The city took possession of The Jacksonville Landing on Wednesday, which means time is brief for its remaining tenants and possibly for the Downtown riverfront shopping center itself.
The city’s acquisition of the shopping center comes after the City Council on March 26 approved a $15 million settlement with Sleiman Enterprises' Jacksonville Landing Investments LLC.
That legislation also includes $1.5 million to demolish the Landing.
In an April 23 interview, Mayor Lenny Curry and Chief of Staff Brian Hughes made it clear they intend to demolish the building.
“Demolition has been contemplated for years and was approved by the City Council. Demolition is what comes next,” said Hughes, who also is the interim Downtown Investment Authority CEO.
They made their points as incoming council member Matt Carlucci proposes that the community discuss what could be done with the property.
Some people suggest preserving the Landing for reuse.
“Mayor Lenny Curry didn’t wake up, Brian Hughes didn’t wake up, the DIA didn’t wake up and come up with this notion last week of let’s tear down the Landing. It’s been years, years, years of discussion and we’re finally there,” Hughes said.
The politics at play
Although the mayor’s office is confident the Landing will be demolished, Carlucci and others want to open the issue to public debate.
At a DIA board meeting April 17 and in subsequent media interviews, Carlucci pushed for a public meeting, saying he “has been stormed” by constituents concerned about the Landing’s future.
“Even if it’s not a currently viable piece of property, so many people want to have a say in its future. The Landing, for so many people, is like the centerpiece of the Thanksgiving table,” Carlucci said.
“For this reason, I believe it would be well to involve the Jacksonville citizens in the decision-making process of what to do with the Landing,” he said.
Carlucci said the city needs “our citizens’ buy-in, engagement and involvement and, I believe, on the front end of the process.”
In an interview Friday, Hughes was frustrated with Carlucci’s view.
Hughes said a public discussion already had taken place that concluded demolition was appropriate and that the topic of demolishing the Landing dates back to the previous mayoral administration.
He said Carlucci, who served three terms on council from 1987-95 and 1999-2003, is telling media “something hasn’t happened and it has.”
Hughes said plans to demolish the Landing date to the administration of Mayor Alvin Brown, who served from 2011-15.
Hughes cited a previously unreleased final plan and renderings of a redeveloped Landing site produced from stakeholder and public meetings in June 2015. The city released the documents Friday.
The 2015 Landing plan was coordinated by the DIA board, which selected Wakefield Beasley & Associates and Urban Design Associates of Atlanta to facilitate the meetings and draft a plan for the shopping center.
The meetings produced redevelopment objectives, including opening up the Landing property to create a view of the St. Johns River from Laura Street, and featured green space and mixed-use structures.
“We feel it was evident that they meant demolition with what they described in the space,” said Nikki Kimbleton, city director of public affairs. “Especially with what they show in the renderings.”
Look back at plans
Doris Goldstein is a former DIA board member who participated in the completion of the 2015 plans.
She resigned from the DIA at the end of 2015 and moved to Los Angeles.
In a telephone interview Wednesday, Goldstein confirmed Hughes’ assertion that demolishing the Landing was the intent based on the materials and final design generated from the 2015 stakeholder and public meetings.
She also said that there was sentiment to keep it.
“There were certainly some people that suggested reuse of the space,” she said.
But it was determined the property was “not viable for long-term use.”
Conceptual drawings show a space labeled “Jacksonville Landing” with a fountain and communal concert space, opening Laura Street and Downtown to the St. Johns River.
The Landing as it appears now is not part of the final 2015 design.
The space is surrounded by restaurant, retail and office structures. A building in the northwest corner was intended for a museum.
Goldstein said the DIA and UDA focused on the junction of Laura Street and the river.
Curry’s office has not released an updated plan of what will happen to the property post-demolition, but Goldstein said she hopes the 2015 proposal gets a second look.
The key difference between Curry’s plan and the UDA design, Goldstein said, is the 2015 version activates the Landing property with amenities and shops, and that shade is incorporated into the outdoor space
A rendering of Curry’s proposal released in 2018 shows green space or a park where the Landing stood, flanked by two mixed-use structures.
“(Mayor Curry’s proposal) may be lively when there’s a concert or event, but when it goes dark, it goes from an asset to a liability,” Goldstein said.
One factor that could change a design is legislation.
Council is considering legislation from member Lori Boyer that calls for a comprehensive rezoning of Downtown, which would affect the setbacks from the river in future development.
Now that he’s aware of the 2015 public workshops, Carlucci said Wednesday the charrette should be refreshed.
“What’s wrong with updating the charrette?” he said. “What’s wrong with building a consensus? There are issues we’re thinking about today that we weren’t thinking about in 2015, like resilience.”
Goldstein hopes the 2015 proposal can be used with some adjustments.
“In this plan the site itself is iconic,” Goldstein said.
“The river, the public art — in this plan, people need to imagine walking through it. It’s meant to be appreciated at the ground level.”