City councilman works to reach truce in war over Jacksonville Landing

With mayor, owner at odds, future of riverfront mall remains uncertain

By Jim Piggott - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A city councilman is trying to land a truce between the mayor and the owner of the Jacksonville Landing.  

It’s the latest move in the battle between Mayor Lenny Curry and Landing owner Toney Sleiman. 

Political experts and business owners, as well as City Councilman Reggie Gaffney, told News4Jax on Tuesday that they believe both sides need to sit down, talk and come up with a solution that could bring the riverfront mall back to life.

FROM THE VAULT: Jacksonville Landing opens June 25, 1987

Nearly 31 years ago, the opening of the Landing was a turning point for downtown Jacksonville. The crowds were huge, there were name-brand stores and restaurants were packed with customers. 

The Landing was supposed to bring downtown back to life. Today, not so much. 

The food court used to be the busiest part of the Landing. But about noon Tuesday, only a couple of restaurants were open and only a handful of people were having lunch. 

It's the lack of crowds and the empty spaces that have the city pointing fingers at the owner.

The Office of General Counsel on Friday sent a letter, notifying Jacksonville Landing Investments LLC, a subsidiary of Sleiman Enterprises Inc., that the city is terminating the lease agreement.

The city owns the land on the northbank of the St. Johns River, but has leased the property to Sleiman for more than 15 years. The city first threatened to terminate the lease last year because the mall was not being run as a “high-quality, first-class retail facility."

In a written response Sunday to the termination letter from the city, Sleiman Enterprises' attorney said the city is the cause for the unfortunate state of the Jacksonville Landing. In its lease agreement, the attorney said, there are three primary items the city agreed to provide to make the Landing successful: security, access and maintenance.

Sleiman Enterprises said it also filed Friday subpoenas for Curry and his chief administrative officer.

In 2014, Sleiman and then-Mayor Alvin Brown devised a plan to turn it the Landing around: tear down the marketplace, and build apartments and condos. That never happened.

Since then, Curry and Sleiman have been at odds.

"It is not surprising that we are in in litigation given the nature of the long-standing dispute," said News4Jax political analyst Rick Mullaney, director of Jacksonville University's Public Policy Institute.

Gaffney is trying to get both sides to talk.

"I am going to make one last attempt to try to bring them both together, see if I (can) get both of them in the same room," Gaffney told News4Jax. "We can iron out whatever problems they may be having so we can move the Landing forward, because nobody wins right now."

But that could be difficult as, last month, Sleiman Enterprises filed a lawsuit claiming that the city has not repaired boat docks damaged during Hurricanes Matthew and Irma.

The mayor's office said it cannot comment on-camera because of that litigation. Sleiman could not be reached for response Tuesday. 

Not far the the Landing, the city and Jaguars owner Shad Khan are working to redevelop an area next to the football stadium. News4Jax call Khan's office to see whether he's interested in the Landing site, but had not received a response as of late Tuesday afternoon. 

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