The Jacksonville Landing: What Should It Be?

October 3, 2014 163 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Sleiman Enterprises wants to redevelop the Jacksonville Landing. Most agree that something should be done. However, there's debate on what the final product should be, who should pay for it and how much public money should be invested in it. Here's a brief look at the rise and fall of the Landing and the variety of opinions facing its future.

Located in the heart of downtown, the Jacksonville Landing was originally developed in 1987 as a “festival marketplace” at a cost of $38 million by the Rouse Company.

Based out of Maryland, The Rouse Company was known for their development of “festival marketplaces.” These festival marketplaces were viewed as a popular downtown revitalization tool in major cities in the United States during the 1970s and 1980s.Their key characteristics included a mix of local tenants rather than chain stores, shop stalls and other common areas, and simple architecture in order to highlight the shops and features.

The Jacksonville Landing in 1987. Photograph courtesy of State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory,

While the Jacksonville Landing quickly became one of the most recognized attractions in Jacksonville, the festival marketplace failed to be the revitalization tool the City of Jacksonville had hoped for and was in need of revitalization itself by the late 1990s.

In 2003, the struggling festival marketplace was sold to local developer Tony Sleiman for a mere five million dollars. New management brought new change almost immediately. Sleiman had a jumbotron screen put into the middle of the Landing’s courtyard; enhancing the visual effects for live music shows and becoming a hot spot for advertisements and promotions. Sleiman also filled the multiple, vacant retail spaces with local boutiques, art studios, and galleries. These included: River City Gourmet Shoppe, Jacksonville Maritime Heritage Center, and The Village Bread. Sleiman also introduced several waterfront restaurants to the Landing.

The Landing was built on city property, which meant that after Sleiman’s purchase of the property and all his renovations, he should have been paying nearly $100,000 in rent. However, this wasn’t happening. The owner of the Landing prior to Sleiman had a parking deal with the city. Over 800 spaces had been promised, but this promise had yet to be fulfilled.  So, Sleiman went without paying the required rent.

Despite the changes made by Sleiman Enterprises, the Landing still remains a dated struggling shell of a failed 1980s revitalization strategy that physically turns its back to the rest of the downtown core. In the decade following Sleiman’s purchase of the Landing, several redevelopment attempts to enhance the Landing and open its central courtyard to downtown’s Laura Street corridor have been proposed. All have failed to gain enough traction to move to the construction phase.

This conceptual redevelopment plan was a result of an APA Florida 2009 Conference Landing charrette.

Now, in 2014, controversy and public opinion has surfaced among locals, with the latest proposal, which calls for complete redevelopment of the 27-year old center. Sleiman and his associates want to tear the current Landing down, and give it a $75 million dollar replacement. Approximately $11.8 million in public funding is desired for associated road and public space improvements. Under this new proposal, several things would occur, such as:

Public access along the river will increase from 20,000 square-feet to almost 89,000 square-feet.

An opening would be created from the river to Laura Street.

350 new riverfront apartments would be added.

Almost 1,000 new parking spaces would be created.

Retail spaced would be reduced from 126,000 square-feet to 60,000 square-feet

The proposed Jacksonville Landing development, courtesy of Sleiman Enterprises.

The proposed Jacksonville Landing development's opening to Laura Street. Photograph courtesy of Sleiman Enterprises.

According to an article by News4Jax, Sleiman says that this proposal is “a game changer for downtown, look at that design, it’s beautiful! It follows the national urban living trend that we’ve seen work with massive success in Charlotte, Atlanta, Raleigh, Nashville, Orlando, and Austin.”

And to a certain extent, many agree. However, there are several downtown advocates reluctant to get on board.

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