Lenny Curry, Toney Sleiman reach Jax Landing pact

Sleiman Curry
"...Jacksonville can consider an alternate path forward for the location of the Landing,"

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, buoyed by a second poll in a week to show him with a 35-point lead in his re-election bid, healed a rift with a political enemy Wednesday.

And $18 million of city money will offer the salve.

Pictured: Toney Sleiman, the developer of the Jacksonville Landing.

Sleiman and the city agreed in principle to a deal in which, for $15 million, the developer would surrender rights to the property and terminate the lease. The city would be on the hook for demolition of buildings and tenant relocation costs totaling $3 million more.

But that’s a small price for the end of a project that outlived its initial promise.

The Landing, a riverfront shopping plaza built amid worries that Downtown was dying in the 1980s, bloomed for a short while before protracted decay.

When The Jacksonville Landing was in its heyday, during the Reagan-Bush era, it was a genuine destination.

It had stores you didn’t see in the other malls in Jacksonville, such as Sharper Image (with its then-state-of-the-art videophones) and Banana Republic. People drove there from far-flung Mandarin, as well as Orange Park and the Regency area, to see the new and the now, the latest and greatest, the mall on the river.

The Jacksonville Landing seemed, to those thinking about the issue at the time, as a way to reverse, perhaps, the red tide of retail streaming out of Downtown throughout the Jake Godbold era, those grand department stores never to be seen again in the urban core.

But such did not happen. And attempts to revive the Landing have dominated civic discourse for decades, with the politically connected Sleiman generally on the right side of City Hall.

But not, until now, this one.

Sleiman and Curry feuded since the 2015 campaign when Curry accused Sleiman of making a deal with then-Mayor Alvin Brown: city incentives in exchange for an endorsement.

“Throwing money, nearly $12 million, at special interests while kids are being gunned down in the street because of fewer cops is not simply outrageous it’s disgusting,” said Brian Hughes on behalf of the campaign.

The incentives never came to pass. Curry moved into City Hall, and a protracted period of saber-rattling and serial litigation ensued, including a move to evict Sleiman’s group from the Landing.

Now, with Curry walloping two Republican opponents, one NPA, and two write-ins in two credible polls, it seems Sleiman wants to get on the good foot with the Mayor.

And vice versa.

And the word eviction becomes relocation.

“For years, Jacksonville Landing Investments and Sleiman Enterprises have contributed immeasurably to development and job creation in and around Jacksonville,” said Mayor Lenny Curry.

“The Landing has been a fixture in the community much like the Sleiman organization, who stepped in at a time when the property’s future was in doubt upon the exit of the original developer. On behalf of the citizens of Jacksonville, I appreciate their willingness to work with me so that Jacksonville can consider an alternate path forward for the location of the Landing,” Curry added.

“Mayor Curry is having success in Jacksonville and in downtown,” said Toney Sleiman on behalf of Jacksonville Landing Investments. “The JLI team and the entire Sleiman organization want to see that success continue and we are ready to see this process come to a mutually agreed conclusion.”

Sleiman’s support will only help to accentuate what is a stark resource disparity.

Between hard money and Curry’s political committee, the re-election campaign has nearly $2.5 million on hand.

Brosche had roughly $100,000 in hard money at last check, and whatever is left in her statewide political committee (which had raised $374,000 by the end of January, but which has been spending also, on television and mail).

Curry has benefited greatly from using the buying power of the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee in recent weeks, which has given the incumbent a disproportionate edge on television saturation.

While Brosche’s “New Day” political committee will have spent nearly $265,000 on television by the end of February, the FRSCC will have invoiced $646,660 by Feb. 25 on Curry’s behalf.

The ingredients are there for undecided voters to break for a known commodity over an intraparty challenger who Curry defined for large swathes of voters before she even established an ad buy.

And Toney Sleiman does not want to be sidelined for that second term.

A.G. Gancarski

A.G. Gancarski has been a correspondent for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014. In 2018, he was a finalist for an Association of Alternative Newsweeklies "best political column." He can be reached at [email protected]


3 comments

  • Charles Brown

    February 20, 2019 at 3:57 pm

    As resident of Jacksonville since 2004, The Landing has never lived up to it’s potential. The parking situation is atrocious and I will no longer make any attempt to go there. This needs a new tenant, a redesign, and a draw that includes a waterfront park. I hope Sleimen will move on and Mayor Curry can come up with a viable long term plan for this area,

  • Frankie M.

    February 20, 2019 at 6:04 pm

    Parking was never an issue unless you’re lazy & can’t walk more than 5 feet. What is going to happen to Hooters? Asking for a friend.

    That whole “feud” thing was a charade. Not surprised Lenny is giving his buddy a golden parachute. It’s a drop in the bucket compared to what he’s giving Shad. Are we sure this guy was a CPA? I bet City Council can’t wait to rubber stamp this deal.

  • Ennis Davis

    February 21, 2019 at 12:17 am

    $18 million is actually a hefty price to pay to replace a structurally sound building with a park to add to the existing ones in downtown that we can’t maintain. We can talk all we want about the tenant mix failing and festival marketplaces being a disaster but a brief look across the country shows how other cities simply changed the tenant mix to cater the current trends (ex. food halls) or converted buildings into other uses like museums, educational facilities, etc. In recent years, this has been the case in Baltimore, Miami, New York and Norfolk with buildings just like the Landing. Only in Jax do we view throwing millions at demolition and replacement with something of less potential as an example of success. Really having a hard time seeing how half of these recently heavily subsidized proposals will actually help downtown and taxpayers. The big winners with this one are Sleiman, demolition and sod contractors. The losers are the small businesses getting kicked out, the Northbank core (knowing we’re simply shifting this activity to the Sports District) and the taxpayers are being forced to fund all of this.

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