Submitted by City Manager Dale Martin
City of Fernandina Beach
February 28, 2020
At the City Commission’s annual Visioning Session on January 28, 2020, several concepts of a long-desired Amelia River waterfront park were presented to the City Commissioners. The waterfront has remained a leading City Commission priority (and again reconfirmed as such during the Visioning Session). The concepts incorporated three elements necessary for such a park: the shoreline, Front Street, and the park space between the shoreline and Front Street.
The efforts for each of the elements are being supported by a dedicated consultant: Passero Associates for the shoreline efforts, Ayres Associates for Front Street, and Marquis, Latimer & Halbeck for the park. Additionally, a Steering Committee comprised of the Chairperson representing several advisory boards with knowledge and oversight of the waterfront was appointed to coordinate the City effort: the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee, the Historic District Council, the Marina Advisory Board, and Main Street.
The consultants reviewed previous renditions of waterfront park plans and then met individually with City Commissioners and members of the Steering Committee. The consultants, taking into consideration the resulting comments, prepared a series of concepts for the waterfront. In December, the concepts were reviewed by the Steering Committee and what was designated as Concept E was endorsed as the preferred concept.
At the Visioning Session, the consultants reviewed the process and comments, sharing all of the concepts with the City Commissioners that had been presented to the Steering Committee the previous month. Like the Steering Committee, the City Commissioners unanimously supported Concept E.
It is key to note that this recent effort and review has been limited to the concepts presented. Despite the desires of some to immediately begin to design specific components at the waterfront, consensus must first be built for the generalities at the waterfront. It has been the inordinate attention to excruciating detail that has thwarted previous efforts. The basic fact is that not everyone will like every component, but at some point, a decision has to be made: unanimity is an unrealistic goal.
Following the City Commissioners’ endorsement, each of the Steering Committee members’ boards was asked to review or comment on four components of Concept E: outdoor event space at the south end, indoor event space south of Ash Street, the reconfiguration of parking along Front Street, and the introduction of additional greenspace near the foot of Centre Street.
During the month of February, each board did meet and review Concept E. The comments were relatively consistent from each of the boards. The outdoor event space received strong support. Recent efforts to bring events to that area (the grass area adjacent to what is referred to as Parking Lots C and D) have proven successful and should be enhanced.
The indoor event space drew the most scrutiny for several reasons. First, the conceived size of the structure- if to be further considered, the scale of such a building must be appropriate to the waterfront. Second, what would be the effect on parking in that vicinity if such a facility is considered. Third, and most importantly, the process on how to develop such a facility should be reviewed.
Since this facility received the most scrutiny, let me offer additional insight. Last year, the City Commission was presented a financial review of the General Fund (the City’s principal operating fund), the Golf Course, and the Marina. The report confirmed that while the General Fund is strong for the foreseeable future (based upon maintaining the current millage rate), both the Golf Course and Marina are not financially sustainable- both require either a large infusion of General Fund support or additional sources of revenue. For the Golf Course, the decision to move forward with the Toptracer project will provide sufficient additional revenue to move the Golf Course to financial independence.
For the Marina, though, the fiscal picture is bleaker: if nothing is done, the Marina will be indebted to the General Fund by over $3 million in a few years. To eliminate that debt, nearly $2 million annually must be transferred from the General Fund (and even when the debt is eliminated, additional annual subsidies will be required). Additional revenue, either from the Marina itself or from the General Fund must be developed.
A commercial appraisal was completed for the limited area of the waterfront immediately south of the building that currently houses Atlantic Seafood. That appraisal indicates that at current market rates, substantial revenue could be generated on each of three 9,000 square foot parcels (significantly more than what is currently being received from other City-owned waterfront parcels). The use of those parcels for an indoor event space is what has been contemplated. Other uses could be considered as well, and I encourage others to offer different concepts for consideration.
The parking on Front Street was supported, especially since the concept indicated no loss of parking, long viewed as a key obstacle to waterfront development. The expansion of greenspace at the waterfront was also generally supported, but concerns were voiced that even more parking is needed and the greenspace should be retained as parking.
At Tuesday evening’s City Commission meeting, I will seek direction on scheduling a public forum for broader comments on the concept- again, this is not planning or design, but a conceptual review. I anticipate that such a forum can be conducted later in March and at a time to encourage public participation. When scheduled, appropriate notice will be provided through a variety of news sources.