Past battles over a new stadium hint at the future

There is one person in town who has more than an inkling of the turmoil the City Council may face when the negotiations with the Jacksonville Jaguars are over.

Chuck Arnold, a former judge and a former general counsel for the city of Jacksonville, was at the center of the original negotiations with the Jaguars.

That involved the replacement of the Gator Bowl with an entirely new stadium and cemented the agreement for a new lease that the Jaguar presence depended upon.

Arnold retold the tale at the monthly meeting for former City Council presidents Monday.

Because he stood firm for limits on the taxpayers’ liability, Arnold was seen as a bad guy by those who were ready to turn over the keys to the city treasury for the sake of having an NFL team in town.

As the negotiations started, a figure of $50 million was discussed as the cost of the new stadium.

That quickly grew to $60 million, then $90 million and it kept going. Arnold said he told city officials there needed to be a cap. There was agreement on a figure of $112 million.

Between the people who wanted no cap and the people who didn’t even want the team in town, it was a chore to secure the 13 votes needed to approve the list with a $112 million cap on what the city would pay.

Multi-millionaire team owner Wayne Weaver said he was too poor to pay the cost of the stadium.

In fact, the deal was so contentious that it collapsed. The tough and courageous Arnold was blamed by Jag fans for his efforts to protect the taxpayers.

Only after extensive behind-the-scenes pleading was it revived and finally brought to a vote at the council.

While the council debate raged, going in all directions, Councilman Eric Smith called the previous question, a parliamentary maneuver that brought the issue to a vote before it could be amended. It passed 14-0.

Eventually, however, the cap was set aside and the city’s actual cost was pushed up to $144 million.

Now, some 30 years later, the team again is demanding a new stadium. This time the cost is set at $1.4 billion and if the taxpayers paid half they would pony up $700 million.

But $112 million in 1994 would be $235 million today — and there is a vast difference between $235 million and $700 million.

Taxpayers may be asked to fork over three times as much for a stadium renovation as they did for a stadium replacement 30 years ago

Perhaps that is why Arnold said that the city might be better off just giving the stadium to the Jaguars. Coincidentally, that is the exact remedy for an impasse Eye on Jacksonville has made.

Nobody in city government knows where the taxpayer share of the cost would come from. Amid spending billions on infrastructure and fanciful things like the Emeral Trail, the city doesn’t really have $700 million lying around. Some have even floated the idea of prying the money out of the city’s pension funds, but leaders of the funds have made it clear that won’t fly.

In short, the turmoil Arnold described is likely to look mild in comparison to the stuff that will hit the fan when a deal between with the Jaguars is presented to the City Council.

Lloyd Brown

Lloyd was born in Jacksonville. Graduated from the University of North Florida. He spent nearly 50 years of his life in the newspaper business …beginning as a copy boy and retiring as editorial page editor for Florida Times Union. He has also been published in a number of national newspapers and magazines, as well as Internet sites. Married with children. Military Vet. Retired. Man of few words but the words are researched well, deeply considered and thoughtfully written.


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