Downtown boosters have mangled the word “catalyst” pretty badly over the years.
Friendship Park was supposed to be a catalyst for downtown redevelopment. Other projects that got hung with the label were Hemming Plaza, new City Hall, the Skyway, etc .
But one that seemed to actually earn the title was the Jacksonville Landing. It was proposed by The Rouse Company, which over a span of 45 years built numerous “festival marketplaces” throughout the nation.
Its finest creation may have been Harborplace, at the Inner Harbor in the urban hellhole of Baltimore. It is an attractive spot visiting by thousands.
The Jacksonville Landing was built by Rouse in 1987 on the waterfront by the Main Street Bridge, at a cost of $37.6 million, with $20 million coming from local taxpayers. While it had a nice array of restaurants and shops, it had difficulties with parking and a rowdy element that offput local visitors.
In 2003 local developer Toney Sleiman took a big risk by shelling out $5 million to buy the declining property from Rouse, which was ending its streak.
Since then Sleiman and city officials have had less than a warm relationship. He wanted them to provide the parking they had promised and other amenities. Eventually, it wound up in a court battle currently intensifying with the city’s demands that Sleiman turn over the property.
The city apparently is so confident it will win that it is drawing up plans to demolish the large mall and replace it with a park, according to The Daily Record.
City planners are known for making lofty, dreamy, expensive plans and this one seems to fit the pattern.
First, the city has an urban waterfront park directly across the river on Southbank. Jacksonville has an abundance of park and recreation spaces.
Secondly, the city has seen a rash of residential development downtown. That is exactly what everyone has agreed for years was needed to revitalize downtown so that it is not a wasteland after 6 p.m.
People living downtown will need and use shops and restaurants.
It would make a lot more sense for the politicians and the Landing owners to kiss and make up so the Landing could become a success – and a “catalyst” for further tasteful, useful development downtown.