JEA on Lot J? Not official yet and was the bidding process fair? Level playing field for all? Doubtful.

NOTE:  The author writes about JEA on Lot J only.  Two other developers submitted proposals for the JEA headquarters.  She chose to write about Lot J because her followers and she, herself, believe this is a silly and strange idea.  JEA headquarters in the middle of an NFL parking lot.  Really?


The JEA Board will meet tomorrow to determine who will win the contract for the new JEA headquarters.  For some reason, the date for this approval was moved up from April 15 to April 2.  

As a former consultant to JEA, I am extremely interested in this project because the people I know at JEA are honorable executives who play by the rules and ensure that all bids are handled with professionalism and transparency.  That’s the way JEA does business since they are cautious with ratepayers money — as they should be.

The Board relies on the JEA executives to give them all the information they need on important decisions they will be required to vote on.  And the board members need time to digest all the information so they are in full compliance of their board governance policies.  It’s a serious matter to serve on the JEA Board.

To keep the bidding process transparent, rules are set up in advance.  The rules for the JEA headquarters bidding process included many small items but the big ones were:

  • Submit your BEST and FINAL proposals.  Once submitted, there will not be any negotiations AFTER the award for the numbers to go UP.   They could go down but not up.  In other words – give us your best shot and that’s all you got.
  • NO Incentives or Subsidies could be used.  The developer pays all the costs.   City money (our money) could not be used to help fund the project.
  • The drawings must include a parking garage.

We appreciate those rules and after reviewing the Best and Final offers submitted by the three developers, we are not sure those rules were followed…and

I chuckle.

I chuckle because I find it silly, ridiculous and questionable that one of the developers, Mr. Shad Khan of Iguana Investment and owner of the Jaguars, has supplied the JEA Board with a rendering showing the JEA headquarters slap dab in the middle of the entertainment district on Lot J.

Many of our followers are concerned this is just a handoff to Mr. Khan and the other developers don’t stand a chance at being awarded the project.  You see, my friends, Mr. Khan is an astute businessman and his ability to mastermind a business deal is why he’s a billionaire and most of us are not.  He’s very good at what he does and he does deal making well.

And why do I think the fix just might be in?  Because of the following questions uncovered during our research on these three deals:

  • Fast track the decision:  The JEA Board was due to meet on April 15 but suddenly moved it to tomorrow, April 2.   Why?  In politics and business negotiations, you create situations that take the opponent’s eyes off one thing to do something else quickly.  Is that happening here?  Are all the board members prepared to make such an important decision without having time to review, question and deeply research all the proposals?  This is a decision that should never be fast tracked and in fact, should be slow, thoughtful and done with great due diligence on behalf of the ratepayers.
  • Incentives/Subsidies:  Shad Khan’s group, Iguana Investments is proposing to use Lot J at the stadium for the building.  Mr. Khan has stated in his proposal he is donating the land and waiving any profits on the JEA HQ project.  What?  As an astute business owner, WHY would he do that?  What’s in it for him?  Are there any side deals or back door handshakes that would create a “not so level playing field” for the other developers who submitted proposals according to the rules? We hope the guy who owns an NFL team is playing on the same level playing field as the others.
  • Garage:  The Request for Proposal stated the renderings must be submitted with a parking garage.  Parking garages usually go upwards yet a parking garage was NOT included in Shad Khan’s proposal.  Instead they are providing 850 surface parking spaces that will take up more than 5-6 acres of land.  What?  That’s the largest one level parking garage I’ve ever seen.  Who will secure, monitor and control the JEA parking area?  And…can you imagine how far all the employees and visitors to the JEA building will have to walk to get inside?  Grab your walking shoes and bring your umbrella – that’s going to be a doozy of a walk.
  • Public Access/Restaurants:  The building needed to provide accessible public transportation nodes and employees should have access to services and allow for adequate exposure to numerous dining facilities, stores, shopping, etc.  Last I looked at Lot J – there are no restaurants to serve 850 employees nearby.  It appears the employees at JEA will all be brown-bagging it or I guess we can set up food trucks and some corn hole games for the employees to play during their lunch breaks.  You know, sort of like, at the games but no liquor can be involved…it’s a work-day you know!
  • Construction site:  Lot J will be under construction for 15-20 years due to the big plans for the entertainment district.  Imagine this:  JEA headquarters in the middle of a construction zone for that many years.   Imagine this:  Frail older woman heading through the 5-6 acre parking lot, in the middle of a construction zone, after taking two JTA busses, to pay her JEA light bill.  And believe it or not – many, many people still pay their bills that way.  Just saying.

And last but not least, it appears Mr. Khan’s rent is the cheapest on paper so of course the Board members will think that is a good deal.  Who wouldn’t?  Yet did Mr. Khan’s proposal adhere to the rules as the others did?  Is there something else we are not seeing that should be seen before this deal is awarded?  Before any contract is awarded the fine print and the finer print in invisible ink should be seen!

Are there indeed some subsidies, some breaking of the rules and attempts to make an end run around the bidding process? 

It appears so.  At least that’s my opinion. 

What’s yours? 

Billie Tucker

Billie Tucker Volpe

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


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