Been there and done that - but have we?
The 2014-2015 redevelopment plan for the Jacksonville Landing would have resulted in new residential, hotel, retail, dining, entertainment and public space being developed at the site with the assistance of $12 million in public incentives.
Mayor Lenny Curry’s office has cited past public discussions on the Jacksonville Landing as a reason to avoid any new public input on the site’s future. According to their argument, the taxpayers had their chance to weigh in on previous charrettes - most prominently one in 2014-2015 - and those generally recommended demolishing the building. As Brian Hughes, the mayor’s chief of staff and interim head of the Downtown Investment Authority, told our partners at WJCT, “to get public input is genuinely unnecessary because we’ve been there and done that.”
This claim simply doesn’t hold up to basic scrutiny. The 2014-2015 charrette was for a project totally different from what the mayor now proposes; in fact, other than also involving demolition, the plan had nothing in common with the mayor’s present one. While Curry’s plan would demo the space and leave it a grass field for an indeterminate amount of time, Sleiman wanted to replace the current Landing with a new mix of specific uses, including residential, hotel, and public space. Throughout the process, the public was told a replacement was coming - in fact, that’s all they weighed in on.
In 2014-15, the public never had an opportunity to vet demolition versus other options like adaptive reuse. Sleiman had already decided to demolish to make way for the very specific mix of new uses he wanted - uses the city is no longer committing to. The public only weighed in on how Sleiman’s preferred uses would be arranged. As such it’s disingenuous to use this charrette to justify demolition without firm replacement plans.
The administration now acknowledges that adaptive reuse was never on the table in 2014-2015. While still promoting demolition, Brian Hughes said in a statement to The Jaxson that adaptive reuse had never been an option in 2014-2015:
Over many years, JLI, mayoral administrations and DIA have considered ideas with the goal of highest and best use for this property. At no time, has a comprehensive proposal of adaptive reuse come forward. In fact, the 14-15 charrette process made a recommendation that did not consider reuse of the existing facility. Mayor Curry’s administration and the DIA have worked together on a number of adaptive reuse projects. Cowford Chophouse was completed. The Barnett Bank building is nearly completed. The Laura Street trio, the Ambassador Hotel, and the Jones Furniture building are all in various states of progress using existing architectural structures to preserve iconic architecture and maintain aesthetic character for our downtown. The Berkman 2 hotel and entertainment complex, which is still pending, has an adaptive reuse of the structure on that property. This administration is happy to work with developers, investors and the public to see adaptive reuse where it makes sense. In the case of the Landing property, it does not make sense. A single purpose structure, designed and built to be a shopping mall in the 1980s, will give way to a dynamic, publicly activated riverfront and developable parcels with modern amenities and limited visual restrictions of river views.
If the last charrette didn’t allow the public to consider adaptive reuse, the city should provide that chance now that the Landing is public property.
The statement touches on another line of argument the city has used to deflect criticism of its demolition push: the idea that “at no time, has a comprehensive proposal of adaptive reuse come forward.” This is simply not true. In fact, for a decade after acquiring the Landing, Toney Sleiman purveyed a series of serious, extensive plans that would not only adapt but expand the original structure.
The Jacksonville Landing courtyard in 2008.