Lenny's Lawn: The Grass Field Replacing the Landing

Mayor Curry has revealed his plans for replacing the Jacksonville Landing after its demolition, and as Urban Core advocates have feared for months, it's mostly an empty field. Get ready for Lenny's Lawn.

Landing replacement revealed: Hope you like Bermuda grass

So there’s good news and there’s bad news. The good news is that we finally have some concrete details about what Mayor Lenny Curry plans to replace the Jacksonville Landing with after he’s done spending over $22 million to blow it up, thanks to the intrepid reporting of WOKV. The bad news is that the killjoy skeptics were right: as The Jaxson and many of our peers have predicted for months, it’s mostly just a big grass field to join Downtown’s already vast assortment. And it’ll be years before it’s done. Say goodbye to the Landing, and say hello to Lenny’s Lawn - Jacksonville’s only lawn with its own Twitter account!

Our demolition-happy mayor, henceforth Demo Lenny, has had his mind set on demolishing the Landing for over a year, long before he bought the building. Demo Lenny gonna demo, after all. Though many observers, us included, were skeptical of this plan, others were in favor, hoping a grand replacement was forthcoming. But back in June 2018, Demo Lenny floated a concept for the Landing site that was dominated by passive green space, with two small areas for commercial buildings to be added at some undetermined time. He later stated that this was just an idea for the space, but apparently he decided it was such a good one that it couldn’t be improved, because his latest plans don’t seem to have changed anything about them.

These plans call for an additional $2.25 million to be set aside over the next three years to plan out a “Riverfront Plaza” at the Landing site. This brings the total cost of turning the Landing into a lawn to nearly $25 million. In addition to the plaza, the plan does still include two pads set aside for commercial development. This year, $250 thousand will go toward that great Jacksonville tradition, a market study, to determine the shape the space will take, including how large the two development pads should be. This is exactly the kind of thing that should be done before the Landing is demolished, and which almost certainly doesn’t need to cost a quarter million.

As the city’s Chief Administrative Officer Brian Hughes told the Jacksonville Daily Record, another two million will be split between the 2020-21 and 2021-22 fiscal years. This will not be for buildout, but rather for “pre-engineering, engineering and landscape work” to design the plaza. No construction costs are included in these numbers. This is the same Brian Hughes who once said that former Mayor Alvin Brown’s $12 million Landing plan - would have replaced the building, rather than turning it into a field - was “not simply outrageous it’s disgusting.”

Lot J’s Mini-Landing

The Cordish Companies’ renderings of Lot J including a “Live! Arena.

The “Riverfront Plaza” plan is part of a wider mosaic of Downtown decisions that also includes the proposal the mayor has been pitching as his legacy project: Lot J. This approximately four-block development next to TIAA Bank field would be built through a partnership between the City of Jacksonville, the Jaguars, and the Cordish Companies. It will cost $450 million, of which $233 million will be funded by the city.

Roughly a block of Lot J is planned for one of Cordish’s signature Live! arenas, an entertainment and commercial venue that’s essentially a smaller version of the current Landing. The cost of the Live! venue, which will be owned by the city, is estimated at $50 million. The preliminary renderings suggest Jacksonville’s Live! venue will be significantly smaller than the Landing, and smaller even than other Live! venues in other cities.

The location of the Live! venue is also worth noting - it’s a full mile away from the Downtown core, the walkable heart of the city. It will, however, take over duties previously held by the Landing, including city-sponsored celebrations. Even before the Live! arena has broken ground, the city plans to move Florida-Georgia festivities to the stadium district - thereby removing them from the Downtown core and reducing the benefit they have to the bars and restaurants located there. Essentially, the city is spending nearly $25 million to turn one event space into a lawn while simultaneously spending $50 million more to subsidize a similar but much smaller space on the fringes of Downtown.

An inside look at Cordish’s recently completed Texas Live!

Lenny’s Lawn

A conceptual plan of the “Riverfront Plaza” originally released in June 2018 as a replacement for the Jacksonville Landing.

The dullness of the “Riverfront Plaza” plan should be enough to disappoint those hoping for a topnotch modern replacement of the Landing. But even the bland 2018 rendering represents a vision that’s years and millions of dollars away from becoming reality. No construction costs are currently funded, and construction almost certainly wouldn’t start until the design work is completed in 2022. The commercial component, whatever shape that finally takes, can be expected to take longer. In the meantime, we can look forward to a field of Bermuda grass sod sitting on the Downtown waterfront’s single most prominent space, awaiting its full metamorphosis into a somewhat better lawn.

Judging by this timeline, Curry will be heading out of office by the time his lawn project truly breaks ground, let alone the time that the first new business opens to replace the 30 evicted for the demolition. But at least you can get a commemorative T-shirt!

Editorial by J.D. McGregor. Contact J.D. at jdmcgregorjax@gmail.com.