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Building Up Jax

The Fight Between the City and Jacksonville Landing Owners Heats Up Again, Benefiting No One

The feud between the City of Jacksonville and the owners of The Jacksonville Landing hit a new level of intensity this week.

Jacksonville Landing Investments LLC, the official owner of the Landing building and a subsidiary of Sleiman Enterprises, filed a lawsuit against the city claiming breach of contract.

The move comes almost exactly a month after the city sent a letter accusing JLI LLC and Sleiman Enterprises of breach of contract and demanding that specific issues be addressed.

At the heart of the dispute is the issue of who should be responsible for what in regards to the property, which was once a downtown focal point but now serves as little more than a reminder of what could’ve been. The city believes that Sleiman Enterprises has let the building itself rot away, with little effort being put into maintenance, upgrades, or even finding quality tenants. On the other hand, Sleiman thinks that the city has slacked on its obligations to provide security and adequate parking.

It’s a complicated situation, as Sleiman Enterprises owns the Landing building but the city owns the land it sits on. Since Sleiman Enterprises owner Toney Sleiman purchased the building in 2003, he and the city have struggled to see eye to eye on who’s responsible for its success and upkeep.

For years, parking was the major issue of contention between the two parties. Sleiman knew that the building needed parking, so he struck a deal in 2007 with the city to acquire a nearby lot – with plans in place for another developer to build a mixed-use structure with a parking garage nearby as well.

But that mixed-use project fell through, and in 2015, the city sued Sleiman because he tried to back out of the parking lot purchase made eight years prior. Sleiman claimed that because the contract was never properly finalized, it should be voided – even though losing that lot would leave the Landing with essentially no parking at all. Around this time, there was a plan to tear down and rebuild the Landing, but it fell through – possibly because of tensions brought on by the suit.

The results of that lawsuit were still pending as of earlier this year.

And the situation has only gotten more complicated as of late, with Mayor Lenny Curry indicating a desire earlier this year to seize the property from Sleiman Enterprises.

Now, the situation will likely devolve even further, as both sides march toward another meeting in court to settle their long-standing disputes.

The lawsuit and its proceedings will likely freeze any potential development action at the Landing yet again – not that anything was imminent.

At this point, both sides surely know that they’re only hurting the property – and downtown as a whole – by engaging in this extended pissing match. But, while both sides clearly share blame for the current situation, neither seems eager to acknowledge their role in the property’s continued downfall, or to correct the problems over which they have control.

It’s hard to determine what the best outcome for the Landing’s future would be. But one thing is for sure: this isn’t helping.

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The Coastal

The Coastal is Jacksonville’s newest magazine, founded in 2015 to provide news, reviews, and things to do for young people on the First Coast.