Full redevelopment could be in store for one of Jacksonville’s best known waterfront venues, and the Bold City isn’t the only metro hoping to capitalize on a waterfront business revival.
Earlier this month, Jacksonville Landing owner Toney Sleiman and Mayor Alvin Brown announced their intention to advocate for the construction of a brand new plaza on the city’s Northbank Riverwalk.
This isn’t the first time the Landing has been the focus of redevelopment efforts, and the plaza’s design isn’t unique to Jacksonville.
The Landing is one of several “festival marketplace” properties built by former developer the Rouse Company.
The company used the marketplace design across the country with success in many major metropolitan areas, namely with Boston’s Faneuil Hall and the Chicago Navy Pier.
For every success, there are properties—like The Jacksonville Landing—that have struggled to maintain tenants and public interest since their openings decades ago.
“When Harborplace opened, it was the center of activity downtown,” said Laurie Schwartz, president of the Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore.
Schwartz says the center, which opened in 1980, started to decline after it was sold to shopping mall developer General Growth Properties in the early 2000’s.
“General Growth is a mall developer, they weren't as familiar with the product,” she said. "The trends were changing, the type of festival marketplace that we all saw in the 80's has changed."
Schwartz says the market is about 85 percent full, but with more national retailers than local businesses.
"The mix of tenants is not what we would like to see," she said, noting the recent opening of a “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” in the middle of one of the center's two pavilions.
Over the last year, the Waterfront Partnership has been working with the city on an updated Inner Harbor Master Plan.
"Every single one of our meetings with stakeholders as we develop that plan raise the issue of Harborplace," said Schwartz.
In November, Harborplace was sold by General Growth to New York-based Ashkenazy Acquisition Corp.
Earlier this month, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley included $2 million in his proposed capital budget for Fiscal Year 2015 for “modernizing the infrastructure” of the Inner Harbor.
As government money is made available, Schwartz said the focus is now on developers to make an investment in Harborplace, potentially in the form of a public-private partnership.
“We're seeing a major shift in residential growth downtown and on the waterfront,” she said. "We think there are new opportunities and demands that retail can meet."
Norfolk, Virginia’s Waterside Festival Marketplace on the banks of the Elizabeth River opened in 1983 with strong retail and restaurant business, according to Mary Miller, president and CEO of the Downtown Norfolk Council.
In the 1990’s the city moved forward with development of a shopping mall about three blocks north of Waterside, after which the venue started to shift focus from retail to restaurants and entertainment.
“It was successful for quite a while, but I think a lot of development can be kind of cyclical,” Miller said.
Large portions of the building have been vacant for several years with only a few large restaurants and smaller gift shops remaining.
In August 2013, Norfolk officials approved a deal to lease the property to the Baltimore-based Cordish Cos. for redevelopment. Lawmakers, developers, business leaders, and advocates are now in the process of determining what a new Waterside would look like.
Miller said opening up the space to create more connections between downtown and the waterfront is among the ideas being shopped in Norfolk, not unlike the draft plans for Jacksonville Landing.
"The waterfront, it's a beautiful waterfront, and people like the fact that there's an opportunity to open up through to the core of downtown," Miller said.
The plans unveiled for Jacksonville Landing would include an opening to Laura Street, parking, a hotel, public art installations, and high rise residential units, among other amenities.
You can follow Patrick Donges on Twitter @patrickhdonges.