In 1987, the Jacksonville Landing opened downtown, providing retail and restaurant opportunities in a perfect location next to the beautiful St. Johns River and the Main Street Bridge. The project cost $37.5 million to complete, and boasted more than 60 retail spaces and a large upstairs food court. The massive complex on the river was expected to become an integral part of downtown Jacksonville and become one of the most notable aspects of the overall Jacksonville experience.
Next year, the Landing will celebrate its 30th birthday. The once-high expectations for the complex have turned into frustration over a lack of progress on plans for revitalization. The idea of it becoming a hot spot for residents hasn’t quite panned out. Vacancies began popping up within just a few years of opening, and today a large portion of the retail locations lie empty, and have for years.
Only one original restaurant tenant of the Landing, Hooters, remains today. A food court that once boasted a Ben & Jerry’s location along with many other intriguing options now lies mostly vacant. Many restaurants and bars have come and gone from the complex over the years.
The Blame Game
So what exactly has caused the Landing’s failure to attract high quality tenants?
For years, the blame was pointed at the complex’s atrocious parking situation; this issue was addressed by the city and current owner Sleiman Enterprises a few years ago, but it’s possible that the damage had already been done. Residents who gave up trying to park there years ago may not realize that the prolonged bickering between the owners and the city finally did result in changes. It doesn’t help that Sleiman Enterprises and the city are still at odds over payment for the parking lot’s land.
It’s also not clear if this new parking lot adjacent to the Landing would be able to handle a revived interest in the complex that new tenants could bring.
Another major issue has been the inability of the city, residents, and developers to come to an agreement on the best plan for revitalizing it. The building is in desperate need of upgrades; it looks very much like it did in its original form in 1987, and it has gotten a reputation for being poorly maintained. One tenant, American Grill, was recently shut down briefly due to the presence of live rodents.
Of course, none of this means that the Landing is entirely useless in its current form. It’s still home to much of the celebrations surrounding the Florida-Georgia football game each year, as well as frequent concerts in the incredibly spacious courtyard.
The Landing also has a fairly strong nightlife component; a few bars and clubs are still open within the building, including the struggling-but-popular Mavericks. If Mavericks goes under, however, this aspect may soon be gone as well.
Planning for the Future
So what is the path to improving the Landing? How does it become the center of activity it was once hoped to be?
Several plans have been proposed, and rejected, over the past decade or so. These plans have ranged from simply improving traffic layouts nearby, to just demolishing the whole building and starting over.
There are two things that absolutely must happen to turn the Landing around.
First, no matter what the plan for renovations may be, something must be done. The complex simply looks too outdated on the inside to attract worthwhile tenants or interest from residents.
Second, once renovations take place, the management of the complex must fill its empty retail spots. The only thing more off-putting to potential shoppers than the outdated, 70s-shopping-mall atmosphere is the lack of actual storefronts to visit.
No one is expecting Saks Fifth Avenue to move in tomorrow. However, a few new local or smaller national retailers would be enough to generate a buzz and a sense of upward progress.
The largely vacant food court upstairs, for example, could be a great place for members of Jacksonville’s booming food truck industry to try their hand at a brick-and-mortar location. Management would likely have to be willing to reduce rent, but they would make up for it in renewed levels of foot traffic to the entire complex.
It must continue to invest in local businesses as tenants, and must strive to keep those tenants there for the long-term. Just earlier this month, local retailer Accentuate bolted to the Avenues Mall from its location at the Landing.
As of the time this article was published, no concrete plans exist to renovate the Landing, or to bring in any new tenants. The complex, therefore, will continue to exist in its bizarre state of half-active, half-dead purgatory.
The Landing has always been a building full of potential, but it has always fallen short of achieving anything special. After nearly thirty years, it’s time for something to change.
(Editor’s note: the original article has been corrected to properly refer to Sleiman Enterprises as the Landing’s owner, rather than Toney Sleiman individually.)