Toney Sleiman says the city needs a new convention center, and he wants to build one near The Jacksonville Landing.
Developer Toney Sleiman has thrown a wrinkle into the long-running debate about whether Jacksonville needs a new convention center. In August, Sleiman proposed building a riverfront convention facility between The Jacksonville Landing, which he owns, and the Hyatt Regency hotel downtown. The city owns the two-acre site, which is now a parking lot, but Sleiman has an option to buy it.
Sleiman says he met with Hyatt representatives, city officials and the Jacksonville & the Beaches Convention and Visitors Bureau to discuss his idea. Hyatt executives say they are discussing possibilities for redeveloping their site, which could include a convention center, but would need to resolve several issues, including what would happen to the hotel's parking garage, which houses administrative offices, meeting space and 70 guest rooms.
Critics of the Prime Osborn Convention Center, a converted railroad terminal, say that site is too small and lacks nearby hotels to attract conventions. In August, the CVB closed its one-person Washington, D.C., office, where many associations that host large, annual meetings are headquartered, saying Jacksonville doesn't have enough convention center space to make the city an attractive destination for those groups.
Though he agrees the city needs a new convention center, Mayor John Peyton doesn't rank it high on his priority list. In July, however, Peyton and the CVB created a task force, which is scheduled to meet before the end of the year, to study the need for a larger center.
Architect and former CVB President Jack Diamond has been pushing for a new convention center for several years. In 2004, Diamond commissioned a study that ranked a parking lot at Alltel Stadium as the best site for a new center. He says the site Sleiman proposes is too small and wouldn't support expansion. According to the CVB, a new center needs a minimum of 200,000 square feet and a hotel.