City files to evict Jacksonville Landing management

31-year-old downtown riverfront mall mostly vacant

By Chris Parenteau - Reporter, Jim Piggott - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The tug of war between the city and the ownership of The Jacksonville Landing has taken another turn -- this time with Jacksonville filing a counterclaim in the legal case, asking that Jacksonville Landing Investments be evicted from the property.

Last week, the city's General Council Office notified the property owner (referred to in the suit as JLI) it was terminating its lease for the land. On Thursday, the city filed a counterclaim to Jacksonville Landing Investment's lawsuit claiming that the city had breached its contract by failing to keep up the exterior of the property and provide adequate security and parking.

Among the city's claims, JLI has not maintained and operated The Jacksonville Landing as a first-class retail facility, has not used "all reasonable efforts" to lease space "who provide a balanced mix of goods and services," maintain property in good repair, and operate the property "in a high-quality, first-class manner which is attractive in both its physical characteristics and in its appear to customers and trade."

The city is requesting a judgment upholding the breach of contract, the city's right to terminate the lease agreement and take immediate possession of the property and any improvements, require JLI to pay any costs of the eviction, "along with such other alternative, coercive, subsequent, or supplemental relief as the Court deems appropriate.

COURT DOCUMENT: Counterclaim in JLI LLC v. City of Jackonville

News4Jax is contacting both sides of the dispute to learn more about the issues and what's next.

"Anybody that has visited the landing over the last decade plus, long before I got into office, the condition speaks for itself," Mayor Lenny Curry said Thursday. "It’s an important asset that is owned by the taxpayers -- that land is owned by taxpayers. And the taxpayers deserve a better and higher use as to what we see now. But I’m going to have to let the attorneys work out what’s happening right now."

Earlier in the week, a lawyer familiar with the issues said a judge will likely determine 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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