JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The city has moved another step closer to taking control of the Jacksonville Landing and tearing it down.
On Wednesday, the Jacksonville City Council Finance Committee voted 7-0 to approve a plan that sets the stage for the city to demolish the riverfront mall and pay millions to the current owner.
The $18 million deal will go to the full council on Tuesday, March 26. It's expected to pass with little opposition, council members and the mayor's office have told News4Jax.
Wednesday was the second of three votes that need to happen for the completion of the Landing deal, in which the city would pay the company that leases the property, Jacksonville Landing Investments owned by Toney Sleiman, $15 million. It would break his company's lease with the city and settle an ongoing legal fight for the rights to the land. It also includes $1.5 million for the demolition of the downtown riverfront mall and $1.5 million to buyout long-term leases from stores and restaurants.
Wednesday's vote comes after the Jacksonville City Council's Neighborhoods, Community Services, Public Health and Safety Committee voted 6-1 on Monday, March 18, to approve the Landing deal.
The two votes this week indicate the plan has strong support so far on the City Council. The lone dissenter was Councilman Garrett Dennis, who has been a regular critic of Mayor Lenny Curry's running of the city. Dennis questions whether the $15 million price tag is too steep for the deal.
"I do want to encourage every citizen in Jacksonville -- they do need to hold all of us accountable for their tax dollars. And if we’re not going to ask questions, if we're not going to look out for taxpayer dollars, then we don’t need to be there," said Dennis, who's on the neighborhoods committee. "I think that’s what you saw yesterday. It was more of a coronation of $15 million."
Since the deal has passed both committees, it will go to the full City Council on next week for final approval. But there's still debate over what to do with the iconic landmark along Independent Drive, which has been there for more than 30 years.
During his victory speech Tuesday evening, re-elected Mayor Lenny Curry said downtown Jacksonville will look very different in four years. Some businesses at the Landing say it's time to move on, while others want to see a plan set in stone first.
Michael Cobb and his wife have had their store, Accentuate, at the Landing for seven years. He knows he won’t be there much longer. He plans to remain downtown in some location but said no one has talked to him about that yet.
"I just want to know what they plan to do," Cobb said. "I’m excited that we finally got one chapter closed and now we’re getting ready to open up another door."
Councilman Greg Anderson, chairman of the Finance Committee, said he would like to see the whole area redeveloped.
"The building has been there for an awful long time. It needs repair and improvement," he said. "I will leave it up to the administration to decide what they want to do with it."
That’s what the mayor's office is saying. Brian Hughes, of the Downtown Investment Authority, said it’s all part of a bigger plan to tie the space into the old City Hall and the old courthouse, which were just demolished.
"This is the beginning of the transformation of the whole Bay Street corridor," Hughes said.
That starts from the stadium and the planned demolition of the Hart Expressway ramp up to Berkman Plaza, where a new hotel and amusement area are proposed, to the Landing and old City Hall site, which would just be green space for now, and then to the new JTA transportation hub and housing sites near the west end of downtown.
The Times-Union for the Performing Arts will play a key role in how the Landing site will be developed. Eventually, there could be a convention center, linking area entertainment and other venues.
Hughes estimates the Landing could be gone in four to six months if the deal gets final approval from the City Council.
On Wednesday afternoon, the DIA board met and authorized the hiring of a real estate specialist to help develop the old City Hall and old courthouse site, which could eventually tie into the Landing site. The board would hire even more next month.