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Photo by Max Marbut - Landing owner Toney Sleiman has been pitching officials on plans for a redesign of the Downtown entertainment and dining venue.
Jax Daily Record Wednesday, Oct. 2, 201312:00 PM EST

Changes pitched for Landing

by: David Chapman

The Landing retail marketplace could soon have a new — and much different — look.

Landing owner Toney Sleiman has been pitching redesign plans of the Downtown dining and entertainment hub that would open the building to the St. Johns River, specifically through Laura Street, adding residential, parking and cutting some retail space.

His audience in recent weeks has been members of City Council, the Downtown Investment Authority and the city Office of Economic Development.

Sleiman said Wednesday that despite moving parts, the constant of a redesign is opening the venue to the river and Laura Street.

"Everybody has told me it's old, it's tired, it needs to be redone," he said. "I agree."

Sleiman said other aspects keep changing, such as the possibility for residential.

He said he ordered a residential study Tuesday that could be completed in 60 days. That will tell him what kind and how many residential units could be accommodated with a redesign.

Sleiman has long criticized a lack of dedicated parking. On Monday, he said he has ordered a parking study and said results should be available this month.

Sleiman said costs have not yet been determined, but said he will eventually ask the city for incentives.

In a 2009 Daily Record interview, he said his first actions, if given a blank check to redesign the Landing, would be to "cut through the middle of the building" and add parking that proposed tenants have told him they need.

He said Wednesday that Downtown has 47,000 workers and any restaurant or venue "would love to have that captive audience."

Council member Bill Bishop said this week, "I have seen the plan and, conceptually, I like it."

Bishop said the idea is to "pretty much knock down the horseshoe, reconstruct it with a hole and opening in the middle" for a river view from Laura Street and to add parking next to the building.

Bishop, an architect by trade, said he thinks the idea is better than the existing design.

"The design is not very inviting," he said. "Once you get there, the space inside the courtyard is great … but you have this big wall in front of the river."

Council member Jim Love said Sleiman showed him basic plans to make the structure a little smaller with more parking and the river-view opening through Laura Street.

He said he would like to see several architects review the plans before he made a judgment, but did say the Downtown venue needed a change.

"The Landing needs to be refreshed," he said. "No doubt about it."

Council President Bill Gulliford said the idea Sleiman is proposing "has some merit" but that the process should "absolutely" start with the DIA. "To not include them would be shortsighted," he said.

DIA board Chair Oliver Barakat said Sleiman has briefed him on the concept and that he believes the idea to better connect the building to the river and Laura Street corridor "is the right thing to do."

Authority board member Mike Saylor said that during a recent conversation with Sleiman, the Landing owner said he wanted to bring it before the board in October. There is no agenda yet for the Oct. 16 meeting, but Barakat said if Sleiman has a specific request, he would be placed on the list.

Sleiman said Wednesday he wanted to meet with the board this month, but given the recent changes he might hold off.

He also kept the city apprised of his ideas.

"A new master plan or renovation can only help bring more opportunities this great downtown gateway," said Ted Carter, city Office of Economic Development executive director, in a statement.

Carter said the OED has been briefed on Sleiman's plans and would work with the DIA, Sleiman and others toward Downtown revitalization.

DIA Vice Chair Jim Bailey, publisher of the Daily Record, said Sleiman briefed him on the concept, which he liked when originally pitched.

"I always liked the idea of opening it up and connecting to Laura Street," Bailey said. "I thought it was a good plan at the time and I still do."

Bailey said such an idea to revitalize the Landing would provide more merchants and retailers to provide residents and visitors more to do, which would spur further Downtown development.

"You can do every project in the world, but if there is nothing to do it won't work," he said.

In a Monday presentation to the Meninak Club of Jacksonville, JAX Chamber President Daniel Davis called revitalizing the Landing a potential way to secure "one victory" to show results.

Davis told about 60 members of the organization that "wins" at the Landing and Hemming Plaza — often referred to as each ends of the Laura Street corridor — could lead to more results in other projects.

Sleiman said he has been encouraged by the response so far to his plans

"I am because it's something that needs to be done, has to be done if Downtown is going to be successful," he said.

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