JACKSONVILLE, Fla. --Two powerhouse companies are battling for the chance to run seven major venues across Jacksonville, including Everbank Field.
SMG has the backing of the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Sharks arena football team. But Global Spectrum says it can do a better job and it may have the backing of the city.
If the mayor and the Jaguars take separate sides there will be a showdown that could affect the future of the football team. It might not be a simple matter of money and could actually come down to relationships.
William Gray is former congressman from Pennsylvania, former special adviser to President Bill Clinton and was the president and CEO of the United Negro College Fund. He's also a close friend and adviser of Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown. They're so close that Gray was billed as the "keynote speaker" at Mayor Brown's interfaith celebration in April.
The flyer for that interfaith event with Mayor Brown calls Gray, "chairman of a business advisory firm." Translation: Gray's a lobbyist. Action News secured records that show Gray's firm spent more than $110,000 the first quarter of this year lobbying on behalf of the Comcast Corporation.
Records obtained by Action News show Mayor Brown made campaign contributions on behalf of William Gray years ago and he seemed to return the favor. According to another set of documents we uncovered, both Gray and his son Justin both contributed money to Brown's campaign for mayor.
Here's where things come full circle:
Brown and Gray are close; Gray lobbies for Comcast and Comcast owns Global Spectrum, the company going up against SMG for the stadium contract.
Each company submitted very different proposals. SMG has dramatically slashed it's fee to the city from $1.2 million to $125,000. On the other side, Global Spectrum is offering a base management fee of $300,000, but promises to make a $1.5 million investment to improve the facilities.
Global Spectrum's chairman Peter Luukko concedes his company's relationship with Gray works in his company's favor.
"He's a part of our team," Luukko told Action News, "Obviously, this is a political process and to be able to utilize different people in town to get through the process is important to us."
SMG isn't pleased with the process so far. The company issued a formal protest of the city's actions last week after a sub-committee of high ranking members of Mayor Brown's office recommended the city sign with Global Spectrum.
An SMG statement to Action News reads, "We look forward to learning more about the subcommittee's basis for its recommendation."
Mayor Brown said, "We all have relationships. But at the end of the day, it's what's in the best interest of the city that's going to take this to the next level."
SMG is aware of Gray's friendship with the mayor but issued this statement to Action News:
"We have no basis to object to any friendships that the mayor may have."