Duval County residents are far more willing to spend taxpayer dollars on building a new jail than they are to pay for renovating the city-owned football stadium, but in almost the same breath, their grudging support for paying as much as $1 billion for a large-scale stadium upgrade and a neighboring entertainment district climbs to 46% if that's what it takes to keep the Jaguars playing in Jacksonville.
A University of North Florida poll released Monday shows just 6% of respondents favor the Jaguars' initial proposal for the city and Jaguars owner Shad Khan to each put $1 billion toward large-scale stadium renovations and development of an entertainment district beside the stadium.
But when asked if they would favor spending the $1 billion if it meant the difference between the Jaguars staying in Jacksonville or moving to another city, 46% shifted into the "yes" camp while 47% were still against.
"It's no wonder Duval County voters don't want to foot the bill for stadium renovations, but what's really interesting is their change of heart when given the ultimatum of a $1 billion public investment or the Jaguars walking away," UNF Public Opinion Research Lab Director Michael Binder said. "This is just one of many reasons that local taxpayers are going to end up shelling out an enormous amount of money for this endeavor."
In contrast to tepid support for the stadium overhaul, building a new jail and administrative building for the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office somewhere outside downtown won support of 52% of respondents compared to opposition from 40%. The remaining 8% either did not have a stance or did not answer.
City Council President Ron Salem formed a special committee that is examining the future of the county jail and police administrative building.
The city has not identified any money for either construction project over the next five years. Estimates have shown a $244 million price tag for building a 3,000-bed jail off Lanie Road on the Northside, nearly $41 million for a 500-bed jail for short-term holding of inmates making court appearance somewhere in downtown, and $96 million for a new, larger Police Memorial Building for the Sheriff's Office headquarters.
"The relatively high support for moving the jail and JSO offices away from downtown given the large estimated $380 million price tag is rather surprising," Binder said.
In a question indirectly related to the jail, the UNF poll asked people to say what Jacksonville's most important problem is and found yet again it's an issue under the purview of the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office. The poll showed 36% identified crime followed by housing costs at 11%, transportation and other infrastructure at 9%, the economy and jobs at 7%, race relations and discrimination at 7%, and homelessness at 4%.
"Crime has historically been the biggest problem in past PORL survey so it's no surprise to see it at the top of the list," Binder said. He added that while homelessness is not among the top issues, it "seems to be an emerging concern for Duval voters, too."
City and Jaguars will negotiate stadium over coming year
Mayor Donna Deegan has said the city and the Jaguars will hammer out an agreement on renovating the stadium and adding a long-term extension to the team's lease of the city-owned venue. The current lease goes through the 2029 football season.
Team President Mark Lamping has said the Jaguars want to finalize an agreement by the second quarter of 2024 so construction can start in early 2026.
The Jaguars proposed a framework for negotiating both the stadium and development of an entertainment district next to the stadium. The Jaguars put the total cost at about $2 billion for the entire package with the city and Jaguars owner Shad Khan splitting the cost 50-50, or a $1 billion apiece.
The UNF poll listed a set of options and found 51% support the Jaguars purchasing the land and paying for stadium improvements with zero taxpayer investment while 6% were at the other range of the spectrum backing the $1 billion from taxpayers. Another 33% were split between backing $250 million to $500 million as the city's share of the cost while the rest did not know or didn't answer.
But when the choice is couched as affecting whether the Jaguars remain in Jacksonville, the UNF poll found that reset the issue. Even among those who don't want to spend any taxpayer dollars, 33% said they would be in support if faced with the team moving to another city.
The Jaguars have not made any threats to leave Jacksonville, but both the team and city officials have said improving the stadium will be necessary to reach a long-term lease extension. The stadium was built in 1995 for the Jaguar's first season.
The city has not yet presented its own design or estimated cost for stadium renovations. Deegan has said at her town hall meetings that she hears from residents who don't want to spend taxpayer dollars on the stadium, but they also don't want to see the Jaguars leave Jacksonville.
"Those two things are mutually exclusive," she said at an August town hall in Neptune Beach. "I'm just going to tell you the NFL has made that clear. So my job is to get the very best deal I can get for the taxpayers of the city of Jacksonville."
She said the Jaguars initial design has "wish list" features that the city would hash out in negotiations with a goal of reaching an agreement.
"I believe an NFL team brings a lot of community pride, a lot of prestige, a lot of community building," she said. "I think it's just incredibly important for us to have the Jaguars, absolutely."
The team's design would put a roof on the stadium to shield fans from the oppressive heat of early-season games and also keep them dry during rainstorms. The outside of the stadium would be wrapped by a mirrored material. The entrance to the stadium would take fans through a “subtropical Floridian park" and they would have more walking space on widened concourses. Lighting and digital technology would make visual changes to the stadium's appearance.
The fan experience at the stadium was at the bottom of the UNF poll for what residents consider most important in any deal.
In the top spot, 45% said they want a deal to put community and economic investment in underserved neighborhoods. Deegan also has said that would be important for any deal made by the city. The Eastside neighborhood, also called Out East, is a struggling neighborhood on the other side of the Mathews Bridge's elevated ramps from the sports complex.
Other desired outcomes were 19% for more entertainment in downtown, 17% for negotiating the smallest possible amount of taxpayer investment, 5% minimizing how long construction takes so the team will play as few games as possible away from the stadium, and 4% said fixing the temperature problem at the stadium is most important, the UNF poll found.
This article originally appeared on Florida Times-Union: UNF poll shows split verdict on $1 billion for stadium to keep Jaguars