Carlucci calls for public charrettes to discuss future of The Landing before demolition

Carlucci calls for public charrettes to discuss future of The Landing before demolition
A rendering of The Landing portal created in 2014, courtesy of Haskell, when the public was invited to discuss its future five years ago.

The Landing has been referred to as “home plate,” the “front porch of Downtown,” or as At-Large Group 4 City Councilman-elect Matt Carlucci likes to call it, the “centerpiece of Jacksonville’s Thanksgiving table.” Although Carlucci agrees with most in the community that the iconic landmark has seen better days, he still feels strongly the orange-roofed shopping center and riverfront meeting place is an important piece of public property that deserves more public input about its future before it’s torn down.

Carlucci, a San Marco resident, was not in on the 15-1 decision by City Council March 26 to allocate $18 million to buy out Jacksonville Landing Investments LLC’s long-term lease and cover the cost of buying out long-term tenant leases, demolition, and clearing of the land. He was also unable to weigh in on District 11 Councilman Danny Becton’s last-minute floor amendment to approve the $18 million, paying $15 million to developer Toney Sleiman right away, but delaying demolition until later, which was soundly rejected by City Council.

Mayor Lenny Curry’s plan has been to install a large waterfront park on the property with two new buildings for mixed use along the perimeter furthest from the St. Johns River. Carlucci met with the Downtown Investment Authority April 17 to appeal for more public engagement before a final decision about The Landing’s future is made. He also had a one-on-one meeting with the mayor and DIA Interim CEO Brian Hughes at City Hall April 23 about the issue.

“The Council passed the bill that paid a negotiated settlement to the Sleiman family that included money for demolition and relocation of some of the tenants when I had just gotten elected,” said Carlucci, who won his Council seat with more than 70% of the vote and will be seated July 1. “I found many people coming up to me at the Winn-Dixie, the Gate gas station, or wherever I was going in the community, or calling me on the phone asking me what I thought and to tell me what they thought about it. They were saying, ‘Don’t tear it down until we know what we are going to do.’

“I think a combination of what happened with Danny [Becton], the vote, and your article [The Resident April 2019] has brought the community at this particular time to a boiling point,” Carlucci continued. “I sense it very clearly. I’ve felt it. I haven’t been to The Landing in a long time, but I love The Landing, and I want to see it fixed. I want to see what’s best for the property.” 

After hearing from many younger residents, Carlucci decided to pose the question, “What do you want to do with The Landing?” on his Facebook page and was surprised to find within a day or two he had collected 128 comments. “It was quite a few comments in a short period of time, and they may have been coming in quicker than that,” he said. “I really wasn’t responding back to them because it is a public record, but I was more interested in learning and listening to what the people were thinking. I’ve found the best things that I’ve done as a Councilperson in the past or when working for a not-for-profit or public service entity came from listening to others. So, I just put it out there on Facebook. Most people are just happy and thankful to be asked.”

  Carlucci recalled during his term as City Council president in 2001-2002 he had set up a task force to receive public input about whether to preserve old historical buildings downtown. “When the taskforce was done, we implemented a bunch of those ideas into law,” he said, noting some of the ideas, such as restoration of the Laura Street Trio, are just now coming to fruition. 

After discussing the matter with Tom Nolan, a member of his campaign team, he decided to suggest to city officials the idea of setting up charrettes – meetings with stakeholders and the public – in order to resolve conflicts and map solutions. The City of Sarasota used the charrette concept when it sought ways to connect its downtown to the waterfront with success, Carlucci said.

“I started reading up on charrettes and it all blended with what I did in 2001-02 and with the theme of my campaign. My theme, to pull people together to make great things happen for Jacksonville, was not just to get votes. I meant it. Jacksonville is at its best when we pull people together, and that’s how we make great things happen for the city.”

Carlucci received no promises when he proposed the charrette idea to DIA. In a phone interview he said he thought it was important for DIA to head the effort and have “professionals” lead the charrette discussions. 

“I have been stormed by people asking me about The Landing. I am very happy to report that our citizens consider this a beloved piece of property, even if not currently viable, and so many very much want to have a say in its future. The Landing is like the centerpiece on the Thanksgiving table. For this reason, I believe we need to involve Jacksonville citizens in a decision-making process of what to do with The Landing. We most importantly need their buy-in, engagement, and involvement on the front end,” he told DIA.

“I gave a lot of thought coming to this meeting and making this suggestion. I am not a councilmember yet, but this may land on my watch,” he continued. “This approach or one similar takes courage, but this is a great chance to reach for excellence, and a great chance to be better off and being more together as a city if we use this approach because then the people will have played a major role in what the future of this beloved property will be, not only for this generation, but also for future generations to come!”

In the April 23 half-hour meeting, that he described as “respectful,” with Mayor Curry and Hughes, who is future chief of staff to the Mayor’s Office, Carlucci said many issues were discussed including his idea about holding public charrettes to talk about The Landing’s future. “I shared with him my thoughts and he listened,” said Carlucci. “He said he wants community discussions. I’m not sure what his approach is compared to mine, but it doesn’t matter as long as the community has input. He said they have some legalities to get through first.” 

An email from Nikki Kimbleton, a spokesperson for Mayor Curry, said the mayor will welcome public input about the next phase after The Landing is demolished. 

Hughes, a San Marco resident, said that a previous charrette led by the DIA, similar to what Carlucci is suggesting happen now, was held five years ago under the Alvin Brown administration with the conclusion that The Landing should be demolished and the area should be turned into a green space. The conversation is not new, and the administration is confused about why it’s being brought up now when the City has already gone through the process, he said. “The conclusion and opinions of those involved in that charrette was to demolish The Landing and turn it into an activated riverfront space with park components, connecting the riverfront and open view of the St. Johns to the core of downtown,” Hughes said.

In a phone interview, Carlucci said nearly everyone who was around since The Landing opened in 1987 has positive memories of the landmark in its heyday. He recalled how he and his wife Karen went to a toy store after the busy shopping area was built and purchased an expensive train set for their two sons. 

“Why The Landing is so beloved is because so many people in this town have a personal connection or memory of it. My wife and I barely had two nickels to rub together, but we went down to the coolest toy store there and saw this train we fell in love with for our kids. We spent $374 of money we did not have. I remember telling Karen, ‘this is an investment that not only our children will enjoy but also our grandchildren.’ We put that train out every Christmas and every time I see it, I think of The Landing,” he said. “The place is much beloved, and the people should have a chance to get engaged on the front end. If they do, they will offer a lot of great ideas, and if they do, they will buy into it.”

By Marcia Hodgson
Resident Community News

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