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Jaguars owner Shad Khan scores Jacksonville Shipyards, Riverfront redevelopment for second time

by: Stephanie Brown, WOKV News 104.5 Updated:

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PHOTOS: Jacksonville Shipyards renderings 

Just shy of two years after Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan’s development team was given the green light to negotiate its vision for redeveloping the Jacksonville Shipyards, the same team has scored the top spot for the property once again.

As the city rebooted its effort to redevelop the Shipyards and Northbank Riverfront, three proposals were submitted: one from Wess Holdings LLC, one from Presidium Group LLC, and one from Iguana Investments Florida LLC. WOKV dug through the full bids to find the redevelopment plans ranged from $350 million to $1 billion. After an evaluation committee scored the bids, the plan put forward by Iguana Investments Florida, which is led by Khan, came in on top. 

The special evaluation committee recommended Khan’s proposal be advanced because it scored highest among the three bids. The full Downtown Investment Authority voted Tuesday to allow its CEO to begin negotiations with Khan’s team.

“Outstanding ideas in all three of the proposals, and we’re thankful that we were chosen, and now we get to move to the next step,” Jaguars President Mark Lamping said. 

Khan’s vision for Downtown stays true to his prior “Live. Work. Stay. Play.” pitch. His aim is to create an atmosphere around the stadium that the city and Jaguars both benefit from. In addition to residential and park space, the plan calls for a luxury hotel that connects to the stadium through a pedestrian tunnel and a pedestrian and bicycle bridge park, similar to the High Line in New York. 

DIA CEO Aundra Wallace will lead negotiations with the development team. While Iguana has asked for an “expedient” process, Wallace said the DIA allowed up to 18 months to get a term sheet approved by the DIA and a redevelopment agreement approved by the City Council.

These negotiations are where the last redevelopment effort stalled. Iguana easily won the last solicitation, but lengthy negotiations with Wallace and the city’s team never reached an agreement. Khan competed at the time against two other bids, but neither submitted the required paperwork to show the vision, backing and ability to follow through with the project, so the scoring put his proposal as the clear winner. This time around, Wallace said the competing bids were much stronger, but it comes down to who can pull this off.

“Who’s going to have the financial pocket to actually get the project done, and who has various different experiences of some of the elements that are being proposed,” Wallace said. 

The scoring showed the tighter race, but Khan’s plan led all categories: proposal team qualifications, redevelopment vision, and financial offer and capacity. Overall, Iguana scored 85.5, Presidium Group scored 66.8 and Wess Holdings scored 52. 

“I’d like to think no one believes in the potential of Jacksonville as much as I do, so today’s news is both gratifying and rewarding to me, as well as to everyone within our organization who shares my vision for the future of the Shipyards and the rebirth of our downtown,” said a statement from Khan.

Several DIA board members had questions and concerns about some elements of the Iguana plan: will there be private marina space, should the city be responsible for paying the environmental cleanup, how much residential space is built in, etc.

Wallace took their concerns and noted that everything is subject to negotiations at this time. Some also weren’t confident the project should be given certain waivers, zoning exemptions or other regulatory passes, although Lamping said things like that are key for them being able to keep the project on time and budget. The first thing that he will aim to accomplish in the negotiation is understanding exactly how much the city would be responsible for funding.

“If this project is going to take place, it’s going to be a public/private partnership,” Wallace said.

He is comfortable that the development team has the financial backing, and now the city will have to figure out how to leverage public dollars to bring that to the table.

During the last bid process, the city was only seeking to redevelop the Shipyards land. This renewed effort includes more of the Riverfront, through to Metropolitan Park, totaling about 70 acres. Although Khan’s prior redevelopment effort stalled, he was able to bring some of the notable attractions out of the plan and in to downtown, specifically, he and the city partnered on building an amphitheater and covered flex field next to EverBank Field, where the Jaguars play. 

Because of projects like that, Lamping hopes people are able to see their commitment to actually getting this project done.

“I wouldn’t blame people for being skeptical, because I think it’s been 40 years since any development in the Shipyards. I guess, if you’re looking for rays of sunshine or reasons to be optimistic, see how quickly things have changed at EverBank Field since Shad bought the team,” Lamping said.

Presidium’s vision centered on a Sea Glass Tower, which the development team said would be the tallest building in the state. It would have dining options and an observation deck. The rest of the development fills in with other attractions early on, like an aquarium and fine arts museum, then follows with residential and hotel space, and ultimately a convention center as well. Wallace said this proposal shared a lot of common ground with Iguana’s proposal, but he didn’t have documented proof that convinced him the team had the financial backing and experience needed for a project of this scale. Presidium’s redevelopment was estimated at $1 billion.

Wess Holdings includes some of the mixed-use development features sought by the city, but their more driven by the central concept of a “Jobs Factory.” The hallmark of this plan is to create an environment where people of all backgrounds can pitch and test a business idea. The development team said they have backing that allows them to vet these ideas and then connect the entrepreneurs with the resources and direction they need to grow, as part of building a broader “Innovation District.”

Wallace said he’s interested in sitting down with the Wess Holdings group to speak more about this innovation district concept. He wants to explore the possibility of something like this, but in another part of Downtown.

Wallace said he will now work with Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry’s chief administrative officer Sam Mousa and finance director Mike Weinstein to figure out the financing and specific project details. The first step is getting all parties to commit to a terms sheet, that would then be approved by the DIA. A redevelopment agreement would then be formed from that, and would need to be approved by the City Council. The DIA has allowed 18 months for this process.

Once an agreement is in place, Iguana says the first phase of its project could be open in 18 months.