Jacksonville City Hall has done its job. It’s time for Shad Khan to make his own.
COMMENT | Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan and aide-de-camp Mark Lamping are finally getting what they want belatedly: City Hall last week committed $ 60 million, or half the total cost, to help the team build a brand new training center billed as the first phase of a larger and larger project to modernize TIAA Bank Field. A separate proposal to help fund the development costs of a luxury hotel and upgraded marina that Khan wants across the street, totaling around $ 114 million in various taxpayer-subsidized incentives, is also on an almost certain path to the passage with the city council.
The city does all of this without the benefit of an extension of the Jaguars stadium lease, which expires in 2030. It does so without the chatter of conservative tax hawks on city council, who brag about spending money on utilities but politely kept the beak closed last week. It does this although some aspects of Khan’s future development plans remain more speculative than concrete, less than what he normally demands of the developers to whom he provides capital. He does all of this – and does it with great enthusiasm – despite some obvious drawbacks of the deal for taxpayers, after doing the math, he may absorb some drawbacks for the greater good.
The Town Hall is, in other words, remarkably generous, not only for the benefit of the Jaguars, but also for Khan’s personal finances.
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Khan must now live up to his two-pronged end of the bargain. The first obligation, the most obvious responsibility and one that Khan has recognized for years that he possesses but has not been able to fulfill: to build a competitive team. The structure of the NFL encourages parity by providing benefits to the worst of its ranks, but the Jaguars, in large part because of poor personal decisions made by Khan, have squandered these gifts for too long. This year, the Jaguars made the obvious draft pick of Trevor Lawrence, and Khan hired the celebrity-coach at Urban Meyer, potentially maximizing the benefits he earned from being the league’s worst team last season.
But fielding a constantly competitive team is of course more complex than that. It is neither practical nor fair to expect this to happen overnight, but fans have a right to witness tangible progress this season. Khan shouldn’t expect any favors if he fails to deliver once more.
The second obligation, and this one more contested, is for Khan to recognize the generosity of the city – now enshrined in these financial arrangements – and of the fans, and to be a partner in good faith when, in the years to come, he negotiate with City Hall on the really important issues at stake: the costly renovations to TIAA Bank Field and the team’s long-term lease.
By all indications, based on the limited financial data the NFL makes available to the public, Jacksonville, one of the league’s smaller markets, has outperformed during Khan’s ownership. Fans helped turn Khan’s investment of around $ 760 million almost a decade ago into an asset worth almost $ 3 billion today, and they’ve done so even. after Khan brokered a deal to host one home game per season abroad to further boost his results, which he did not. fans of the other team have to endure but which the residents of Jacksonville have finally embraced with good sport: a giddy contingent makes the pilgrimage to London every year.
Some of this information is old news, of course, but it’s worth considering as Khan looks to his long-term future in Jacksonville – because it hasn’t always been clear. he remembers this old news very well.
Lessons from Lot J
The official line of the team is that the winding path it took to get to where it is today – into this new era of good feelings with City Hall – was primarily a lesson in public communication. But it’s an incomplete story, and if it’s one that City Hall accepts and the Jaguars are allowed to tell, the relationship will fall apart just as dramatically as before.
Khan’s initial proposal to the city, to fund an expensive entertainment center in a parking lot next to the stadium, had been in the works for years and seemed certain to come to fruition until the city council unexpectedly killed him this time. year, causing a real rift between Khan and the town hall.
Lot J’s much-maligned proposal wasn’t simply a failure on the part of the team to communicate better with the audience, to better control the narrative – though it most certainly was. made losing control of the narrative. The failure of the Lot J deal was actually the confluence of many factors: timing – asking taxpayers for hundreds of millions of dollars in the midst of a pandemic, and insisting on arbitrary timelines for the city to accept the OK ; years of accumulated frustration over the team’s failures on the pitch; an unmistakable sense of entitlement and remoteness from Khan World; Jacksonville’s repeated innuendo as a market is somehow inadequate, rather than the outperforming that it really is; and more importantly, the trading terms of the Lot J deal itself, which were extremely expensive – more than what taxpayers will end up contributing to both the new scope of practice and Khan’s new plans for the luxury hotel and modernized marina – and incredibly opaque.
Nate Monroe: The Lot J tragedy
Lamping, who runs Jaguars’ business operations for Khan, has given more thought to Lot J’s failure in private meetings with city officials than he has been in public, I understand. have gathered discussions with many of the town hall and community stakeholders who have spoken with him.
And indeed, what Lamping and Khan did next reflects an unspoken acceptance that Lot J died because of those many factors above and not just because of a PR failure: they came back to town with a simpler approach, better balanced and much less heavy in cash. proposal – the practice center and luxury developments that the board will be reviewing in the coming weeks.
It is true that they also paired this more sensible deal with a new openness to engage the officials and community leaders who had cast them on Lot J, winning applause from former opponents. They pledged money for charitable causes intended to help neighboring neighborhoods in need. They held public meetings to explain their plans. They set up a public relations operation to generate community support for Khan’s vision.
All of these public-facing charity tactics and actions were an improvement on their muscular approach with Lot J, but the real difference factor is that the post-Lot J terms are just fairer, more responsible, clearer. This does not make the current agreements anything revolutionary or enlightened. No one has to like handing public money over to a billionaire, but if the city is to do it, has made it a top priority to do so, the package has to at least be defensible from a distance. It is; Lot J was not.
And yes, this time around, the timing worked to Khan’s advantage: Lawrence’s writing and Meyer’s hiring were much-needed booster shots for this struggling franchise. His task now is not to waste this new enthusiasm.
The point is to convey that the changes Khan made in the wake of Lot J’s failure – the drive to do better business, increased public engagement, a sense of humility and charity – should just be the way he does business in Jacksonville all the time, not just when he needs something in a pinch. This new path must be more than a temporary balm to allay the grievances of Lot J.
Stadium and lease negotiations will be more expensive, more complex and have incredibly higher stakes – they will literally determine the team’s future in Jacksonville.
This era of good feeling will continue as long as Khan allows it.
Nate Monroe’s City column appears every Thursday and Sunday.