It’s difficult to trust our Mayor and Mr. Khan. Can we rebuild it?

Jacksonville’s Mayor has had a tough time being a trusted mayor due to the JEA scandal. As much as he would like to blame others for what went on there, we all know Mayor Curry put his own friends on the board and demanded the resignation of others who had served the board well before his time. From that moment on, the decision-making at JEA was all his responsibility. That’s how it works when you are in charge and you place your own team at the table.

And then we have the poor decision making by Shad Khan when he stood against American values on British soil. The love for him and the Jags started to die that day. He gave money to make all the bad press go away. Relationships are a fragile thing and the taxpayers and the Jags were in a relationship. The truth of the matter is: Money is not the answer to fixing broken hearts and Mr. Khan and the Jags broke our hearts that day in London.

Now these two men are asking us to trust them with the Lot J development – a huge and beautiful opportunity to kick downtown into the big leagues. But here’s the catch, Mr. Khan and Mayor Curry worked out a honey of a deal — for Mr. Khan. Per the Mayor to the taxpayers we will need to borrow money — $200 million or more — to give to a billionaire who stood against our American values and tried to buy our love again.

What could go wrong?

A lot unfortunately.

I’m reminded of the facility known as Dailey’s Place. Another big deal we the taxpayers helped pay for with a 50/50 split. The city would put in nearly $45 Million with a total cost of $90 million. Anything over $45 Million would be put up by the Jags. In an investigation in November 2019 – Action News discovered we have earned a total of $8,862 on our investment. You can read the investigation results here: Action News. That’s one story about our big deal with the Jags. Yet there is another one that Eye was curious about.

When we were being wooed about this Dailey’s Place – an image was circulated by the Jags and the Mayor’s office showing this structure. This image was in every news outlet (google it for yourself) and was shown to the City Council for their final approval. It looked beautiful and was a glass enclosed structure. This is what we believed would be built.

And at the end of the day, this was built instead.

The accounting for that deal shows the City paid $44,989,560.37 and the amount recorded for the Jaguars’ contribution was $48,065,190.23 for a total project cost of $93,054,750.60.

I don’t know much about building costs but something just isn’t right here. Why would a glass enclosed amphitheater cost as much as a large tented metal frame open air building?

Eye asked, “When did the design change? Did the design change mean the costs would be less? Who approved the design change?”

What we discovered is this final design for the amphitheater and covered flex field did not go through the Downtown Development Review Board (DDRB). Only the Marquee sign went through the DDRB. Why would such a big change to a city contractual deal with the Jags not go through the DDRB? Has anyone asked for a Proof of Performance on this structure or does anyone care that the image was so drastically different and the costs were the same?

Now we are here again making a big deal with the same players and wondering if we will end up with another design when the deal is done. If so, will the design changes be approved by the powers to be who approved the original design? Will the city council members have a say in that? Will a full accounting of every dollar paid be available for the taxpayers to review?

We used the word “trust” in our headline because it is a word that needs to be at the center of every deal made with our money. While we appreciate Mr. Khan and his desire to invest in Jacksonville and help us get something done downtown, he needs to learn a few lessons from how we do things in the south. For instance we don’t take kindly to private meetings with city council members on his yacht to discuss the Lot J deal. That might be the way he does things in Chicago and we think that tactic was unprofessional and candidly – it outright sucked. It doesn’t look right. It doesn’t smell right. It was not done in the sunshine.

So what does Eye believe should happen with the Lot J deal? We think the concept is fantastic. We need a big development to generate enthusiasm and attract other big developers to our city. We believe the deal should be FAIR to the taxpayers and not just for Mr. Khan and the Jags. We believe the final deal needs to have a clause that demands the Jags stay around for a long time and only one game in London should be on the roster. If Mr. Khan wants us to come downtown and play with his team, they need to be here. A better negotiated deal/contract should be on the table to ensure we don’t lose this game and that is what it is. A game. A business game. We believe every city council member should review every inch of the deal and make a decision that works for all taxpayers and the Jags. Certainly there is a deal that can be made that does just that.

And as for the other questions raised above regarding the Dailey’s Place deal, who will review the Proof of Performance and all the details of the transaction according to GAAP? We think that needs to be done regardless of this new Lot J deal.

And here’s an idea: Can a website be designed for taxpayers to go to and follow how deals are built out according to contracts in real time? Can that website be used by all agencies so people can keep an eye on their investments? If we can do that in our own personal lives, why not with our tax dollars?

We need to build downtown but rebuilding trust should come first and it can be rebuilt. It takes time and it takes work. Maybe the Mayor and Mr. Khan can work on that issue with the residents of this great city. If they would like a few coaching tips, (that would be executive coaching not football) I’ll be happy to give them a few at no charge. They can reach me through our website and I’ll meet them but not on Mr. Khan’s yacht. A local coffee shop will work just fine.

That’s my opinion. What’s yours?

Billie Tucker Volpe Founder of Eye on Jacksonville and Leadership Consultant to CEOs/Executives


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