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Jax Daily Record Friday, Apr. 6, 201805:05 PM EST

Sleiman sees more redevelopment plans for the Landing

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This time from high school students in the ACE Mentor Program. If he likes what he sees, he says he will build it.
by: Andrew Warfield Staff Writer

About 16 weeks ago, a Request for Proposals was distributed for redevelopment plans for the Jacksonville Landing.

On Friday, Toney Sleiman, owner of the Landing, heard the pitches delivered at the University of North Florida University Center.

From high school students.

The annual ACE (Architecture, Construction, Engineering) Mentor Program of Northeast Florida chose the Landing as this year’s project for teams of local architecture, construction and engineering students.

The program treats a project as a real RFP. High school teams submit a preliminary plan with a budget and spend four months developing the proposal.

ACE is a national program brought to Jacksonville in 2006 by Haskell, an architecture, engineering, construction and consulting firm. This year, the local chapter has more than 30 sponsors and is led by a board of 20 members of the education and engineering and development communities.

Five teams from Creekside, Lee, Middleburg and Orange Park high schools and of home-schoolers competed before a panel of judges — and Sleiman himself.

They presented their proposals for redevelopment of the Downtown landmark, which is embroiled in a pair of lawsuits between the city and the Sleiman Enterprises-owned Jacksonville Landing Investments LLC.

JLI purchased the buildings from the city in 2003 for $5.1 million and leases the land beneath them from the city through 2056. Since then, Sleiman said he has been trying to redevelop the site.

The parties are litigating over parking, maintenance, management and occupancy issues, each citing the other as the cause for the poor condition of the property.

City General Counsel Jason Gabriel said in an email Monday that the city does not typically comment on pending litigation, but did offer clarity on the legal matters.

On Oct. 17, the city served JLI a notice of breach of lease, noting among other things, JLI’s failure to operate and maintain the Jacksonville Landing as a “high-quality, first-class retail facility,” as required by the lease agreement.

Jacksonville Landing owner Toney Sleiman.

In response, JLI filed a lawsuit Nov. 16, claiming that the city is the party in breach of the lease agreement, not JLI.

The 539-page suit filed in Circuit Court claims that the city has intentionally created obstacles for Sleiman, citing five areas of concern that include redevelopment, parking, security, exterior areas and general access to the building.

By Dec. 15, the city filed a motion to dismiss JLI’s lawsuit.

“The Complaint is little more than a laundry list of stale grievances, false and incomplete assertions, and gratuitous and self-serving statements. None of it presents a serious or meritorious legal claim against the City,” the Dec. 15 response states.

The property also is caught up in a 2015 lawsuit between the city and Jacksonville Landing Investments over unpaid property taxes and the purchase of an adjacent parking lot.

Gabriel said the city’s only obligation with respect to parking for the landing is to pay $3.5 million to JLI in the event it constructs its own parking garage with spaces dedicated for Landing patrons, “which he has never done.”

“Mr. Sleiman’s assertion that the City is not following its agreement for parking is false,” wrote Gabriel.

Thursday, though, was about possibilities. Sleiman said he was eager to see what the high school students came up with.

“I learned about this last week,” Sleiman said. “I think I am going to learn something new. If I see something I like, I'm going to go for it. If a teenager has an idea that I like, I’m doing it.”

Plans presented Thursday weren’t the first Sleiman has seen for redevelopment of the Landing.

“I've been dragged along for 15 years with 20 different plans and I've spent lots of money listening to everybody and we haven't gotten anywhere yet, so I am just going to keep pushing forward,” Sleiman said Thursday. “The lawsuit will bring out a lot. There are going to be a lot of interesting things that we're learning about.

“I going to say this: The truth will come out,” he said.

Mayor Lenny Curry’s office declined to comment, citing the pending litigation, however Chief of Staff Brian Hughes said Monday that the mayor remains committed to creating a vibrant urban core, and that “he recognizes the Landing is a vital part of Downtown’s continued growth.”

Sleiman also asserts the city has ignored the core of Downtown and the area around the Landing. 

“I want to redevelop it,” said Sleiman. “I've been saying that for 15 years. I want to redevelop it. I need my parking. There are agreements for parking and city's never followed it. I want things to happen and I want to redevelop it.”

The city has focused attention and financial incentives toward other urban core projects, such as the Laura Street Trio and Barnett National Bank building restorations and infill development in LaVilla.

The city also will soon decide if it wants to engage in a public/private partnership with Elements Development of Jacksonville LLC to develop 30 acres along the Downtown Southbank into a mixed-use project called The District.

A vibrant Jacksonville Landing, Sleiman said, is crucial to Downtown redevelopment.

“It's a very important location,” Sleiman said. “We’ve given away millions and millions of dollars all around Downtown, but we do nothing for the core. We do nothing for home plate. And there I am sitting at home plate and they bypass me and there's no cooperation. It's just battle after battle and it's a shame because the people of Jacksonville are the ones suffering.”

Once he is in position to redevelop the Landing, Sleiman said he may be incorporating at least some ideas expressed by the teams of high school architectural and development firms.

“I know I am going to see something I never thought about,” he said. “Young people have this enthusiasm. They have so much energy and can look at things a whole different way.”

A vibrant Jacksonville Landing, he said, is crucial to Downtown redevelopment.

“It's a very important location,” Sleiman said. “We’ve given away millions and millions of dollars all around Downtown, but we do nothing for the core. We do nothing for home plate. And there I am sitting at home plate and they bypass me and there's no cooperation. It's just battle after battle and it's a shame because the people of Jacksonville are the ones suffering.”

Once he is in position to redevelop the Landing, Sleiman said he may be incorporating at least some ideas expressed by the teams of high school architectural and development firms.

“I know I am going to see something I never thought about,” he said. “Young people have this enthusiasm. They have so much energy and can look at things a whole different way.”

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