Jacksonville Landing standoff: Who's right?

News4Jax reviewed lease, found basis on both sides

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The city has told the owner of The Jacksonville Landing it is terminating their lease and they must turn over the property. Meanwhile, the owner is taking the city to court for breach of contract, claiming it hasn't kept up its end of the deal.

A lawyer familiar with the issues said a court will likely decide whether the owner is evicted or if the city is told to fix problems that have contributed to problems at the failing mall.

News4Jax visited Wednesday and walked past large and small vacant storefronts. Some of the open spaces are given over to public use, including the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office Bicycle Patrol.

A few restaurants remain open, but some, including those near the main entrance, are long gone.

Historical perspective

The Landing opened to great fanfare 32 years ago as Downtown's showcase riverfront mall. It had national chain stores and several well-known restaurants.  

When current owner Toney Sleiman took over in 2003, he had  an entirely new vision for the property. Four years ago, he proposed spending  $250 million to rebuild the site with retail, residential and a long-overdue parking garage. (Model of proposal shown below.)

"We are going to bring in new Fortune 500 companies that will want to come to Jacksonville. We’re going to bring hotels downtown, national restaurants," Sleiman said at the time.

That all fell apart. The city and Sleiman blame each other.

Sleiman claims that the city has not kept up with maintenance, security and parking. The city argues that Sleiman has not brought in quality tenants.  Looking through hundreds of pages of the lease agreement, there is basis for both claims. 

QUICK LOOK: Snippets from The Landing's lease

Attorney Kelly Mathis is not involved in the lawsuit. He said the city could evict Sleiman and the tenants, but both parties would likely work out a deal.

"The city can decide to honor those leases or not, and that’s the decision of the city once the eviction process goes forward," Mathis said.

Mathis said there does not appear to be any other option at this point but court.

Neither Sleiman nor Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry will comment on the latest standoff. 

One woman who spends time downtown said The Landing still has potential. 

"We had great hopes for it, but it sort of has not panned out," Mary Sumner said. "But who knows? Something may be done to improve it."

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