JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP)Shad Khan’s venture with the Jacksonville Jaguars could have started years before it actually did.

The billionaire businessman was twice contacted about becoming a limited partner with the Jaguars long before he agreed to purchase the team for $770 million in November 2011. He declined both offers, opting to wait for a shot at full NFL ownership.

It turned out to be arguably the most important decision in Jacksonville’s relatively brief football history.

The 73-year-old Khan has lifted the small-market franchise out of the league’s relocation realm and carried it to new heights both on and off the field. During his dozen years as owner, Khan has committed more than $1 billion to keep the team in Jacksonville and forged a path toward long-term stability that includes a downtown makeover the likes of which no one could have imagined a decade ago.

In short, he saved the Jags – at least from being elsewhere by now. Los Angeles? St. Louis? Oakland? San Diego? Toronto? London? The Jaguars almost certainly would be in one of those cities – or well on their way – had Khan not bought the team from Wayne Weaver.

“It’s anyone’s guess, but it was the No. 1 candidate for relocation at that point,” Khan told The Associated Press. “No. 1, and obviously three teams have moved since then.

“The buyers who had an interest, I don’t believe any of them had an interest in keeping it in Jacksonville. The team had been for sale for at least five years before that, maybe more.”

The Jaguars also were working toward playing as many as three games a year in Orlando when Khan took over. Since then, Khan has spent millions to upgrade every aspect of the floundering franchise.

He removed tarps and installed mammoth scoreboards, pools and cabanas inside the stadium. He remodeled locker rooms, weight rooms and club seats, and made the Jaguars an international brand by playing one game a year in London – a once-mocked move that became so profitable and popular that other teams are now jockeying for position in foreign markets.

“You don’t do the type of stuff that’s he’s doing, you don’t invest the type of money that he’s investing if you’re planning to leave,” Jaguars team president Mark Lamping said. “One day we’ll be judged fully by our actions.”

Khan doesn’t seem to get enough credit for all he’s done for the Jaguars. Sure, there were plenty of rough patches during his first decade, most notably the failed NFL tenure of coach Urban Meyer or bringing top executive Tom Coughlin in only to see his return end with a public condemnation from the NFL Players Association.

But Khan has taken a moribund franchise and made it, well, no longer the laughingstock of the league.

“I’ve kind of learned in life that you keep your nose to the grindstone and eventually perception catches up with reality,” said Khan, who also owns Fulham FC in the English Premier League. “That’s exactly what we’re doing. Some of the teams that have been sold (recently), the new owners asked me about the things I’ve learned.

“I understood business and we dealt with that. But then football is harder. How do you get the three critical elements right?”

It took Khan several tries and some luck to land quarterback Trevor Lawrence, head coach Doug Pederson and general manager Trent Baalke – a trio he playfully equates to “cracking the code.”

The Jaguars won the AFC South for the second time in five years in 2022 and then returned 20 of 22 starters for what they hope will lead to a deeper playoff run. In the midst of the team’s most successful stretch in two decades, the Jaguars opened a $120 million facility and unveiled conceptual designs for a “stadium of the future.”

The $1.4 billion project, which includes a 62,000-seat, open-air stadium under a translucent covering that’s the equivalent of “wearing shades in the sun,” would tie the team to Jacksonville for decades.

The venture also includes a substantial development of the surrounding area that would bring the total cost to roughly $2 billion. It still requires approval from the city council – negotiations began last month – but the Jaguars are using a 50-50 financial contribution model similar to one that worked in getting other proposals passed.

The Jaguars hope to have approval in time to make a formal presentation to NFL owners in May.

Add in an already-underway shipyards project that includes a Khan-owned Four Seasons Hotel and Residences, a modern museum, a six-story office building and a marina, and the sightlines from EverBank Stadium are undergoing a landmark transformation.

“It can be something that can define the city, a focal point,” Khan said. “There have been iconic structures over time. Look at what the Eiffel Tower did for Paris, the Sydney Opera House, even the Empire State Building in New York City.

“We need a symbol. And the Jaguars are part of it but frankly a very small part of it. I think it’s more important for the city to have something that defines it.”

Khan and the Jaguars (2-2) are currently in London for their second of back-to-back games, a first in league history. They play red-hot Buffalo (3-1) at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Sunday, and no one should be surprised to see a sizeable number of Jags jerseys in the stands.

“No one knew who Jacksonville was internationally until Shad starting playing football in London,” said former Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, who left office in July. “That’s indisputable. … He’s putting Jacksonville on the map in a way that people don’t understand right now.

“I’ll probably be an old man when people fully understand it, but we’ll experience it way before then. My kids will look back on this era and understand what Shad did for Jacksonville.”

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