Story update: Wednesday the city completed its transaction to buy The Jacksonville Landing from owner Toney Sleiman's company, according to Nikki Kimbleton, the Director of Public Affairs for Mayor Lenny Curry.
Original Story: “To get public input is genuinely unnecessary because we’ve been there and done that.”
That’s how Mayor Lenny Curry’s chief of staff summarizes the call by incoming City Councilman Matt Carlucci and others to explore adaptive reuse and other options before demolishing The Jacksonville Landing.
Hughes, who's also serving as interim CEO of the Downtown Investment Authority, said Carlucci’s suggested charrette, an intense period of design or planning activity, has already taken place.
He points to the administrations of the two previous mayors, John Peyton and Alvin Brown, who both explored ways to redevelop the Landing property.
In the Brown administration’s final year, Hughes said the city did a charrette in December of 2014.
Hughes said the DIA solicited expertise from a real estate consultant and design firm.
“If you look back at the minutes, more than 100 people came from the community to sit hours at a time in that public input," he said.
Hughes said the process resulted in a master plan for the Landing that was unveiled in 2015 by Wakefield Beasley & Associates (WBA) in collaboration with Urban Design Associates. He said that study cost taxpayers $100,000. WBA has worked on other Jacksonville projects, including the St. Johns Town Center and Adamec Harley-Davidson's Baymeadows location.
“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,” he said.
Hughes pointed out that the City Council has gone on the record in support of demolition.
“The [Landing] legislation included the line item very specifically annotated for demolition, and 15 of the 19 council members voted yes. So there’s certainly no mystery that demolition has been a plan that predates this mayor, [and] was included in our legislation recently,” said Hughes.
Although money has been allotted to demolish the Landing, outside of a few fairly generic renderings, details of what would happen next are not in place.
Hughes said “there’s not necessarily a pot of money” that has been set aside for the Landing property once demolition is completed.
“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.
Hans Strauch, the original architect of The Jacksonville Landing, asked last week, “Who in their right mind would spend $15 million to demolish something and have no economic recovery in place?”
The city is spending $15 million to end the Landing's lease with its owner, with an additional $1.5 million allocated to demolish it and another $1.5 million to relocate the facility’s remaining tenants. The Jaxson reported settling additional litigation will add an additional $4 million to taxpayers' tab.
Hughes maintains, “What’s clear throughout is that demolition is the next important step.”
For those in the community who believe the Landing is iconic, Hughes said, “The feelings that it’s somehow iconic is tied to its location more than the structure itself.”
He also maintains that an idea floated over the years to open up the center of the Landing isn’t realistic.
That idea came up again after the Landing’s sale was announced when a local group of architects put forth a proposal that The Jaxson reported on. The architects believe remodeling the existing building may be a more effective, cheaper solution, according to The Jaxson.
Their plan includes opening up the middle of the Landing so the St. Johns River can be seen from Laura Street.
“The exact numbers, you know, aren’t in hand, but it's cost prohibitive. And more importantly, it defies reason. The structure was not designed to be anything more than the simplest steel and concrete construction for the purpose of housing a 1980s-style shopping mall,” said Hughes in response to the idea.
Hughes said it will take anywhere from 60 days to six months to relocate the tenants and prepare it for demolition.
As to whether any of the Landing’s tenants may relocate downtown, he said, “Those things are sort of in process now,” adding, “We have to balance what’s best for the taxpayers. But wherever possible, we’re trying, as we conclude these transactions to encourage businesses to stay downtown."
Correction: An earlier version of this story had an incorrect figure listed for the 2015 Landing study.