The bare earth at the foot of Laura Street in downtown Jacksonville serves as a metaphor for the old adage “you can’t fight City Hall.”
Just 30 years ago, the Jacksonville Landing was an almost new building housing shops and restaurants – intended to replicate Baltimore’s famous Harborplace, and built by the same company.
The award-winning Baltimore mall opened in 1980 and within three months had 7 million visitors.
But in Jacksonville it didn’t go as planned, as often is the case.
At first the Jacksonville Landing did a booming business and was seen as the elusive “catalyst” for downtown redevelopment that had been sought for decades.
City officials never fulfilled their promise to provide 800 parking spaces for visitors to the Landing. Security never was adequate, either around or inside the Landing.
Mainly for those two reasons, perhaps, the number of visitors began to trail off and as a result premier shops and restaurants began leaving.
It was spun this way by Mayor Lenny Curry’s spokesman: “…there are multiple reasons that The Landing was torn down. One of the main reasons was lack of customers and businesses. There were multiple vacancies in the building and many that were there were paying a fraction of the average downtown rent for a water-front property.”
The city took over the building from the struggling owner, who had to spend a lot of his resources litigating with the city, paying him off with $15 million. Then it swiftly tore down the building.
Since then, it has spent $90,000 to place grass sod on the 6-acre lot.
Call it: Lenny’s Lawn.
“At this time, we are placing sod on the vacant lot until there is a request for proposal (RFP). We expect the RFP to be out very soon,” Eye on Jacksonville was told.
“We will be accepting ideas and bids at that point and all of those will be considered and scored in an extremely fair and transparent process.”
The Landing may also have been just another shopping mall, suffering the same fate as many malls, as public tastes change in the era of online shopping. Even Harborplace is in trouble.
The Downtown Investment Authority is considering $250,000 in its next budget for marketing the Landing site, according to the Daily Record.
Lenny’s Lawn no doubt will be a popular spot for the city’s bums, who have been nudged out of Hemming Plaza, their traditional haunt, toward the homeless shelters to the east and west.
Probably the worst use would be as yet another park. The best use would be to sell the property to a business that would put expensive and attractive buildings on the lot and pay substantial property taxes.
Meanwhile Lenny’s Lawn will stand as an example of what can happen when you displease politicians.