Despite Landing violence, leaders optimistic about downtown safety

Jacksonville's been in the spotlight, in part because of recent violent crime

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Type "Jacksonville" into a search engine and it’s not the Jaguars that pop up, or the city’s beaches. 

Instead, you’ll find headlines about violent crime – The Landing mass shooting, deadly gunfire at a Raines-Lee football game, the murder of a 7-year-old girl caught in the crossfire of a shootout.

The recent bloodshed, coupled with the city’s unceasing struggle with violence, has people raising questions about public safety. Namely, how can city leaders wrap their arms around this epidemic? 

Condolences are easy. Coming up with solutions is the hard part.

At the Hyatt Regency downtown, just feet away from the riverfront mall where police said a gunman killed two people and injured 10 more over the weekend, business leaders gathered on Thursday.

Though the group was honoring the outgoing JAXUSA Partnership President Jerry Mallot, violence came up. Negative publicity is something the organization must overcome when recruiting new business.

But some, including Mallot, expressed optimism about the direction the city’s going in.

"That will go away in a relatively short order," he said. "There are many communities around the country that have had very difficult times. But they move on from them and we will move on."

Mayor Lenny Curry, who made public safety a key plank in his platform during his 2015 campaign, also spoke to the group about their role in handling the recent wave of violence.

His words were measured when asked if he thinks downtown Jacksonville is safe.

"We will focus on the safety of every single neighborhood," he said. "We have police presence, we have good people working and we’re getting things done downtown."

As for the future of The Landing, that part remains unclear. The mayor and the venue’s owner, developer Toney Sleiman, are at odds over whether the venue should be torn down or redeveloped.

Attempts on Thursday to reach Sleiman were unsuccessful.

Still, Sunday’s shooting hasn’t scared everyone away from the iconic shopping center. Curiosity got the best of Tiffany Rosario, who was visiting with her family from Tampa.

"I kind of wanted to come over here just to feel the presence of it," said Rosario. "Only because my husband is a police officer and he’s used to that dangerous stuff. I just feel bad."

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