When Jacksonville secured the arrival of the NFL’s Jaguars back in the early 1990s, it felt like a stamp of validation.
Years, even decades, of hard work by local leaders like former mayor Jake Godbold and then-current mayor Ed Austin to legitimize Jax nationally as a “big city” had culminated in the arrival of the nation’s biggest sports league around the same time that the city had also secured a major local investment from coffee magnate Maxwell House. Civic pride was at perhaps an all-time high.
And for the first few years, everything was great. The team had a winning record in four of its first five seasons, and its home attendance numbers were respectable. But at the turn of the century, when the team started piling up consecutive losing seasons, attendance began to dip – and that’s when relocation murmurs first began.
Ever since, through ups and downs both on- and off-field for the franchise, rumors have always stuck around about the Jags moving out of Jacksonville. When rumblings began in the late 2000s about Wayne Weaver’s plans to sell the team, many fans automatically feared the worst.
Weaver, of course, ultimately sold the team in 2012 to Shad Khan, an Illinois businessman who lacked Weaver’s strong ties to the local community. Khan was emphatic that the Jags were staying in Jacksonville, and the fan base embraced his cool ‘stache and somewhat nerdy vibe.
Khan and his team proposed – and got approval for – $63 million in improvements to TIAA Bank Field in 2013. Khan pitched in $20 million of his own money, but the other $43 million was left to the city.
Oh, and the Jags would also now be playing one home game a year in London – where Khan owns soccer club Fulham FC – to help boost revenue. Nothing to worry about though, right?
By 2015, Khan had another plan: overhauling the US Assure Club and adding a covered amphitheater and practice field that would be attached to the stadium. This, too, was approved by city council at a price tag of $90 million – for which the city would pay $45 million.
That amphitheater, Daily’s Place, opened in 2017 and is operated by Bold Events, a Jaguars-owned subsidiary.
All of the additions do seem to have helped home attendance numbers rebound as of late. But Khan and his team aren’t done yet.
Next up on the project list is the $450 million redevelopment of Lot J – for which the city might end up paying up to $233 million. And then there’s the Shipyards plans, which are expected to cost around $2.5 billion in total – and will likely also be a public-private collaboration.
So that’s over $300 million of city money – not including potential Shipyards costs – handed off for projects that seem to primarily benefit the Jaguars, with the apparent goal of making sure the Jags stay put in Jax. But at least after all of that, we do get to keep our beloved Jaguars… right?
It’s still not that simple, unfortunately. At the team’s most recent “State of the Franchise” address earlier this year, both Khan and Jaguars president Mark Lamping emphasized that TIAA Bank Field will need more extensive renovations at some point in the future to keep up with other NFL stadiums.
Discussions about those renovations are likely to happen whenever the team and the city start negotiating an extension on the team’s lease of TIAA Bank Field. But what happens if, by that point, the city is out of money to throw at the team?
Or what if those discussions come after Lenny Curry turns over control of the mayor’s office to someone who isn’t as curiously enamored with Khan and the team?
If the city ever balks at any of these grand proposals from Khan and the Jags, will everything start to unravel?
These are questions no one really knows the answer to, with the obvious exception of Shad Khan. And as things like the yearly London game, or Khan’s attempted purchase of Wimbley Stadium, continue to dance in the heads of Jags fans, no one can really ever feel certain about the team’s long-term future in Jax no matter how many reassurances are given.