Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
August 13, 2020
In 2015 the City of Fernandina Beach adopted a Master Plan for Bosque Bello Cemetery, the only public cemetery on Amelia Island. At that time, it was estimated that the cemetery would run out of burial space in 10-12 years. Incorporated in the Master Plan were the results of a survey taken in 2013-14 in which “the majority of participants (over 70%) were interested in creating a location for cremated remains, such as a columbaria, scattering garden or memorial wall. There was also a strong indication that the participants desired to diversify the burial options, and have the city offer new methods such as, family vessels and urns.”
The Master Plan put forth a series of recommendations including: the need to “Plan for alternative burial options in light of plot space running out within 10-12 years – columbaria, scattering garden, urns, family vessels, memorial wall.”
During the five years that have passed since the adoption of the cemetery Master Plan, a citizen outreach group — the Friends of Bosque Bello — was formed under the umbrella of the Amelia Island Fernandina Restoration Foundation to address many needs of Bosque Bello ranging from security and maintenance to landscaping and visitor information. A subcommittee has been working with the City to address space needs identified in the Master Plan. The group considered other columbaria and memorial gardens that have been constructed on Amelia Island and within the City of Fernandina Beach. They also reached out to local architects and designers for input.
On August 11, 2020 the architectural and design firm that has been working with the City on a design for the Amelia Riverfront Park, presented both concepts and cost estimates to the City’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee (PRAC). The firm of Marquis Latimore + Halbeck presented designs that provided for a columbarium as well as in ground burial spaces for cremains and a memorial wall. The plan was multiphased and included landscaping elements and memorial benches.
PRAC members asked the concept designers many questions, but ultimately put off voting to move forward until they could obtain further input from the FBCC with respect to the City’s willingness/ability to finance the ambitious plans.
Commissioner Mike Lednovich, the FBCC liaison to the PRAC, agreed to raise the issue with the FBCC at the FBCC’s second Budget Workshop the next evening. And he did.
The first phase of the consultants’ plan was estimated to cost close to $300K; the City’s Capital Improvement Plan had only allocated $85,000 from impact fees for the project in the coming Fiscal Year. The phased implementation has been estimated to take place over 14 years. When asked why more money had not been allocated to this project, City Manager Dale Martin replied that the FBCC had identified three top funding priorities for the coming year: the waterfront, conservation, and infrastructure. The columbarium did not fit into these categories.
Earlier discussions in the community and among the Friends of Bosque Bello called for private fundraising to help defray costs for such major undertakings at the cemetery. Also raised has been the possibility of pursuing grant funding. The Friends have also agreed to assist with pre-sales.
Sal Cumella, the City’s former Preservation Planner who continues his involvement with the Friends of Bosque Bello, said in an email, “The numbers presented show that this project is key to the financial future of the Cemetery, and although it will have a total all-in price tag over $1 million it has potential to generate over $2 million in net revenue.”
The PRAC will take up the issue once more at their September meeting.