.”
Ultimately, getting a deal done is going to come down to finding a solution amenable to both sides. That usuaully involves a lot of compromise, meaning the Jaguars and the city won’t be happy with every part of any final agreement.
Price tag concerns
No doubt, the Jaguars asking the city to foot two-thirds of the stadium bill -- even with the 50-50 split on the total package — is going to bring some politicians and many taxpayers a lot of consternation.
Lamping’s counterpoint is the equal dividing of costs is commensurate with what the Jaguars have done in partnership with the city on other projects, like Daily’s Place and the team’s Football Performance Center.
He also adds NFL owners, who require 75 percent approval on a lease extension, are less likely to give it a thumbs-up without more public investment on the stadium, as was the case for new venues in Buffalo and Nashville.
“The city will probably have to invest more in the stadium [than the Jaguars] for us to get approval by the NFL,” said Lamping. “The NFL owners don’t just think about their markets. They’re bothered by setting bad precedents. They tend to look out for each other. We’re trying to get a deal that works for the city and gets approved by the NFL.
“People focus on the public contribution. Let’s keep in mind this will also be the largest private investment in downtown Jacksonville.”
That said, it must also be pointed out that Khan’s franchise is currently worth $3.5 billion, with his own total worth being $12.1 billion (per Forbes), and both those totals could easily double by 2030.
Deep pockets aside, this figures to be an epic negotiating process. It isn’t a question of wanting the Jaguars to stay for most people, but the costs of keeping them.
Nobody wants to think about the longshot possibility of not reaching an agreement, which would undoubtedly force Khan to move the franchise. In that case, he won’t be waiting until the lease expires after the 2029 season. No, the Jaguars in that scenario would likely be gone within the next two or three years.
“I think everybody wants it at the end of the day,” said Defoor. “You can’t want the Jaguars to be here and not want a new stadium.”
Getting to the desired finish line is going to require a ton of composure, deliberation and suppression of ego by the Jaguars and city officials.
Everyone will have to find a way to get over the sticker shock. Because, like it or not, Jacksonville would never get over losing the Jaguars.
Gfrenette@jacksonville.com: (904) 459-4540
This article originally appeared on Florida Times-Union: Buckle up, Jaguars fans, stadium negotiations likely to be contentious