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Aug. 16--Local developer Toney Sleiman has big plans for The Jacksonville Landing, the downtown shopping and restaurant complex he is in the process of purchasing from The Rouse Co. of Columbia, Md.

It's about time, say the facility's tenants.

"It's slowly dying down here," said Sonjii Peters, manager of the Body Shop women's clothing and accessories store. "Business, I know, can be a whole lot better."

Since opening with great fanfare in 1987, the Landing has since wilted. Merchants like The Gap, Sharper Image, Banana Republic and The Limited packed up and left, and, especially with restaurants, tenant turnover has amounted to a revolving door.

Of the original 61 tenants, only about 9 remain, including Hooters, The Toy Factory, Body Shop and B. Dalton Bookseller.

As to why, retail experts and current tenants point to too few parking spaces, not enough entertainment options, and stores and restaurants that aren't major draws, compared to the region's malls. That means while the center, with 125,000 square feet of retail space, is busy during the weekday lunch hour and special events like the Florida-Georgia game, it's noticeably emptier during regular weeknights and weekends when many people find it more convenient and desirable to do their shopping and dining elsewhere.

Even for lunch, the Landing isn't enough of an attraction to travel a few blocks.

"You've got to make me walk down there," said Mary Lou Fiala, president and chief operating officer of Jacksonville-based Regency Centers Corp., which says it is the nation's biggest developer of shopping centers anchored by grocery stores. "And right now, I don't."

She suggested making the Landing a one-stop shop for downtown office workers and residents by adding such stores as a dry cleaner, drug store, deli and florist.

As for entertainment, Fiala suggested the addition of a destination tenant like Dave & Buster's, which packs a restaurant, bar and games under one roof.

Other good options would be a dance club or pool hall, said Nicole Yousefzadeh, one of the owners of Benny's Steak & Seafood.

"There's nothing to do but come and eat," she said. "And then what? They're going to go somewhere else."

Peters and several other merchants thought it would be wise for the Landing to add stores for children, and a place where kids could play.

Parking is another problem facing merchants. They say business has suffered since parking spaces in the nearby Daniel Building were taken away from the Landing and given to the Adam's Mark hotel when it opened in February 2001. The city and the Landing are still trying to resolve that issue.

Lack of parking has even made hiring a problem, Yousefzadeh said, since low-paid restaurant workers can't afford to fork over a good chunk of their pay for parking every day.

"They're not making enough to support themselves and their parking," she said. "It's hard to keep good employees."

Sleiman has pledged that parking will be his first priority, and that at the same time he'll work hard to recruit magnet tenants like The Cheesecake Factory and such men's shops as Jos. A Bank Clothiers and S&K Menswear.

He also recognizes the need to showcase special events to attract people, having proposed docking a barge in the St. Johns River that will serve as a bandstand; installing stadium-style seating around the upper rim facing the Landing's courtyard so more people could watch shows below; and building an IMAX theater.

It's important to balance those needs, said Collis McGeachy, a vice president with the Jacksonville office of CB Richard Ellis, a commercial real estate brokerage.

"You can have plenty of parking spaces, but if there are no traffic generators, it kind of defeats the purpose of having more parking," he said.

In the next few years, two factors may make the Landing more popular with merchants, restaurateurs and potential patrons: The growing popularity of living downtown and the exposure the complex will receive as one of the main entertainment areas for the 2005 Super Bowl.

And then there's the Landing's timeless asset: A prime perch on the river.

"My gosh, that waterfront is worth a million dollars a foot as an amenity," said William Hudnut III, a former mayor of Indianapolis and senior resident fellow at the Urban Land Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that studies real estate development and land use planning.

Despite the challenges, Sleiman is confident he will be able to work out the Landing's kinks.

"It's a big old puzzle," the prominent developer said of the Landing. "It's cut in a million pieces, and it's going to take some time to figure it all out, but ... we're going to figure it all out."

To see more of The Florida Times-Union -- including its homes, jobs, cars and other classified listings -- or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.jacksonville.com.

(c) 2003, The Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville, Fla. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.

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Source Citation
"Jacksonville, Fla., Urban Retail Complex Tenants Think Turnaround Is Possible." Florida Times-Union [Jacksonville, FL] 16 Aug. 2003. General Reference Center Gold. Web. 30 July 2010.
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Gale Document Number:CJ119800657

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