OurJax and NAACP signal Lot J improvement deal

OurJax, together with the NAACP Jacksonville office, has voted against the proposed terms for one of the largest development agreements in the city’s history.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The OurJax monitoring group Tuesday called on the city council to reject the proposed development of Lot J, calling it a “rigged deal” to be scrapped so negotiations can begin with the usual review of downtown developments for which tax subsidies are requested.

OurJax, together with the NAACP Jacksonville office, has voted against the proposed terms for one of the largest development agreements in the city’s history.

The NAACP stepped up its opposition by sending a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell saying the NFL should intervene against the proposed deal between the city and Jaguar owner Shad Khan’s development team and The Cordish Companies.

“I also ask you to develop and implement new NFL guidelines and practices to ensure that league and team owners never again try to get unfairly rich at the expense of local communities,” wrote Branch President Isaiah Rumlin in a letter dated Jan. . December.

More:The city of Jacksonville could give Shad Khan $ 152 million in incentives for Lot J.

More:Jacksonville City Council is unable to move the Lot J subsidy of $ 233.3 million to the final vote

City council got a grip on Lot J’s legislation during its winter break, but the bill will come back into force after the new year with a final vote possibly on Jan. 12.

The NAACP previously urged city council members to reject the deal. OurJax, a nonprofit that was formed in response to last year’s attempt to sell JEA, had raised concerns in the past and urged residents on Tuesday to “add their votes to ours” by asking the council to close the deal to kill.

“We are not against the development of Lot J,” said Michael Ward, chairman of OurJax. “We think it would probably be good for the city. What we reject is the special deal that lies ahead of us.”

The proposed Lot J deal has found a mixture of support and opposition from civic groups for the proposed entertainment district, mid-size apartment buildings and luxury hotel to be built on land that is now being used as a parking lot near TIAA Bank Field.

JAX Chamber and the Jacksonville Civic Council, made up of influential business leaders, endorsed the development agreement negotiated by Mayor Lenny Curry’s staff.

More:The Jacksonville Civic Council supports the development of Lot J “with conditions”.

The proposed deal would commit the city to tax investments and development incentives of up to $ 233 million, the total cost of which would be between $ 450 million and $ 482 million.

“Gift from the taxpayer”

Ward said the proposed deal was flawed from the start because it did not go through the Downtown Investment Authority with its “tax protections” for negotiating terms, as is the case with other downtown developments.

In a statement Tuesday urging residents to speak to members of the city council, OurJax said a $ 65.5 million interest-free “breadbox loan” was a “taxpayer gift.” the developers at Lot J.

The city would pass the $ 65.5 million on to the developers, who in turn would keep $ 52.4 million in cash and deposit the other $ 13.1 million into an escrow account where they would be invested, until they would grow to $ 65.5 million for repaying the city dues.

“That breadbox loan – give me one of these,” said Ward. “Give me $ 65 million, I’ll pocket $ 52 million, put $ 13 million in the bank, and I’m done.”

More:Nate Monroe: $ 65 million “loans” are a boon for jaguars and a bitter pill for taxpayers

Curry administration officials said the negotiations initially included a $ 65 million grant to the developers, but federal tax laws would have withdrawn some of that money. Instead of city dollars going to the Internal Revenue Service, the city has switched to the breadbox loan, which also offers a way to recoup the city’s costs in the future, said chief of staff Jordan Elsbury.

Ward said a report by the Downtown Investment Authority staff on the proposed development contract questioned whether the $ 65.5 million is even necessary for the development to be economically viable.

City council members asked DIA to review the agreement negotiated by the Curry administration, but drew a line in DIA renegotiating terms. Ward said the city should restart the process by letting DIA negotiate a new deal.

He noted that the city council’s auditor stated that the city’s benefit in the form of new taxes from the development of Lot J would be only 44 cents for every US dollar of city spending on Lot J.

“In any business, and this is a business, you have to look at it and tell whether it is acceptable or not,” said Ward. “If the city council votes against it and the Jaguars and the Cordish Companies say they are no longer interested, so be it. There will be more developments to come.”

Curry administration officials said they negotiated the deal from the mayor’s office as Lot J municipal parking lot is covered by the city’s lease with the Jaguars for game day parking requests.

In the letter to the NFL, Rumlin also criticized the process used to negotiate the terms of the contract for Lot J.

“It is frustrating to witness this recent attempt to tax millionaires and billionaires while many Jacksonville residents live in poverty, fear for their safety and suffer the disproportionate effects of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Rumlin wrote to Goodell.

He said the NFL’s recent commitment to tackling “systemic racism” and correcting injustices plaguing black Americans “apparently sounds hollow” in Jacksonville.

The Jaguars were at the forefront of the NFL teams when they competed in the Black Lives Matter rallies that summer. Jaguars players, coaches and front office staff marched from TIAA Bank Field to the Police Memorial Building in June to raise awareness of racial injustices against the black community.

That march came days after Khan posted an open letter on the team’s website saying that racism will “kill in all its forms. It kills people, it kills communities, it kills dreams, it kills hope.”

Khan wrote of his auto parts manufacturers opening plants “in the underserved areas of Chicago and Detroit,” saying the team’s commitment to downtown Jacksonville would also make a difference.

“The people in these areas only needed one opportunity – and hope – to break the relentless cycle of poverty and oppression. It is inspiring and why I am also involved with the Jaguars to invest in developments that we are committed to for the inner city of Jacksonville envisioning where new jobs will lead to immediate and sustainable livelihoods. ”

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