After years of neglect, Toney Sleiman has been very successful in bringing crowds back to the complex by hosting special events on a regular basis.
Riverfront restaurants, such as Hooters, continue to see large crowds on a daily basis at the complex. Sleiman's success is easily visible by looking at the new tenants in the center, such as Demola's, Club Paris, Deep Blue, Twisted Martini and soon... Fuddruckers.
Sleiman's original plans involved expanding the retail complex, moving the food court to face Independent Drive and opening the central courtyard to visually connect the river and it's activities with Laura Street. Unfortunately, this plan has been put on ice, due to shaky negotiations with the city, which include the city refusing to sell Sleiman the land beneath the existing building.
Since the building's design embraces the river and turns it's back to the downtown core, all the new activity being generated by the complex remains walled off from the rest of the core, which becomes a major negative for both the Landing and the Northbank.
If downtown were the Avenues Mall, imagine Laura Street being the central arcade and the Landing being Dillards. However, in this case the central arcade entrance serves more as a back door to Dillards instead of the grand entry it should be.
Although the Times Union Center, One Independent Square (MODIS), and Riverwatch all sit across the street, little to no vibrant activity fronts Independent Square. A little focus in this area could make the struggling retail spaces in the background prime locations.
The solution is a simple one. If the original expansion plan is dead, then lets work with what we have and find ways to embrace Independent Drive. Embracing Independent could be a winner both for downtown and the Landing financially. For downtown, a portion of the Landing's energy makes its way into the core, potentially spreading to connect with what's going on in the Hemming Plaza area. For the Landing itself, now those struggling interior mall shops have direct access and visibility to Independent Drive and other planned complementing developments in the area, making them highly viable locations for additional retail and dining use.
Before Rouse sold to Sleiman, the company flirted with an idea that included putting in storefront entrys for the spaces on the west wing, patio seating, and a new courtyard facing Independent Drive. The Starbucks Coffee shop was the first phase of that plan. Maybe it's time to dust it off and take advantage of the open space and visibility the center has at the corner of Independent Drive and Hogan Street.
In this photo, vacant storefronts line the entrance facing Laura. While it would have been ideal to see this area eliminated to create a new open air entrance to the courtyard, it still can be easily configured to become a restaurant or cafe with outdoor seating, facing Laura Street.
The theme to embracing Laura is somewhat captured here with Starbucks and Demola's both opening up to the Northbank. Now, take this concept and spread it throughout the center and a new open air hub of activity that could be just as popular as the central courtyard would now face downtown and enhance the viability of the retail spaces currently only facing the interior arcade.
This strategy would also help increase the center's attractiveness in pulling in national dining chains that have no local presence in the region, which was one of Toney Sleiman's original goals. Over the past year that list has continued to grow and will continue to do so as more people discover our community.
Here's a sample list of chains considering new locations in the Jacksonville area. Why not downtown and the Landing, instead of the next strip center popping up in the suburbs.
Chipotle Mexican Grill
Houlihan's Restaurant & Bar
Urban Flats Flatbread Company
A Rouse Marketplace Example: Station Square - Pittsburgh, PA
To solve issues with one former Rouse marketplace, it's only fitting to take a look at another.
While Station Square's central courtyard faces the river, similar to the Landing, the complex is also designed in a fashion where storefronts open up into the street. Being able to see vibrant activity coming from storefronts and their illuminated signage, help create the image that this is a place worth checking out, as well as adding additional light into the street.
In this photo, the complex addresses the street with a restaurant that includes a large outdoor patio (right). In the background, there are office buildings and hotels in the area that include street retail as well, stimulating continuous pedestrian traffic around the entire center on a regular basis.
Theming is another important element of Station Square that the Landing should embrace. The complex is full of interesting displays, structures and elements paying homage to the city's steel making history. Centering the Landing around Jacksonville's past as a maritime and shipbuilding epicenter is something that would help efforts in turning the complex into a unique place that can't be duplicated in the suburbs.
For more info on Station Square: www.stationsquare.com