Regular readers know that The Jaxson staff have pretty strong feelings about the fate of the Jacksonville Landing. Over the past few months, we’ve covered some of the many reasons that razing the building without a solid plan for a replacement and economic recovery is a bad idea. It’s a waste of taxpayer money, and the pricetag keeps getting higher. The public has never been allowed to consider reusing the space, despite the fact that no other city has ever totally demolished its festival marketplace without replacing it, and that so, so, so many have pursued adaptive reuse.
As for what that plan could be, two things come to mind: either the mayor has some secret idea for replacing the Landing that he doesn’t want to share, or he doesn’t actually intend to replace it at all.
One thing that hasn’t gotten much coverage is the question as to why Mayor Lenny Curry’s administration is moving so quickly and spending so much to demolish the Landing, and refusing calls by the likes of incoming council member Matt Carlucci and current council member Danny Becton to slow down and bring the public into the decision making. Why freeze out the public and make an irreversible decision without a plan in place for replacing it? The obvious answer is that Curry already has his own plan for the space. As for what that plan could be, two things come to mind: either the mayor has some secret idea for replacing the Landing that he doesn’t want to share, or he doesn’t actually intend to replace it at all.
A secret plan?
Many people assume that there must be a secret project in the works that the mayor, for whatever reason, doesn’t want to share yet. At first glance this is an attractive thought, but the administration’s own comments suggest it’s not the case. In February, for instance, the mayor suggested that the “location of the Landing” would change - i.e., that another center, presumably the proposed Lot J development a mile east, would replace the current Landing:
“The Landing has been a fixture in the community much like the Sleiman organization, who stepped in at a time when the property’s future was in doubt upon the exit of the original developer. On behalf of the citizens of Jacksonville, I appreciate willingness to work with me so that Jacksonville can consider an alternate path forward for the location of the Landing.
None of the administration’s comments on the Landing have indicated that it plans anything in particular for the present space. The mayor’s office released a rendering in June 2018 that showed most of the space being converted into an open park, but quickly iterated that this was just an idea, not a firm plan. In April, Brian Hughes, the mayor’s chief of staff and interim head of the Downtown Investment Authority, told our partners at WJCT that any such plans would only be formulated after demolition:
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.
There’s no reason to doubt the administration’s repeated statements that it has no plans for the current Landing space. If anything, the push for demolition would be more palatable to citizens if there were indeed a plan; the administration has no incentive to claim it has no plan if it does.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a great sign if there were some secret project in the mix. Florida law requires a Request for Proposal (RFP) for new construction on city property, meaning that developers get a chance to bid for the project publicly. In other words, the city is prohibited from making major real estate decisions outside the public eye. While cities can and do tilt the scales by intentionally crafting RFPs with specific end uses in mind, that skirts the rules and generally proves ineffective. Recently, Jacksonville put plans for a new convention center on hold when an unrealistically written RFP resulted in underwhelming projects. Given that other downtown projects are taking longer and costing more, there’s no reason to think a secret Landing plan would be different.