Demolition is likely imminent for The Jacksonville Landing now that the city has sent lease-termination notices after taking control of the festival marketplace on Wednesday.
Mayor Lenny Curry’s Chief of Staff and interim Downtown Investment Authority CEO Brian Hughes told WJCT News this week the city plans to prepare the Landing for demolition within two months, after tenants are gone.
Hughes provided WJCT News with renderings from 2015 that he said illustrate the time for public discussion is over. They're the product of a visioning exercise started under former Mayor Alvin Brown, and more than 100 people gave public input to create them, he pointed out.
The renderings provided to WJCT News by the mayor's office from that 2015 exercise – while accurate – didn’t include some of the more detailed renderings that show everything from restaurants and apartments to a museum.
Doris Goldstein was a DIA board member at the time of the 2015 visioning exercise and helped lead the process. She told WJCT News on Wednesday that former Landing owner Toney Sleiman was working with the DIA and other stakeholders throughout the process.
“He [Sleiman] was very excited about the charrette. He was actively participating … He loved the drawings we were coming with,” Goldstein said, referring to the conceptual work done in collaboration with consultants Wakefield Beasley & Associates and Urban Design Associates.
At the time, Sleiman had a decades-long deal in place to operate the Landing.
Story Continues After Renderings
The visioning process continued after Curry became mayor.
Goldstein explains what happened next: “That charrette and study and the work that was done afterwards continued to the point where we felt ready to release it. But because the city’s relationship with Sleiman reached a breaking point at that same time and the city filed the lawsuit against Sleiman, then that was the point in time when we shelved the plans and decided not to release them.”
The city and Sleiman became engaged in a series of legal back-and-forth moves with each accusing the other of not living up to obligations to make the Landing a success.
As legal tensions continued to escalate, the mayor’s office released another rendering last year without input from Sleiman. It had more green space.
This week, Hughes compared the 2018 rendering to what came out in 2015: “If you look at Mayor Curry’s plan, as it was –as it unfolded last June – it’s exactly the same plan. So this is nothing new. ”
Hughes continued, “To get public input is genuinely unnecessary because we’ve been there and done that."
That's as incoming City Councilman Matt Carlucci is calling for a new charrette so all possibilities – including adaptive reuse – can be explored before demolition takes place. Hughes pointed out the current City Council already approved $1.5 million for demolition as part of this year's deal to buy back the property from Sleiman.
As for fomer DIA member Goldstein, she would like the shelved 2015 plan to get a second look.
“I would like to see the city call Urban Design Associates back to explain and show these more recent drawings and the ones that were previously publicly shown, and re-examine them in the light of changes that have happened the last three-and-a-half-years.”
She said the 2015 plan stands up today.
“I think this is a really excellent plan that has what people say they want to have on this site.”
Goldstein said she thought the full 2015 plan would require economic incentives given the scale of the envisioned project.
“However, there was considerable discussion at the time that if we did this, that these large mixed-use buildings were economically viable and would generate positive cash flow that could offset some of the other costs," she said.
The amount of public space versus commercial development, Goldstein said, represents a fundamental question that the public has to decide.
"Our plan was intended to create an area that would be active and safe day and evening that had a lot going on - that it wasn't just a park, it was a park with restaurants and snack bars and a museum right there close by, all part of the same site,” she said. “Is this a site that is meant to be active day and evening? Or is this a site for passive daytime use that goes dark at night?"
Hughes told WJCT those types of discussions will take place after the Landing is demolished.
“The DIA and the administration and other stakeholders will have to sit down when the space is clear and really look at what opportunities there are for economic development, as far as how big additional structures may be, and then what ratio of new public space versus private development exist,” said Hughes.
The original architect of the Jacksonville Landing, Hans Strauch, has been following the Landing’s twists and turns with interest. On Tuesday he told WJCT News his read of the situation is, “The plan is, there is no plan.”
Strauch suggests “a time-out period to discuss Downtown planning and goals, both physically and economically.”
Strauch said now that the city has regained full control of the Landing’s future, it represents “an opportunity for a winning solution. A potential catalyst for a better downtown that everyone can be proud of. Tearing the building down now with no viable design and economic plan for its replacement is not the answer.”