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Jax Daily Record Saturday, Nov. 10, 201809:16 AM EST

Landing owner withholding lease payments to the city

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Jacksonville Landing Investments says it will not pay rent until the city cleans up the docks and surrounding property.
by: David Cawton Associate Editor

After shutting down a second-story food court in October, the owner of the Jacksonville Landing announced it is withholding rent payments to the city to make up for the lost revenue.

Jacksonville Landing Investments LLC Chief Operating Officer Michael McNaughton said Friday the company closed the food court “due to lack of support and sales from area workers and residents.”

“We remain optimistic about the future of the property and are currently actively working on repositioning the use of this portion of the Landing,” he said Friday in a statement.

Jacksonville Landing Investments is a subsidiary of Sleiman Enterprises Inc. and owns the three buildings that comprise the Downtown riverfront mall.

The city owns the land and leases the property to JLI.

The sides are engaged in lawsuits that began in 2015 and 2017.

The first suit, initiated in 2015 by the city, concerns ownership of a neighboring parking lot.

In June 2018, the city notified JLI it planned to evict the company from the property for failing to maintain it as a world-class facility, leading to JLI suing the city in November of that year.

The Jacksonville Landing food court closed in October. The Downtown riverfront mall’s owner says it closed because of a lack of support and sales from area workers and residents.

JLI claims the city is not maintaining the surrounding property.

“The campaign by this administration to seek eviction of Landing ownership continues to take a toll on this nationally recognized landmark to the detriment of residents and visitors alike,” McNaughton said in his statement Friday.

McNaughton said the city has “willfully and brazenly ignored their obligations to maintain the property as agreed,” explaining that surrounding docks along the St. Johns River remain damaged after hurricanes in 2016 and 2017.

“As a water centric city, turning away and depriving throngs of people hoping to disembark at The Landing and points beyond hurts not only The Landing but all of downtown, stifling economic activity and civic engagement,” he said.

McNaughton said the landscaping around the property is unattended and unkempt.  

“Sidewalks and pathways are broken and deteriorating. Lamp posts, lighting and other critical items remain in disrepair. Like many of the properties physical attributes, public perception of The Landing is deteriorating. This trend must be addressed,” he wrote.

McNaughton said the lack of care is contributing to the lack of “commercial viability and market relevance.”

When it was built in the late 1980s, the Jacksonville Landing was a shopping and dining destination. Since then, major retailers relocated, restaurants closed and as of October, the food court was no longer open.

In 2003, JLI purchased the buildings for $5.3 million from Rouse-Jacksonville Inc. and extended a 56-year lease with the city in hopes of redeveloping the mall into a mixed-use project.

Sleiman Enterprises President Toney Sleiman has said he is willing to redevelop the mall, but no plans have surfaced since Mayor Lenny Curry took office in mid-2015.

Curry’s chief of staff, Brian Hughes, citing the pending lawsuits, declined to comment Friday. He said the letter was forwarded to the Office of General Counsel.

In his letter Friday, McNaughton said JLI was “thrilled” to hear of other Downtown-area projects “sponsored by the city.”

Since Curry took office, his administration has continued to push development projects on the Northbank and Southbank, and through the Downtown Investment Authority, has authorized economic development agreements that include the use of city-backed financial incentives.

City Council has approved economic development legislation.

“As the ‘core of downtown’ and ‘the city’s front lawn,’ we humbly ask to be included in such plans. As The Landing, for over 30 years, has worked tirelessly to deliver a project with limited surrounding support,” McNaughton said.

Because of those issues, McNaughton said JLI “has elected to exercise appropriate ‘self-help’ provisions and will take these items of disrepair and offset the costs through withheld rent.

“Furthermore, The Jacksonville Landing has never delayed payment to the city, even during these difficult times of political dysfunction, and will continue to push for redevelopment as it has since 2003,” he wrote.

McNaughton wrote “the spirit and intent of the property designed as a ‘Festival Marketplace’ by James Rouse many years ago, was to bring people together.”

He wrote that “with nearly 40 years remaining on the lease for the property, we remain hopeful and continue to invite the city to enter into a productive and mutually beneficial discussion to work together on improving downtown and restoring The Jacksonville Landing as the catalyst for public activation, congregation and unification as it was intended decades ago.”

[email protected]

@DavidCawton

(904) 356-2466

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