July trial date set in city's parking dispute with Landing

Judge schedules a two-day nonjury trial July 29-30.

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  • | 10:00 a.m. February 15, 2019
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Fourth Judicial Circuit Judge Robert Dees set a two-day nonjury trial for July 29-30 to settle a 2015 dispute between the city of Jacksonville and the owners of the Jacksonville Landing.

The trial date follows nearly four years of litigation over the city’s sale of a surface parking lot, known as the East Parcel, to the owners of the Downtown riverfront mall.

Jacksonville Landing Investments LLC is a subsidiary of Sleiman Enterprises Inc. It bought the three Landing buildings that comprise the 36-year-old mall for $5.7 million in 2003 from Rouse-Jacksonville Inc., the original developer.

The city owns the dirt underneath the mall and leases the property to JLI. The Landing is at 2 Independent Drive W. on the Downtown Northbank riverfront.

The city sued JLI in October 2015, accusing the owners of not closing on the $4.7 million property sale for the parking lot, which the sides agreed to in 2007.

Attorneys for the city contend that while JLI paid the city $4.35 million for the 1.6-acre site, the group did not complete all aspects of the sale agreement to close on the land, nor has it paid property taxes.

JLI’s counterclaim is that the city did not deliver the deed to close the sale.

Property records show the city still owns the parking lot, which is east of the mall.

Previously scheduled trials in February 2017 and June 2018 were canceled as negotiations continued toward a resolution.

Last summer the city filed a motion that indicated the suit could be settled by terminating the transaction agreement, giving the city possession of the property and JLI its money back.

In September, Dees denied a motion filed in August by JLI for partial summary judgment.

According to JLI’s August motion, its attorneys believe it is entitled to the entire $4.7 million purchase price. The city believes it owes JLI $4.35 million.

The motion states that the remaining purchase price was "paid by application of a $345,125 credit owed by the city to JLI for prior parking obligations.”

That obligation comes from the Sixth Amendment to the 2003 lease agreement that detailed the development of a parking garage built across the street from the Landing.

The city had an agreement with Project RiverWatch LLC, a company owned by developer Cameron Kuhn, to build a garage to address public parking concerns.

If a new garage was built, Sleiman could then purchase the East Parcel and develop it as a mixed-use extension of the mall.

Parador Partners eventually built the 600-space, six-story parking garage at 37 S. Hogan St. after Kuhn exited the deal and allocated most of the parking to serve tenants in the SunTrust Tower.

VyStar Credit Union purchased the garage along with the 23-story tower at 76 S. Laura St. in 2018 and is preparing the space for its corporate headquarters.

As part of the Sixth Amendment, the project received $3.5 million in city incentives in exchange for the public’s use of 200 spaces on weekdays and 375 spaces on weekends. JLI maintains that pubic parking is insufficient.

The amendment also states that the city is responsible for funding a parking validation program that provides discounts or free parking for Landing Patrons, worth up to $131,250 per year.

The $345,125 is calculated based on that provision, something the city disputes.

A JLI spokeswoman did not return phone calls or emails.

Attorneys with the city’s Office of General Counsel said the city does not comment on pending litigation.

The lawsuit is separate from another dispute that began in 2017 initiated by JLI over contractual obligations to maintain the property.

The city maintains that it has terminated the lease and in January refused to accept an annual rent payment of $107,000.

That case continues to proceed in the circuit court.