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Jax Daily Record Wednesday, Jun. 13, 201812:46 PM EST

City halts 2015 lawsuit with Landing owners over parking lot ownership

City now says it wants to keep parking lot adjacent to shopping center.
by: David Cawton Staff Writer

The City of Jacksonville on Friday moved to end a 2015 legal battle with Jacksonville Landing Investments Inc. over ownership of a parking lot next to the Jacksonville Landing. 

City attorneys sued JLI in 2015 for failing to close on a 2007 sale of property adjacent to the Landing, known as the east parcel. 

On June 8, the city filed a motion to unwind the unfinished parking lot transaction, while also stating explicitly that it still disagrees with JLI’s stance that the company doesn’t have to close on the sale and take possession of the property. 

JLI is a subsidiary of Sleiman Enterprises Inc. and owns and operates the Jacksonville Landing through a lease agreement with the city. 

The company agreed in 2007 to purchase the east parcel site for $4.7 million with the intent to expand the Landing. 

Sleiman delivered the funds to the city, per the agreement, but the sale was never executed – something the city contends is JLI’s fault. 

The city alleged JLI owed back property taxes and despite never taking ownership of the 1.6-acre site, the company continued to make money from the site by charging parking fees, leading to the 2015 litigation. 

In a statement Wednesday, General Counsel Jason Gabriel said, “it is now in the best interest of the City and its citizens that the City keep the legal title to the surface parking lot and remove JLI from possession.”

“The original purpose of this litigation was to compel JLI to fulfill its now decade-old obligation to take legal title to the surface parking lot, which it has been occupying and operating since August of 2007, while also benefiting from all of the revenues generated by the parking operation.  

“It has become clear that JLI has no intention of fulfilling its contractual obligations to the City, not only to take title to the parking lot, but also to operate the Landing as the first-class retail establishment the citizens of Jacksonville deserve,” his statement reads. 

Gabriel said the city’s suit was justified and legally correct to demand JLI close on the sale. 

Through a spokeswoman Wednesday, Sleiman Enterprises contends the city never issued the deed to transfer the property title and in October 2014, without the title, “Sleiman Enterprises requested its money be returned.” 

Gabriel said the recent events related to the Landing since the lawsuit was filed, “now dictate that a different remedy is in the public’s best interest.” 

Since October, the sides have engaged in separate litigation accusing each other of failing to uphold provisions in the 1985 lease agreement. 

JLI assumed and extended the lease from the riverfront mall’s original developer, Rouse-Jacksonville Inc., in 2003. 

The company argues the Curry administration refuses to properly maintain the property. The city believes Sleiman has essentially run the retail facility into disrepair, leading to vacant storefronts and a less welcoming environment for visitors. 

In May, the city moved to evict JLI from the property. 

Sleiman both acknowledged and criticized the city’s latest action through its statement Wednesday.    

“Less than three weeks before the court date, the city of Jacksonville did a complete 180 and reversed its position on the east parking lot lawsuit,” said Sleiman spokeswoman Katie Boyles.

The parties were scheduled to appear for a three-day trial in 4th Judicial Circuit Judge Robert Dees’s court beginning June 27. 

“While Sleiman Enterprises is vindicated by the city’s position, we remain disappointed,” said Boyles, who indicated that litigation is expensive for both parties. 

“The city of Jacksonville intentionally used litigation as another roadblock against Sleiman Enterprises providing our community with a successful redevelopment of the Jacksonville Landing,” the statement reads.

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