Jacksonville has a grand tradition of “community conversations” that lead nowhere. Recall the series of events around the subject of the Human Rights Ordinance and its extension to the LGBT+ community. It was great theater, fueled by strident opposing voices, but they accomplished little except to expand the public profile of certain preachers (at least one of whom is out of state now, in lockdown, for reasons that don’t bear mentioning here).
Newly re-elected, Mayor Lenny Curry is functioning as if he won a March election with almost 60 percent of the vote. He’s engaging aggressively in the remaining City Council races, and he’s moving forward on key policy priorities. Among them: finding a way forward, past The Jacksonville Landing era. As so many things do, that era began auspiciously and ended with an ignominious coda.
If The Landing were a human being, it would be on life support right now. Vacancy rates are sky-high. New species are forming in the primordial grime of the bathrooms. But at least Hooters is still open. That Hooters was a popular spot to watch candidate Donald Trump rally in 2015, when he graced The Landing courtyard. That’s called historical value.
But a 30-year-old-plus mall, especially in this town, is like a 30-year-old-plus running back. And The Jacksonville Landing, like former Jags back Jamaal Charles, has long since eroded and decayed below the threshold that would’ve made it a real destination. Can you imagine a family from the Kernan Boulevard area or deep Westside driving to The Landing at this point? The question answers itself.
In any event, money has already been appropriated for the city to take back The Landing—or at least bury it. The Curry Administration seeks to move forward with demolition ahead of repurposing, clearing the structure to drive a future-use vision.
However, there is resistance! Incoming Councilmember Matt Carlucci, who got nearly 70 percent of the vote against two other Republicans in March, wants a “charrette” to discuss the future of the space. As reporter Dave Bauerlein explained in The Florida Times-Union, the process would involve a “trained facilitator,” with small groups discussing. From there, the ideas would be aggregated ... and eventually there would be recommendations. As Bauerlein notes, this was tried with the last mayor. Alvin Brown sought to demolish The Landing; discussion led to a mixed-use concept, one that may or may not have jibed with the visions of actual developers. Now, a half-decade later, some want more discussions, involving the same experts (without any real political constituency) that would, theoretically, reach different conclusions.
The mayor’s not down with this.
“Elected officials afraid to make a decision because they are gunning for a political future has been the bane of our city. No more retreading,” Curry tweeted.
Senior staffer Jordan Elsbury chimed in also: “Policy-makers, constituents, and COJ/DIA had this discussion, then all but 1 voted to demo it for new development/use ... Thx, next.”
Those votes notwithstanding, people seek a pause: a scenario reminiscent of local efforts on pension reform. Recall that John Peyton’s plan for pension reform was turfed by the Brown Administration, pushing back the timeframe. His administration had its own plan, which was slow-walked by the City Council for political purposes. Only after Curry was elected did Council finally pass a bill.
This city does an amazing job of hitting the reset button every four years, or every time an administration has some bad news cycles or—as in this case—when a councilmember who has wanted to be mayor for decades now wants to stake out the populist lane on a question already resolved by the body he has yet to join.
The Landing issue will be one by which the Curry Administration will be judged. If he caves to the charrette concept, how long does the process take? How many quarters do we have before money gets tight? Pressures in consumer markets and housing markets suggest that, as with the exploration of selling JEA, movement is time-sensitive. Wait too long and the question becomes moot, as the asset loses what is an ephemeral, situational bubble in valuation. The old “elections have consequences” cliché applies here.
Those coming up behind Curry are looking to create narratives that he’s failed—and there are more of those folks every day. Matt Schellenberg has issue with the Berkman re-dev that went bust. Anna Brosche has issue with Brian Hughes becoming CAO. And Matt Carlucci is the latest.
Curry assumes all of them are driven by political ambitions at his expense. As someone who capsized a popular mayor many said couldn’t be beaten, Curry knows how that game works.