Thousands of Jacksonville residents gathered along the Northbank Riverwalk on a warm, sunny day in June of 1987 to celebrate the grand opening of The Jacksonville Landing. Many of them had not ventured downtown since the days when department stores and major shops lined the streets, prior to consolidation and “white flight.”
Yet here they were, ready to shop in downtown Jax once again. Trumpets blared; hundreds of balloons were released into the air. Shoppers crowded the halls and packed themselves into small, busy storefronts of national brands like Foot Locker and Victoria’s Secret.
Jake Godbold, then the city’s mayor, spoke glowingly as he introduced a project that he himself had worked hard to make a reality.
“We needed a centerpiece, not a corner-piece, that we could build from,” said Godbold of the project.
As triumphantly as The Jacksonville Landing was introduced, its demise and demolition have been equally unceremonious. Significant work on tearing down the building’s exterior began quietly over the past few weeks, and soon there will be nothing more than a grassy field to indicate what once sat on its riverfront parcel of land.
Gone will be all remnants of the Landing – its distinctive orange roof, its neon signage facing the riverfront, the courtyard that housed numerous Christmas tree lightings, live music events, and Florida-Georgia weekend parties.
In its place… well, who knows? No one is quite sure what will replace the iconic building once it’s gone. If it simply remains a grass lot, it wouldn’t be the first time.
Some may not see the point in mourning the loss of a building that, by the end of its lifespan, was in poor shape and viewed by many as a dangerous place to be. But others know it didn’t have to be this way.
The Landing was plagued throughout its 32-year lifespan by poor management and an almost complete lack of legitimate maintenance – both from its original owner, The Rouse Company, and its successor, Sleiman Enterprises.
During the Sleiman years, things got particularly rough, as Toney Sleiman and the city engaged in a standoff over parking while the mall itself continued to decline. In the later years, it became apparent that unless a major, city-backed redevelopment occurred, not much was going to be done to improve conditions at the mall.
It also certainly didn’t help that the Landing never quite became the building block that Godbold had expected. The city struggled to capitalize on any momentum that the project generated, failing to activate the riverfront or Laura Street in ways that would have helped the Landing attain foot traffic.
Without foot traffic or anyone actively fighting for it, the Landing couldn’t keep its big-name tenants. And few of the city’s suburban residents wanted to drive downtown for what was left.
Of course, none of that really matters now. Mayor Lenny Curry negotiated with Sleiman, ultimately spending $18 million to shoo him away along with the building’s long-term leaseholders. And now, the Landing is coming down, after essentially no public input, or genuine efforts at finding a new use for the building.
And so, we say goodbye, old friend. Maybe we’ll meet again someday, in the form of a salvaged item from Eco Relics or those neon letters that the city is stashing away somewhere. And if not, let’s at least hope the next development to emerge along Independent Drive gets a fair chance at survival – something the Landing may never have had.