Party at the Flex Field? City planning new fan experience around Florida/Georgia game

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — With the imminent demolition of the Jacksonville Landing and ongoing negotiations for a new contract to keep the Florida/Georgia game in Jacksonville, City leaders are looking to up the stakes for the fan experience around the annual event.

The Jacksonville Landing has historically brought in thousands of fans through the weekend for daytime events, like school pep rallies, as well as the nightlife experience. By the time we reach this year's game on November 2nd, that building will be completely vacant, with demolition in progress. While the City was not involved in programming the Landing in prior years since it was privately owned and operated, they're now looking to address the entertainment hole that's created by the demolition, to ensure fans still have a place to go to celebrate through the extended weekend.



So they're proposing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars more than prior years, to create a destination in the heart of the Sports Complex.

"All the way from RV City, through the [Daily's Place] Flex Field, in to the parking lots next to the stadium, out to APR [A. Philip Randolph Blvd.], and incorporating the Baseball Grounds and some of the different things on APR, including private businesses that are in the food and entertainment business, to try to connect them all together in a way that offers that whole area of the Sports and Entertainment District as a location for multiple events," says Jacksonville's Chief Administrative Officer Brian Hughes.

Hughes says the intention is to activate this area for several days leading up to the game for both family-friendly activities and nightlife, with everything from live music to street vendors.

"We want to turn that area down there in to a place that has some of the same offerings that the Landing did, except we're trying to do it in a way with sponsorship that we don't have to block it off and charge people admission to get in to the space. That if they're here for the weekend, that's where they go and that's where they entertain," Hughes says.

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'WOKV started asking about this enhanced fan experience, after seeing a boost in a special events subfund in Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry's proposed $1.4 billion budget. While the City plans to do the same annual events it hosts every year, like the Hall of Fame luncheon, they're proposing budgeting several hundred thousand dollars more than last year in order to execute this vision. The budget proposal includes an addition over last year of more than $440,000 for miscellaneous Florida/Georgia expenses relating to event services and $75,000 in equipment rentals corresponding with the increase in services, among other areas.

The exact price tag for this is not yet available, as negotiations and planning on the details of this fan experience continue. Hughes would not provide many more specifics about what they're planning, except to say it will use facilities like Daily's Place and the Baseball Grounds in creative ways. They're also planning for some transportation options between the Complex and some hotels. More details on these plans will be released in the coming months, he says.

"We really want the whole area down there to be activated for the entire visit that these folks have," Hughes says.

There is also $121,000 in additional funding requested for advertising and promotions for this event. Hughes says it's important to ensure that University of Florida and University of Georgia fans who do not follow Jacksonville news know about the changes with the Landing and this new experience they will make available, so the funding will be to both work with the schools and have information available once fans arrive.

While the fan experience is the purpose of these plans, Hughes acknowledges it comes while the City is in a window to negotiate a new contract to keep the annual game in Jacksonville.

"These types of extra events are also a demonstration to the schools that the City is committed to the tradition," Hughes says.

Per the game contract, all parties are currently in the first negotiation window, which goes up until a few days prior to this year's game. The final game under this current contract is in 2021, but Hughes says all parties are having productive talks, and he hopes to be able to work out a deal that extends the game in Jacksonville for many years to come.

"We anticipate getting to the finish line," he says.

The last contract extension was for five years and gave the teams a combined $2.75 million in payments and incentives over the course of the contract, including annual guaranteed payments, travel expenses, and more. There are limited direct revenue opportunities for the City, like through the operation of concessions and Daily's Place.

The direct costs to the City, meanwhile, have continued to climb over the years, with this new enhanced fan experience being the latest element- since Hughes says it is intended that this be an annual event. In addition to the price of running the stadium operations, the cost of tickets for the game has increased, and the City is obligated under the contract to buy 1,000 each year. The City is reimbursing the Greater Jacksonville Agricultural Fair $80,000 this year relating to costs they will incur because they agreed to delay the opening of the Fair by a week to avoid a conflict with the game. Additionally, the City is paying the Jags nearly $380,000 to acknowledge revenue the team is losing because of the impact of the temporary seating construction on their available tickets to sell for their game the weekend prior to FL/GA.

The cost of constructing temporary bleachers at TIAA Bank Field to meet the contractual seating obligation for the game is a little more than $2.4 million this year, with the Jaguars reimbursing about $310,000 relating to the construction in the Club Levels. That number varies some year to year, and could see an increase soon, as the contract with the current vendor expires and negotiations are ongoing in relation to an extension.

Hughes says the cost of the event is well worth it, considering the impact on the city.

"Jacksonville gets a lot of benefit from it. The economic impacts are real, we fill hotel rooms, we have people going to dinner for multiple nights while they're here, we have people going out to the beach, we have people enjoying our public spaces around Jacksonville, in addition to having game day," he says.

And it's also about the tradition.

"Both UGA and the University of Florida have deep alumni networks here. It's become a great tradition for a neutral site game, it's one of the most famous neutral site games and rivalries in college football, and has been for decades," he says.

Now is the time the City wants to build on that tradition, not only through the enhanced fan experience, but the possible permanent changes for the Sports Complex. The Administration is in the process of putting the finishing touches on an economic development agreement that will reflect around $233.3 million in City incentives for the $450 million development of Lot J at the stadium in to a mixed-use site with entertainment, office, hotel, and residential space. While that deal is still pending approval by the Downtown Investment Authority and the City Council, another project that is moving forward is the removal of the Hart Bridge ramps by the stadium. All of this will mean construction likely affecting the next couple of games after the 2019 one, but Hughes says it will be worth the hassle.

"Ultimately, a couple of years on the other side of it, I think people will be amazed at how well both Jaguars games and other events in that area and the Florida/Georgia tradition will kind of fit together down there very well," he says.

The Mayor's budget proposal- and the included funding for this enhanced fan experience complex- is still pending the vetting and approval of the Jacksonville City Council. A final vote will take place ahead of the start of the Fiscal Year October 1st.

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