The Jacksonville City Council unanimously approved the land option agreement between the city and RP Sports Investments, 18-0, on Tuesday night, clearing the way for the Jacksonville Armada to purchase roughly 5 acres of city-owned land located along A. Phillip Randolph Blvd., just north of the Arlington Expressway.

Nathan Walter, the President and General Manager of the Armada, described the vote as “clearing the first hurdle” in bringing professional soccer back to north east Florida.

“We’re one step closer to re-emerging the club and bringing it back into the professional mind, so this is important for us,” he said outside the Council Chamber. “To say I’m excited, to say that the work over the past year and a half to get to this point has paid off, and we’re grateful for that.”

With the vote done, the Armada can being closing in on the nitty-gritty of the site and locking down the details of what can be done with the site in totality. The club is working with a local development group on the project to draw up the plans. While Walter couldn’t yet publicly name the development group, he said it was important to club owner Robert Palmer that the group was local in continuing to work with and give back to the Jacksonville community.

“There’s two steps to this: we still have to close on the site — so this agreement allowed us to get control to do due-diligence and really understand what it looks like,” he said, referring to what’s next. “The next step would be to close on it. We have some incentives that we’re going to ask of from the city — basic incentives, by all means, nothing crazy; we’re going to bring jobs into the city as well.”

The club also has to now go through the process of re-zoning the site, which Walter says could take up to 6-9 months to finish.

“These things take a little bit of time, but we’re over, like I said, the first hurdle and we’ll move onto that,” he said. “On the development side, it’s just finalizing the designs — what the concept looks like, what challenges we have we believe we’ve identified them and we’re going to work hard over the coming months to put it all together.”

As of now, it’s still tough for Walter to put a definitive timeline on completing the project with all of the work on the development side still to get through this year.

“This enabled us to stand still and say ‘you know what, we’ve got something here to viably work on,'” he said. “It enables us to be stable. It’s just working on everything to make sure that when we re-emerge we have stability.”

Other notes

Walter was not able to give an update on negotiations to amend the lease that sees the site used as parking for the Florida-Georgia game, but he did say he hopes to have a good relationship with those parties and even tossed out the potential for hosting a Florida-Georgia soccer game at the new stadium in the future to be incorporated with the lead up to the annual football game in late October.

“There are so many cool things that we can do to partner and help grow the whole Florida-Georgia weekend. This year we introduced the baseball game on the Friday night. Is there an opportunity to introduce a soccer game now? Both soccer programs on the women’s side are very strong for Florida and Georgia.”

The Armada will begin hosting free soccer camps this summer in the urban core for the local communities surrounding the stadium site, another important piece brought on by Robert Palmer. The camps will start in the summer and run into the fall, with the hopes of continuing them into 2021. More details, including the sites, will be announced at a later date.

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