The Jacksonville Landing: What Should It Be?

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.

Published October 3, 2014 in News -

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.

A statement was made by Bob Rhodes, downtown task force chairman, on behalf of the Jacksonville Civic Council (JCC): “The Jacksonville Landing is a community asset and remarkable site that deserves a design that is iconic and inspiring. {…} After a preliminary review of the recently proposed design for the Jacksonville Landing, we believe rather than endorsing this proposal that our community should capitalize on the expertise of local and national leading architects and real estate developers but engaging in an open design process and community dialogue that brings the best and the brightest ideas to bear on this public venue.”

The City of Jacksonville contributed $20 million to the construction of the Landing in 1987. Since that time, the center's orange roof and associated signage have become iconic elements in Jacksonville's skyline.

Additionally, public forums hosted by paint a picture of locals opinions. While some do speak favorably and support the proposed plans for the Landing, many are reluctant to get on board. Overall, the general concerns include:

Fear of losing the Landing’s iconic orange roof and signage

Many people are worried about Sleiman, his demands, and the effects on taxpayer money

That the proposal, and overall idea, is rather uninspiring

That the road extensions discussed along the riverfront would separate buildings from the river walk

That the “awe” factor of the Jax skyline would be lost

Some “practical” construction approaches have also been proposed by readers. One reader (Tacachale) believes what’s most needed is a riverfront pedestrian space, like what exists today, that’s surrounded by restaurants and retail, but directly accessible and integrated with Laura Street. While Tacachale sees pluses in Sleiman’s plans, such as removing the Main Street ramp, he believes the new proposal should not take away everything that already works about the Landing.

JBTripper, another reader, suggests taking the existing iconic structure and splitting it down the middle with Laura Street running down the center as a pedestrian promenade. Then filling the remaining portion of the existing structure with restaurants and retail and adding seven to ten floors of apartments around the existing building.

Whislert, another reader, wonders why are we considering the design of an iconic space without reference to existing underutilized spaces fronting such as Hogan Street. Whislert believes this area should be converted into a pedestrian plaza and integrated with the Performing Arts Center.

For IrvAdams, whatever the Landing becomes, it should be river-oriented, bar and restaurant loaded, with a large crowd friendly courtyard and nearby ample parking.

As far as iMarvin is concerned, if the Landing is going to be demolished, another iconic structure should take its place. With this in mind, iMarvin suggests that something similar to Times Square South in Atlanta with video boards and bright lights would be nice to have.

Fiscal conservative urbanlibertarian suggests instead of incentivizing the Landing’s redevelopment, the City of Jacksonville should just sell Toney Sleiman the land underneath the Landing and let him do his redevelopment with 100% private money.

The Ferry Building in San Francisco is similar in size and scale to the existing Jacksonville Landing. However, the exterior of the building is designed to have strong interaction with the urban environment surrounding it. Photograph courtesy of Simms3.

Finally, Simms3 a reader with Jacksonville roots who currently resides in San Francisco, believes that city’s Ferry Building is the perfect analogy for the Landing. Built in 1898, the historic Ferry Building is a re-dedicated terminal for San Francisco Bay ferries, and gourmet marketplace with upper level office space.  The Ferry Building went through a dry-spell when ship traffic lessened, but with renovations, and the addition of a marketplace in 2003, it remains a popular area downtown. This reader (supported by others) suggests that application of this model to the Landing would have a similar effect, that “The Landing could be a central hub for Jacksonville's growing group of small craft/quality oriented business owners.”

The Ferry Building features around 50 retailers, restaurants, and vendors. The majority of tenants are local businesses. Photograph courtesy of Simms3.

The Ferry Building features around 50 retailers, restaurants, and vendors. The majority of tenants are local businesses. Photograph courtesy of Simms3.

The Ferry Building along the San Francisco waterfront. Photograph courtesy of Simms3.

There’s a very active thread on the Metro Jacksonville website, if you want to learn more, or provide your thoughts:,20328.315.html

However, while we debate what the Landing should look like and what the exact funding mechanisms should be, we may be avoiding the real bull in the china shop. No matter what the final configuration of the festival marketplace ends up being, its ultimate success may be more dependent on the overall health of downtown, moreso than anything else.

Article by Kristen Pickrell and Ennis Davis, AICP

This article can be found at:

Metro Jacksonville