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Jags owner unveils plan to help downtown

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — If there were any lingering thoughts about the Jacksonville Jaguars being one of the teams heading to Los Angeles or (gulp) London, team owner Shad Khan likely squelched that speculation this week when he revealed detailed plans to help reconstruct the downtown area of Jacksonville known as The Shipyards.

As part of the team’s “State of the Franchise” presented to media, major corporate sponsors and top city officials, including Jacksonville mayor Alvin Brown, Khan and team president Mark Lamping put forth a video presentation of an area adjacent to riverfront property that would be tied to the city’s sports complex, including EverBank Field.

Khan’s proposal would include a connecting boardwalk along the river and would be surrounded by such amenities as an amphitheater, a park, a marina, hotels, restaurants, skyscrapers, retail offices and three practice football fields — two of which would be stacked on top of each other. One of the practice fields would be designed so that it could be enclosed, allowing the Jaguars a site they could use in inclement weather.

The 48-acre site currently sits vacant for the most part, aside from a park that is used on occasions for concerts. The rest is an eyesore for the city and has been that way for a number of years.

Two previous attempts to convert this area into retail and commercial use have failed. But Khan, worth a reported $4.6 billion according to Forbes Magazine, has put forth the most positive presentation made.

While there are plans for the three football fields, Lamping indicated they would receive limited use by the Jaguars each year, probably using them fewer than 10 times a year.

“We have been very clear that a stronger Jacksonville, and particularly a stronger downtown, will equate to a more stable and successful Jaguars franchise,” Lamping said. “The motivation for the practice fields is not Jaguars-centric. What that really is designed to be is a gathering spot. Sure, the team will go and use it occasionally, but only on a limited basis.”

What was not revealed or mentioned much during Khan’s presentation was the cost of such a project. But it was made clear that the proposal would be a partnership of sorts between the Jaguars and the city of Jacksonville.

“The opportunity to make the most of our natural resources and potential as a city is here and it’s long overdue,” Khan said. “It’s time we re-engage with our riverfront, an asset that many cities can only dream of. It’s time to make Jacksonville the place to be every day of the year, to open a business, spend a weekend or even call home.”

Khan plans to make a formal presentation to the city’s Downtown Investment Authority early next week.

While Brown saw details of the proposal for the first time on Tuesday, his first response was one of excitement and support.

“I want to hear more about the projects, know more about it, but I am committed to it,” he said after Khan finished his proposal. “Everybody knows that the Shipyards have to be cleaned up. I see us making sure that happens. That’s a front issue. I think the city, the state and the federal government have a role in that.”

The city is currently conducting an environmental study of the proposed land for the project and $13 million has been earmarked for cleaning up this area.

While Khan’s proposal to revamp the area known as The Shipyards drew the most attention from his message, the Jaguars’ third-year owner also made it clear that he was looking for a better product on the field, starting with the 2015 season. The Jaguars have suffered through 4-12 and 3-13 seasons in Khan’s first two years with the club after the team inherited an abysmal roster in 2013.

“We owe you better results on game day,” Khan told the group of more than 100 people on hand for his presentation. “I know that. (General manager) Dave (Caldwell) knows that, (head football coach) Gus (Bradley) knows that. I want to make it clear — it’s my responsibility and yours that we deliver a team and an organization to you that you can be proud of on game days and every other day of the year.”

Khan also made reference to Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles, who he has endorsed as the team’s franchise quarterback of the future.

Bortles was the third selection of the college draft last year, and while the Jaguars planned to sit him throughout the 2014 season and let him develop as an NFL quarterback, he was inserted into the lineup at halftime of the third game of the season and started every game thereafter. The only time Bortles was out of the lineup was when the Jaguars went to a wildcat formation.

“This is the first season for me that we enter with stability at quarterback,” Khan said. “No pressure, Blake, but we’re counting on you.”

With money already used for improving the Jaguars’ locker room, enhancing the game-day experience for fans attending the game and installing the largest scoreboard in the world, Khan’s latest investment in the upgrade near EverBank Field will likely dwarf what he already has committed.

And even though he endorsed the idea of the Jaguars continuing to play at least one game a year in London, the thought of the Jaguars leaving the city for any other destination would now seem incomprehensible.

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