By Dale Martin
City Manager
Fernandina Beach
May 13, 2022

“Mr. Mikelson, [interim Park & Rec Director], presented a concept for discussion and consideration. Mr. Mikelson nor any other City staff are wedded to the concept: if the community desires to continue the discussion, staff is prepared to do so; if the community discards the concept, staff moves on.”

 

City Manager Dale Martin

Let me take this opportunity to provide more context to the Central Park discussion that took place Tuesday evening. (To read Wes Wolffe’s report on the Tuesday meeting, click here.) First and foremost, as Mr. Mikelson stated in his introductory remarks, the reconfiguration of Central Park was presented solely as an idea, conceived due to a variety of circumstances, most notably policy, finances, and property.

The first circumstance is the City’s Parks and Recreation Master Plan. This plan was created following public engagement efforts in early 2015 and subsequently adopted unanimously by the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board and the City Commission (Oct 2015). Until formally revised by the City Commission, this is the policy document for Parks and Recreation efforts. The document is available on the City’s website on the Parks and Recreation page.

Section Four (Long-Range Parks and Recreation Vision, p. 53) states: “The existing Buccaneer Field Complex would be moved to the expanded Fernandina Sports Complex. Central Park would continue to host pick-up games, practice, and recreational leagues, while the Sports Complex would host competitive games and tournaments. A lighted sports complex is not an appropriate use for the City’s a central urban park; it monopolizes over 2/3 of the park land for a single, specialized use; and the outfield fences, lights, maintenance building, parking, and noise are not compatible with adjacent residential uses. The proposed vision would increase park use by both visitors and residents; increase adjacent property values; help stabilize the surrounding neighborhood, and provide a true ‘Signature Park’ for the City.”

It is the City staff’s professional responsibility to implement and support City Commission policy, whether staff personally supports those policies. That is the foundation of professional City staff and effective local government. After serving this community for over six years, I do personally disagree with some of the visions and recommendations of the Master Plan, but until that plan is revised or revoked, it is the guiding policy document.

Ybot Alverez Ball Field

The current Parks and Recreation Advisory Board has also recognized flaws or desired changes in the 2015 Master Plan. Last year, the Board embarked on a new extensive outreach to solicit feedback regarding the City’s Parks and Recreation facilities and programs. This survey effort (web-based, so available to anyone everywhere with an internet connection) was widely promoted through public announcements at City Commission and Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee meetings, through notices in local newspapers, and online through several social media sites. Approximately one thousand surveys were completed. Based upon the survey results, the Advisory Committee has prepared an Assessment and Action Plan. Further action on the Assessment and Action Plan is pending on the appointment of a Parks and Recreation Director (who will be provided the opportunity to offer professional insight and experience before the Assessment and Action Plan is presented to the City Commission for consideration).

Finances are the second circumstance. As has been more frequently noted, the City has not historically maintained its facilities. Those deferred maintenance costs are becoming a significant burden. The ability to allocated additional funding for maintenance has also been historically constrained by the desire to reduce taxes. For at least the past two years, the proposed budget included funding for new playground equipment and new fencing at Central Park. Following political calls to implement the “rollback rate” and not have a tax increase, those projects were eliminated from consideration.

I expect this year will be no different. The City has typically allocated approximately $3 million for capital projects. Consider what is already being proposed for next year’s budget: $1.5 million for a new aerial fire truck, $1 million for street/sidewalk maintenance, $2 million for recreational facility maintenance, $300,000 for beach improvements. Without additional revenues, not all of those projects, let alone Central Park improvements, will be funded.

Mr. Mikelson recognized that the City’s collection of impact fees represented an untapped source of revenue to redevelop those facilities that will likely otherwise be relegated to piecemeal replacement. The impact fees must be spent on new capital facilities, not on replacement projects (as definitively stated by the City Attorney).

Those two circumstances led to the concept of relocating the baseball fields to the Ybor Alvarez Sports Complex: reconfiguring the fields currently utilized for adult softball into youth baseball fields. Additional parking could be adding. Other supporting facilities could be constructed. Drainage could be improved. Significant investment could be made for this new facility.

Concept for discussion of proposed ball fields.

To clarify, the Ybor Alvarez property is owned by the City, but it is, in general, regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration. Under its current disposition, the softball and soccer fields are at risk to additional Airport development, which cannot likely be denied. The City Commissioners are astutely aware of the potential loss of those facilities and are developing options on how to secure the current use of that property for sports activities for years to come. As with nearly everything else, it comes down to money.

Finally, the anonymous donor is, in fact, quite real, with an extensive history of significant contributions to area agencies and programs. City staff had meetings with the donor to ensure the donor’s intent and desires were fulfilled. I have not had additional conversation with the donor following Tuesday’s meeting, so the status of the original donation is unknown.

To recap: Mr. Mikelson presented a concept for discussion and consideration. Mr. Mikelson nor any other City staff are wedded to the concept: if the community desires to continue the discussion, staff is prepared to do so; if the community discards the concept, staff moves on. I will always encourage City staff to seek innovative solutions to the challenges of their department.

Thank you for your comments.

 

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DAVID LOTT
DAVID LOTT
12 days ago

It is all about transparency and unfortunately from this person’s remote perspective, it has not existed regarding the Central Park redevelopment plan. First, the presentation was not included on the published PRAC meeting agenda for their 5/10 meeting. The first I saw that this plan was being resurrected was on Facebook including several comments from the Mayor alerting followers it was going to be presented. Wouldn’t it have been a better plan to clearly provided the presentation that Scott made in advance and provide wide publicity? In addition, the Chair of PRAC initially made Facebook comments that since their members were hearing/seeing the proposal for the first time there would be no public comment accepted. Fortunately, in viewing the livestream of the meeting, this decision was changed. To “spring” such a controversial plan on the community only invited the suspicion and lack of trust that has resulted. Then we learn of a potential $.5 million anonymous donation and while the identity of the donor is immaterial, it is critical to understand what the “conditions” are, if any, for such a donation and if it is still viable.

Yes, the Commission adopted the overall P&R Master Plan (developed by an outside consulting firm) recognizing there were many aspects of the Plan that were unacceptable, particularly the relocation of the ballfields from Central Park. The explanation that staff is required to follow the direction provided by the Commission, while true in theory, is hollow and inconsistent with other actions in practice. In 2012 the Commission approved the riverfront park plan but that didn’t stop staff / City Manager from later proposing a radically different plan including an expanded commercial space that was never (and specifically excluded based on public feedback) included in the approved plan.

The reality is that we live in a present day world of communication through news feeds and social media. Personally, I believe the City needs to step up its game in this regards. While the City regularly posts items on its official Facebook page, I think this page can be used more fully. Does the City’s Digital Communications Specialist monitor the “unofficial” Fernandina Beach social media feeds and report issues to the City Manager? Why not go on the offense and get ahead of items that are likely to elicit controversy. The City does an excellent job of posting meeting agendas and supplemental materials in advance, but just sitting back and placing the burden on the citizen to wade through the documents (as well as assuming they have the resources or knowledge how to access the information) is not a very compelling strategy in these days and times.

The 2021 P&R community survey contained some excellent information feedback. One cannot ignore the fact that the city’s population is getting older. The high percentage of senior residents responding to the survey certainly indicated a list of priorities quite different from the families with children.

The reality is that given the City’s current financial constraints, a major reconfiguration of Central Park and relocation of the ballfields should be placed on the back burner or taken off any consideration at this time. City staff admits that it struggles to maintain the current facilities and with increasing operational costs, that challenge will only get stronger. With the use of impact fees highly constrained and limited to “new” projects, those fees should be focused on new features in the parks along the ocean and the river.

The City has done an excellent job in the creation of recreational and parks for the citizens and visitors. The last numbers I saw was almost 27 acres per 1,000 residents – a ration that is almost 3 times the national average. Protect and maintain what is there now.

Joe Wise
Joe Wise
12 days ago
Reply to  DAVID LOTT

Well said. Finish what you start before you head off in another direction.

Robert Warner
Robert Warner
10 days ago
Reply to  DAVID LOTT

Excellent post from Dave Lott. It all may now be too late.

Tony Crawford
Tony Crawford
11 days ago

It is inconceivable and non professional to present a “concept” of something so drastic without giving the public an estimated cost.
Had I ever presented such a thing and wasted the time of those who had to sit through it I would have been on the street by the end of the day. This was not the parks departments fault. Did they come up with this? Did their people prepare the power point? Who dug this up from the dead and why was taxpayers money spent preparing and serving this spoiled meal to the public. Did anyone ever think that this would surly be voted down by any Commission that ever hoped to get re elected. My best advice is to put on Joni Mitchell and listen to ” tear down Paradise ” get a beer and just sit back and watch as we destroy our island one condo at a time or call and e mail every commissioner and tell them what you think and get down to every meeting and take your 3 minutes and speak and above all take note and vote.

John Goshco
John Goshco
11 days ago

A large pond in the middle of Central Park? Is this what the public has been clamoring for? Where’s the fence to keep out the little children and wandering pets?

High maintenance and not needed in a city surrounded by large bodies of water. Finish the downtown waterfront first.

Minor correction. The sketch mislabels 13th St. as 14th St.

DAVID LOTT
DAVID LOTT
9 days ago

And to make matters worse, the CM lays out the possibility that the land where the Alvarez sports complex currently is could possibly be reclaimed by the airport for aeronautical use. Is such a possibility why would there even be consideration for major new investment there?

John Goshco
John Goshco
8 days ago
Reply to  DAVID LOTT

Interesting observation.
The sports complex doesn’t seem to line up with any of the active runways, but the land is adjacent to the high demand hanger area.

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