In a 7-12 vote Tuesday night, Jacksonville City Council failed to reach the 13 vote supermajority required to pass the Lot J deal. Arguably the largest taxpayer subsidized private development in Jacksonville’s history, the vote came after scores of citizens made public comment, the overwhelming majority opposing the subsidy.
Major sticking points expressed by opposing council members and citizens alike centered on the so-called “bread-box loan,” the lack of financial due diligence, and an arrangement that called for the taxpaying public to invest first with the developer investing last, a reverse of how public dollar incentives typically work. Criticism of the deal included a lack of detailed cost estimates and construction documents.
In addition, public speakers questioned the city’s priorities and council member allegiances, one asking “”for whom do you all work,” another saying “some council members think the public is too stupid to understand,” and one calling the financial deal “a nightmare.”
The bread box loan, admitted by developer and Jaguars representative Paul Harden to be a grant not a loan, became controversial and difficult to understand. Members wondered why it’s called a “loan” when the city-as-lender reaps zero interest and has not conducted financial due diligence on making the loan. Council members complained that their constituents simply do not understand why the city must grant money to a wealthy developer.
In a presentation before the Committee of the Whole on Thursday, Tarik Bateh argued that publicly subsidized private developments typically include construction loans the developer seeks from financial institutions, complete with thorough due diligence analyses. It’s not normal for the city to act as lender.
Mark Lamping, president of the Jaguars, was reported by WJCT as saying the Lot J deal is dead, and that the developer will next attempt to develop Metro Park and the Shipyards.