Administration plans to demolish The Landing despite Carlucci pushback

The Curry Administration plans to stay the course with plans to demolish The Landing later this year, regardless of calls from At-Large Group 4 Councilman Matt Carlucci for a public charrette to discuss the matter again before the orange-roofed shopping and entertainment center is torn down.

According to Downtown Investment Authority Interim CEO Brian Hughes, the recent hue and cry raised by Carlucci during a meeting with the DIA April 17 and another one-on-one meeting with Mayor Lenny Curry and Hughes is confusing because the City is simply carrying out plans that were discussed at length during the Peyton Administration and decided long ago in the Brown Administration.

On March 26, after much discussion, the City Council approved, 15-1, an ordinance allocating $18 million to buy out the long-term lease on The Landing property held by Jacksonville Landing Investments LLC. Included within the sum was $15 to pay off developer Toney Sleiman, holder of the lease, $1.5 million to demolish the structure and clear the site, and another $1.5 million to terminate leases and relocate its existing tenants. At that time, Hughes told the Council demolition of the site could begin in six months.

The decision made by City Council was carefully thought through and was a long-time coming, said Hughes. The recommendation to tear down The Landing came more than four years earlier when in December 2014, the DIA, under the direction of Mayor Alvin Brown, adopted a resolution instructing CEO Aundra Wallace to issue a Request for Proposals to study the future of The Landing. By March 2015, the top three proposals had been received and scored so that a real estate consulting and planning organization could be selected to do the study. More than $100,000 of taxpayer money was spent on the study, which included a charrette held on June 16, 2015 that was attended by 100 members of the public, Hughes said.

“The result of the public meeting, along with a month-long study by real estate experts and development experts, was that you need to remove The Landing from that site in order to develop it,” Hughes said. “Mr. Carlucci is now saying, before we demolish it, we have to have another public charrette. What I am trying to point out is that four years ago, when there was another mayor – a mayor Mr. Carlucci supported for election – the DIA did have a charrette, and they did undertake a consulting process, which cost the taxpayers over $100,000. The result of that public meeting, as well as the expertise that they hired, was to move forward, to demolish and remove The Landing structure. I believe, if I am reading the press accounts correctly, Mr. Carlucci thinks there should be a charrette about the future of The Landing before we demolish it, and I’m trying to say there has already been a charrette. It cost us money, and it was done with public input, and its recommendation was to demolish The Landing.

“What’s frustrating is that Mr. Carlucci and the administration have come to different places,” Hughes continued. “What we’re are trying to communicate to the new Councilmember and to the press is that what he is asking for has already been accomplished. It’s been done. I saw a note that said we had promised him there would be a public meeting before demolition. We promised nothing, and we certainly would not have promised a public meeting before demolition because it is the intent of this administration to follow the good advice that has been on the books for years previous to this mayor, which is that removing The Landing is the absolute first step to developing that area for the future.”

Public discussion on The Landing’s future occurred even earlier than the public charrette in June 2015. On Dec. 9, 2013, a public planning workshop entitled, “Making waves: realizing a world-class waterfront,” was held at the Jacksonville Main Library with Mayor Alvin Brown kicking off the presentation, according to a January 2014 article in The Resident. The workshop was presented by DIA in partnership with Downtown Vision, Inc., the American Institute of Architects (AIA), Sleiman Enterprises, and the Haskell Company. It was facilitated by Tom Hurst, AIA Jacksonville president.

Rendering of one of three proposals for a new Landing design created in 2015  by Wakefield Beasley & Associates, a Ponte Vedra Beach architectural firm.
Rendering of one of three proposals for a new Landing design created in 2015 by Wakefield Beasley & Associates, a Ponte Vedra Beach architectural firm.

“Critical to improving Downtown is The Landing. It has not met its full potential, and a new game plan for The Landing needs to focus on housing,” Brown said at the 2013 meeting. Jax Chamber President Daniel Davis agreed, saying “I am bullish about the future of Northeast Florida and Downtown. Let’s get the bulldozers going and make it happen.” 

According to the article, Alan Wilson, an architect and employee of Haskell, shared the group’s goals for The Landing, which included the following: “view” corridors and a riverfront connection; pedestrian-friendly; a rejuvenated event and entertainment center, a destination restaurant experience and a public art infusion. Proposed plans also included opening a portal from Laura Street by demolishing the northern building and erecting two buildings on either side of an open area to include restaurants and banquet facilities; parking lots on the east and west that can be operated independently for private conferences and banquets; an art promenade on the west and an exhibit space on the Riverwalk near the Main Street Bridge.

Hughes said DIA was taken off guard when Carlucci suggested holding another charrette prior to The Landing’s demolition during its meeting April 17. He said he has told Carlucci that after The Landing is demolished, the City is willing to engage the public in discussion about the specifics of the site and how to proceed. “We will undoubtedly have developers who will have ideas. We will allow members of the public to talk about what they want to see on the river as far as public space. Public safety experts will tell us how to ensure that what we do is consistent with keeping our downtown safe. We will have engineering experts let us know how to do it along the river. We will have financial discussions between DIA and City Council. There will be a host of ways the public will be engaged in what comes next,” Hughes said.

Although The Landing is not a viable candidate, the Curry Administration is “progressively in favor of adaptive reuse where it makes sense,” Hughes said, noting the City has put into motion projects to restore the Jones Brothers Furniture Company Building, the Ambassador Hotel, the Barnett Building, the Laura Street Trio, and the Bostwick Building (now the Cowford Chophouse). “Those things have been in the works for years and are finally coming to fruition under this mayor,” he said. “Those are all adaptive reuse of old architecture.” In contrast, Old City Hall and the Old Courthouse are not viable for reuse due to environmental issues, asbestos and the fact their structures have “sat for more than two decades rotting from the inside out,” he said.

The Landing falls into the same category. “It is not a historic place, but a shopping mall built on our river in the 1980s. It has steel and post construction, not the most artistic or creative sort of use. The material used was done for economics more than anything else.”

Demolishing The Landing is important because it prevents the folks on the Northbank and Downtown from looking at the river and feeling attached to the riverfront. Cities like San Antonio have spent tens of millions of dollars to install fake waterways through the midst of their downtowns for the purpose of economic development and tourism, he said.

“We don’t have a fake river. We have this big lumbering natural asset, and yet right now, if you are on the north bank of Down-town or on almost any uphill component trying to look to the river you don’t see the river, you see this orange safety-cone-colored monstrosity blocking the view of the water. That’s not how you develop a unified, connected, vibrant downtown,” he said.

By Marcia Hodgson
Resident Community News

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