July 16, 2021
At the previous City Commission meeting, the City Commission was asked to consider the proposed lease terms associated with the property commonly referred to as Atlantic Seafood (adjacent to the City’s boat ramp at the west end of Ash Street at S. Front Street. Based upon questions and comments posed to City Commissioners following the meeting, let me offer additional background.
The current lease with Ms. Anne Coonrod (Atlantic Seafood) was approved by City Commission Resolution 2008-71 (May 6, 2008). The general terms of the lease were for the existing structure (of approximately 1,000 square feet) for twenty years, with a monthly rent of approximately $1,300 with an annual increase associated with a Consumer Price Index (not to exceed six percent). The Tenant (Atlantic Seafood) is also responsible for property taxes associated with the property. An option to renew the lease at the request of the Tenant under similar terms may be granted at the sole discretion of the City Commission, which “shall not be unreasonably withheld.”
Although other general terms and conditions are codified in the lease, an additional consideration for the extension of the City boardwalk is included as Section 30. The key provisions of Section 30 provide that if the City wishes to extend the boardwalk which would necessitate the removal of any/all of the existing structure, the Tenant may rebuild (at Tenant cost) the lost portion of the building. Furthermore, Sec. 30 concludes with “In the event that additional land, space, or square footage is required by the Tenant to accommodate the replacement of the Demised Premises and/or add additional services to the business, the parties shall renegotiate this Lease and the description of the Demised Premises.”
Leaping forward to 2017, the City, with the assistance of the National Research Center, mailed (on three occasions) the National Citizen Survey (NCS) to 1,500 randomly selected households within the city limits. In addition to several basic questions related to local government services, a specific question stated: Please rate to what extent you would support or oppose the Amelia River waterfront (between Ash Street and Alachua Street) being primarily (though not exclusively) used in the following ways: parking, open space, recreational facilities, commercial, and no changes. 88% of respondents strongly/somewhat supported open space, followed by 71% for recreational facilities. The most opposed (strongly/somewhat) options were commercial (54%) and no changes (also 54%). Total respondents to the survey numbered 493.
Another edition of the NCS was similarly mailed to 2,900 randomly selected City households. Although no specific questions were presented about the waterfront, the response rate was somewhat similar, with 1,052 surveys returned. When the results (which are available for review on the City website under the Community tab on the main page) were released, a common refrain was “I didn’t get a survey and I don’t know anyone who did!” The survey results posted on the website include technical appendices regarding the survey methodology, including a map illustrating the targeted households.
The Amelia River waterfront efforts have been the subject of innumerable studies and the key priority of several City Commissions, including all City Commissions since my appointment as City Manager in 2015. City staff efforts are commonly based upon established City Commission goals such as the waterfront.
In line with previous City Commissions, the City Commission again established the waterfront as a priority in 2019. A Steering Committee of the Chairpersons of several prominent boards and commissions was formed, and a consultant interviewed the Steering Committee members and the City Commissioners. Based upon those interviews, the consultant prepared a series of conceptual renderings for the waterfront. A summary of the comments and the concepts were presented to the City Commission in January, 2020. The Steering Committee and the City Commission expressed support for what has been referred to as Concept E.
The next step of soliciting broader in-person public comment was subsequently disrupted by the pandemic. Comments were then solicited through an online Community Hub, available to anyone with access to the internet (no geographic restrictions). The Hub, publicized through many local media outlets (print and electronic) as well as a variety of popular social media sites, was available for public comment for approximately thirty days. Even with this open availability and extensive public notice, approximately 3,000 page views generated less than 150 comments on the various features of Concept E. Nearly all of the components of the area south of the boat ramp, including only two limited and general commercial sites, received high marks. As with the NCS, the summary of the most recent waterfront efforts are available on the City web site (under the Your Government tab). It has been that effort which culminated in the recent discussions regarding the Atlantic Seafood lease.
My discussions with Ms. Coonrod date back several years. In anticipation of the belief that the City would offer a “sweetheart” lease, in 2019, I obtained a professional commercial appraisal to establish a market-rate lease fee for a theoretical 9,000 square foot parcel (not building as has been apparently been promoted). Earlier this year, as informal discussions continued, I obtained a second appraisal for a theoretical 14,000 square foot lot. Those appraisals are public records.
That is how we got to where we are today in the discussions regarding Atlantic Seafood. Ms. Coonrod is exercising the terms of her original lease as provided in Section 30. An additional factor related to the current location of Atlantic Seafood is the planned reconstruction of major stormwater improvements that currently run directly below Atlantic Seafood.
I have enjoyed working with Ms. Coonrod and look forward to continuing to support Atlantic Seafood for as long as possible, in its current or future form.
The waterfront process also reinforces the need for public participation in the appropriately provided forums. While the NCS was limited in its random distribution, the Community Hub was open and available to everyone- and only 150 people responded. Thank you to those respondents.
In that light, additional surveys and outreach efforts are currently ongoing related to City Parks and Recreation facilities and services as well as for the City’s 2045 Visioning (both of those efforts can also be located at the bottom of the City’s main web page). A potential developer is also soliciting community insight for a significant project. If you are an interested resident, I encourage you to take a few moments to participate. Your participation- or lack thereof- provides a foundation for the City Commission to make decisions with far-reaching implications. Get involved.