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Jacksonville, FL (January 12, 2021) – In a surprising vote, City Council denied Bill 2020-648, the proposed Lot J development, by a vote of 12-7 during Tuesday night’s council meeting. The bill required 13 votes to pass. Council Member Danny Becton lead the questioning and ultimately voted ‘NO’ on this controversial project which requested $233 million tax payer dollars to be provided.

 The Lot J Project submitted by Jaguars owner Shad Khan along with the Cordish Companies was a mixed-use project to include a 75,000 Sq. Ft. LIVE! Entertainment Venue, approximately 40,000 Sq. Ft. of Commercial Office, two luxury mid-rise 400-unit multi-family residential units, two 350-space parking garages, a 700-space surface parking lot and a 150-250 room hotel. The requested assistance from the City of Jacksonville was multi-faceted including: Construction Contributions of $77.7 million for Infrastructure (included $18.5m for parking garages which the city would own and maintain), $50 million for the LIVE! Entertainment Venue (which the city would own), $65.5 million in a supporting Construction Grant and upon completion, a $12.5 million Completion Grant for the hotel and $12.5 million REV Grant for the residential units. In all, a total of $218.2 million in direct city incentives.

Over the past several months, my evaluation of this deal spanned countless hours reviewing 1000’s of pages of agreements and many discussions which included many questions which some got answered, while others did not,” Council Member Becton explained. “To that end, I gave the developers many opportunities to earn my vote but, in the end, as they thought they had the votes they needed, my concerns went unanswered and not addressed due to the developers attitude of ‘its their way or no way.’”

During the final vote, Council Member addressed his colleagues with the following statement:

“Tonight, I rise to again, to voice my concerns for this agreement.

My main issues with this agreement are as follows:

  • #1 The City Ownership of additional Parking Garages in the amount of $18m, that totals $33m after interest from borrowing.
    1. These parking garages will be ongoing expenses for ½ of the Operations for those facilities. As a result, I believe minimal revenue will be obtained and therefore future subsidies within our budgets will be needed to cover shortfalls.
    2. Also, because these garages will be City Owned, No Property Taxes will be collected, therefore $85k, $1.7m over 20 yrs. will go uncollected.
  • #2 The Construction Grant. This Grant which is being provided for a hotel and multi-family residential development amounts to $65m, which totals $114m after interest.
    1. This is totally contrary to all past policies of this council in not subsidizing these type developments in this way as a concern on its impact on the Free Market.
    2. This type funding reduces the cost of construction for this owner and uses taxpayer dollars against other like businesses to provide for an unfair competitive advantage for rents and room rates.
  • #3 And finally, Mr. Bateh raised a legitimate Valid Red Flag regarding the city selling this property rather than a having a “Ground Lease”. Think about this, would we have the Landing Property back, if this same deal was done? No, and this property of Lot J and its location is absolutely valuable to the city.

This project from their presentation is exciting for what might and could possibly happen. In my opinion, it’s not ‘Priceless’ under ‘any condition or demand’. It is our job to make sure that any deal is 1) in the best interest of our City and 2) that it is fair to all parties especially in how taxpayer dollars are spent.

In that regard, and how this deal has been laid upon the city and taxpayers, it will require almost $150m taxpayer’s dollars to be spent for the first two issues alone that I mentioned, unnecessarily. By converting the Construction Loan to a REV Grant by itself, this would save us $49 million dollars, in interest! While we are concern about taxes in the amount of $12.1m not going to the IRS regarding the Bread Box Loan, how about $49m from the city going to interest/investors?

Colleagues, this is not a Monopoly Game and the money before us is real. If not wasted in this agreement, what could this city do with $150m in catching up with road re-paving, fixing potholes, building and sidewalks repairs, not to mention performing more landscape work that now only gets done a couple of times a year, around our city. These things effect every citizens quality of life!

Finally, when complaints are made about parts of this city “Getting Left Behind”, well colleagues; it is Decisions Just Like this One that has time and time again, caused that to happen. So, if this agreement passes, I really hope that for those who approve it, they will spare me and everyone else any future outcry to this regard.

Again, colleagues, I do not believe it is this agreement that is in the best interest of our city from a FINANCIAL perspective. If this project is SO WONDERFUL, then if denied this evening, I believe we can go back to work and hammer out a fair agreement between both parties and make this deal happen.

If it’s an ultimatum that concerns you or a “Take it or Leave It”, then something else is wrong and consider that as well.

Tonight, I again will not be supporting this agreement and hope that you will join me too, so that we can get back to the table and negotiate what in the best interest of our city and the taxpayers.”

In a surprising event, that evening, three additional Council Members,  DeFoor, Dennis and Morgan, joined a group of five who previously voted No in Committee to deny supporting the agreement. By the requirement that a super-majority was needed for approval, the bill was denied falling one vote shy.

The Lot J development produced many emails and other communications by citizens and citizen groups. Council Member Becton’s office specifically received over 1,000 requests for the bill to be not approved and less than 30 in support. Polls conducted by University of North Florida found a majority of Jacksonville residents opposed the deal.

Since the vote, the out-pouring of many ‘Thank-you’s’ have been equally distributed based on the previous for and against numbers,” Council Member Becton acknowledge. “As for those that are disappointed in my vote, I have reached out to each and everyone to explain. My explanation included my statement to Council but it also added the following:

I am sorry that you feel this way and that we will disagree that this deal was somehow “Priceless” and should have been approved no matter how one-sided the deal was and how it would have been financially irresponsible on me to think otherwise… I have been a Jaguar Season Ticket holder for the first 25 years, having never missed a home game, preseason or regular. With that said, as I noted in my remarks that night, the ask on this agreement was too upfront $233 million dollars which I considered beyond reasonable. As a Council Representative, I am asked all the time, to ‘not waste taxpayer dollars’, so in that regard, as a true fiscal conservative, I try to honor that principle. So as to that end, it’s ‘Damn when I do, damn when I don’t!’. If this development is so wonderful, then why are the Jaguars walking away from it? I gave them a path to gain my vote. I also, communicated that there is a solution to this deal that definitely can be resolved. Instead of working with me to that end, they decided not to. I have been very clear as to what this city has done time and time again in supporting developments like this but it was ‘their way or no way’. So, when you look at the totality of it all, for this deal and the future, perhaps close to a Billion Dollars was to be asked, you have to somewhere reason, ‘How Much Can this City Afford?’.”

As stated, I tried to work with the Jaguars to address these issues but it was their decision to do nothing to earn my vote”.

By Tiziana Onstead, District 11 Executive Council Assistant