Mayor Lenny Curry on Wednesday accused the owners of the Jacksonville Landing of mismanaging the downtown shopping plaza and said he’s working to put the site under city control.
Curry said his vision for redeveloping the Landing begins with Sleiman Enterprises giving up ownership of the buildings, which sits on prime, waterfront real-estate that it leases from the city, according to our news partners at the Florida Times-Union.
Curry offered few specific details of his conversations with the owners, which he described as ongoing negotiations. He said he’s made “soft offers” to buy the buildings that have been flatly rejected. He said city officials are also exploring the possibility that Sleiman Enterprises defaulted on a provision in its lease requiring the mall to have a certain number of retail businesses.
“I’m prepared to take the Landing… I’m prepared for the city to have it and to begin in a very public way determining what its best and highest use is,” Curry said during a meeting with the Times-Union editorial board. “We’ve got a plan internally to put the screws and keep pushing this.”
Toney Sleiman, whose family business bought the Landing for $5.1 million in 2003, didn’t respond to a phone message seeking comment.
When Sleiman bought the Landing, it was struggling to attract foot traffic and keep tenants at the mall. Those problems remain today.
Sleiman criticized city leaders last week for failing to work with him to redevelop the mall in a letter sent to local news organizations. He said if the city doesn’t act soon, he’ll enter long-term leases with new tenants that would prevent a rebuild from happening.
“While we’re still excited about Jacksonville’s iconic venue’s potential, our hands are tied by politics and external forces that don’t want progress… Without the support of the city of Jacksonville, no redevelopment can take place.” Sleiman wrote.
Just three years ago, Sleiman seemed close to reaching a deal with the city to demolish the Landing and build a new mixed-use complex that would include a riverfront park, apartments and restaurants. The deal called for the city to pay $11.8 million toward the project and was supported by then-Mayor Alvin Brown.
However, the project’s momentum soon sputtered.
Sleiman’s chance at a deal grew even worse in 2015 when the city filed a lawsuit against his company. The lawsuit, which centers around a long-disputed purchase of a parking lot and unpaid property taxes, is headed for a jury trial next year. City officials said any discussions about redeveloping the Landing with Sleiman were off the table until the lawsuit is settled.
In an interview last week, Sleiman said he’s spent nearly $1.5 million preparing plans to rebuild the Landing. He said he’s tried to breathe new life into the property by hosting events but that the city needs to work with him.
If he can’t reach a deal with the city, Sleiman says he’ll simply remodel the Landing and “run it like a shopping center.”
Such a partnership doesn’t seem to be an option for Curry, who has proven to be a hard — and effective — negotiator since taking office in 2015. His remarks Wednesday suggested that he’s not willing to budge.
“We’re going to do deals while this Landing thing is happening,” Curry said. “We’re not going to just ignore it. We’re just not going to dwell on it at the expense of doing nothing else.”
“We’re also not going to be bullied,” added Sam Mousa, Curry’s hard-nosed chief administrative officer, in reference to Sleiman’s letter. “Look at the article… We won’t succumb to that.”