- 2013 - December - 10th -

Housing, a pier, maybe even a Ferris wheel for the Landing

By David Chapman, Staff Writer

Labeled by some as "home plate" for Downtown, members of the public stepped up to bat Monday to share their opinions on what the Landing should offer in a proposed redevelopment.

Incorporating affordable housing that could attract a younger crowd was among the more popular ideas.

"Having high-income on the water is not the solution," said Tom Perdue, a planner and architect.

Also important to some was having a main attraction that could draw — art, a pier, even a Ferris wheel. So was better access to the waterfront, increased connectivity with the sports complex and street parking in front of retail, all of which were pitched.

All the ideas were part of a public input forum meant to help gather feedback on a plan Landing owner Toney Sleiman and The Haskell Co. have worked on in recent months.

The current redesign plan would open the building to the St. Johns River through Laura Street and add mixed-use that includes residential, scaled-back retail and additional parking.

More than 100 attended the forum at facilitated through the Downtown Investment Authority.

"It was meant to listen to the people of Jacksonville and find out what they want," Sleiman said. "This is an important asset to everybody."

Sleiman afterward said there was one idea proposed that really resonated.

City Council member Bill Bishop, an architect, proposed that Main and Ocean streets be made two-way and turned back into a local road. By doing so, the ramps near the Landing and Hyatt Downtown could be removed, opening up more land near the venue.

"I think they are in the way, they're large concrete structures," Sleiman said.

Bishop and Mike Saylor, a Downtown Investment Authority board member, said the thought of removing the ramps isn't new. The suggestion has been around at least since former Mayor John Peyton's "Big Idea" plan to make parts of Downtown more pedestrian-friendly.

"We came 'this close' and didn't do it," said Saylor, who served as Peyton's planning director for a year.

Bishop said the ramps were "obsolete" and "unnecessary" now that the bridge is not the main traffic thoroughfare, as motorists now rely on Interstate 95. The portion near Downtown is being improved and both said now could be a time to try and partner with the state transportation department to seek the alteration.

Still, Bishop said such a major change would take years to implement. Making the two Downtown streets two-way again would be done first and wouldn't take long.

Removing the ramps weren't the only ideas Sleiman said he liked. Having high-density residential — not just a two-story structure — was something he favored, as was making the venue a destination for artists and concerts.

Mayor Alvin Brown led off the event by talking of how the Landing has not yet met its full potential, but was a key to Downtown revitalization.

"Downtown cannot improve unless the Landing improves," he said.

Aundra Wallace, authority CEO, said he was planning to work with Sleiman over the coming weeks to see how the ideas fit with the vision of the property. It will then be presented to the authority board in mid-January.

Sleiman has said he eventually will ask the city for incentives on the project, but costs haven't been discussed.



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