JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Move the jail or renovate the stadium?
According to a new University of North Florida poll, Jacksonville residents say they’d rather move the jail, and the poll results are giving some city leaders hope the downtown jail could become a thing of the past after all.
Fifty-three percent of Jacksonville residents recently polled by UNF said they support spending $380 million to relocate the downtown jail and Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office headquarters.
The same poll found just 46 percent would support spending $1 billion on a renovation of Everbank Stadium, even if the alternative meant losing the Jacksonville Jaguars.
“I think it makes sense when you think about the type of expenditure that we’re talking about,” said Eva Matthews, Research Coordinator at the UNF Public Opinion Research Lab. “The city owns the stadium, but it is used almost exclusively by a private entity, the Jaguars, and I think that maybe people look at that type of spending a little bit different than something like building a new jail.”
Council President Ron Salem (R-Group 2 At-Large), who has made the jail relocation one of his priorities, told Action News Jax he was encouraged by the finding.
“When I announced this initiative in my installation speech, a lot of people thought I was crazy. Why is a councilman concerned about the jail?” Salem said.
Even though more Jacksonville residents support spending hundreds of millions of dollars to move the jail from downtown compared to those who support spending hundreds of millions of dollars for a new Jags stadium, negotiations for the stadium deal are already underway.
Meanwhile, the jail relocation is still likely years away.
Salem said while the poll certainly puts some wind in the sails of the project, it’s unlikely to result in a faster timeline due to the additional complications and considerations involved.
“It is already beyond my dreams of what has already occurred. I mean, we’ve got hundreds of people engaged in these subcommittees,” Salem said.
On the question of whether the stadium deal could be tied together with the jail selection, Salem said probably not.
“I view them as two separate things. I think they’re moving on a similar path so to speak, but I think the jail is a whole separate one,” Salem said.
Sheriff T.K. Waters called the poll results on the jail “encouraging.”
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“While both a new jail and stadium deal are equally important, it’s encouraging to see the public’s support for a much-needed upgrade to our correctional facility. I believe that by exploring solutions that benefit our city as a whole, we can reach common ground on both of these important issues,” Waters said in a statement.
“I think we’ve done a good job at educating the public this facility is well over 30 years old, it’s getting past its useful life and it’s in a location that is prime property for development,” Salem said.