Brett’s Waterway Cafe structural conditions a concern

Passero Association
by Christopher Nardone
Sr Project Architect
July 2, 2021

Editor’s Note: The Fernandina Observer along with other local media outlets received the following report from City Manager Dale Martin this afternoon.  Several studies have been conducted over recent years by both the City of Fernandina Beach and the leaseholder for Brett’s Waterway Cafe. At issue is the building’s safety, due to deteriorating structural elements. The latest study results are summarized in the letter below from Passero Associates to the City dated July 1, 2021. The study itself is lengthy and detailed, replete with photos of failing concrete and other structural elements. The entire study is available via public records request to the City of Fernandina Beach.

Waterfront Stabilization Analysis and Building Condition Assessment of Brett’s Waterway Café – Amelia Riverfront Resiliency Study

This memorandum provides a summary of the key study conclusions from the waterfront stabilization analysis and building condition assessment of Brett’s Waterway Café, as follows:

1. Monitoring: Due to the elevated risk of substructure failure, collateral damage and repairs necessary, Passero staff believe that the City should regularly inspect the building condition and consider the deteriorating condition of the building as a potential life-safety risk to the general public, to continue to occupy this structure.
2. Background: The marina has taken many forms through the years. In the 1930s, it was a wharf with a concrete bulkhead. In the 1960s, a Welcome Station was constructed consisting of a concrete pier over the river, Teepee Building and Marina. In the 1980s, the restaurant (now Brett’s Waterway Cafe) was constructed partially over the river, on top of the existing concrete pier. (Chapter 4.2 of technical report.)

2. Standards and Resources: Some key standards referenced in this study include: ASCE 7 (2016), ASCE 24 (2014), Florida Building Code (Full Series), Fernandina Beach Municipal Code, FEMA Guidelines, Guidelines published by USACE, FDEP, FWC and NPS. The report also includes review of historic drawings and assessment reports provided by City, by others. (Chapter 4.3)

*Above Photo 2799 Deterioration of Metal Plates and
Concrete Cap (May 2020)

3. Observation Overview and Preliminary Structural Findings: In 2020, Passero Associates staff performed visual observations of the project area and Brett’s Waterway Café. Numerous deficiencies were observed with an active collapse of a concrete double-tee substructure member occurring between our May and June 2020 visits (Chapter 4.4.2). Based on our preliminary structural assessment, Passero Staff believes the substructure at Brett’s Waterway Café has surpassed its useful life and could suffer significant damage during a hurricane or other high wind event. Due to the elevated risk of substructure failure, collateral damage and repairs necessary, Passero staff believe that the City should regularly inspect the building condition and consider the deteriorating condition of the building as a potential life-safety risk to the general public, to continue to occupy this structure.

4. Code Summary – Flood Hazard Area Requirements: All buildings located in flood hazard areas shall be construction in compliance with ASCE 7 and 24. (Chapter 4.5.1) Some basic requirements include:
a. Elevation Requirement (elevation of the bottom of the lowest horizontal member): +14.4’ NAVD88 is required. The existing structure is +2.85’ NAVD88.
b. All utilities and equipment shall be located above the minimum design flood elevation. Utilities, conduits are currently hanging below existing structure, below the required elevation.
c. New buildings are required to be located at the landward side of high tide. However, there are exceptions for existing buildings over water, provided they can be brought into compliance with additional requirements within these standards.

Above Photo 2654 Deteriorated Double T Showing
Severe Deflection (May 2020)

5. Code Summary and Requirements for Alterations to Existing Buildings: The structural design of the Brett’s Waterway Cafe is comprised of multiple generations of building code requirements, construction methodology, and differing levels of workmanship, materials, and quality control. Further, the complexity of the building code and its requirements have become much more complex and stricter than previous generations, due to generations of lessons learned in the construction industry, research, and development within the academic community. Due to these considerations, the current structure does not meet modern day building code requirements in multiple areas.

However, historic, or aged structures are often grandfathered into compliance with current building codes, except when substantial changes are made to the structure, normally requiring full compliance. Compliance with current Wind, Seismic and Flood requirements are significant enough that any proposed repair to this structure is likely to require full code compliance (Chapter 4.5.2)

6. Code Summary and Requirements for New Construction: All new structures must be design and constructed in compliance with all state and local codes. Structures within flood hazard areas must also comply with the requirements specified in ASCE 24. The following are some of the major code regulations/requirements for new construction.

(Chapter 4.5.3)
a. New construction must be located landward of mean high tide.
b. Structures must be designed to resist the effects of flood hazards and flood loads.
c. Compliance with wind-borne debris region.
d. Compliance with Design Flood Elevation.

7. Possible Actions and Consequences of Development of the Current Structure:
a. Do Nothing: The “Do Nothing” approach covers scenarios ranging from no-action to repairs and improvements that remain below the “30 percent” threshold. It is important to note that necessary structural repairs are not included in this consideration since they would far exceed the threshold for minor improvements.
Therefore, Passero staff do not recommend this approach. (Chapter 4.6.1)

b. Improvement Approaches Repairs/Alterations: Three alternatives were analyzed:
minimum repairs to extend facility life, new bulkhead at perimeter of pier, and reconstruction. (Chapter 4.6.2)
i. Minimum Repairs: This is not recommended as it is not possible to repair the bulkhead, raising flood line protection to new design height, without the demolition of Brett’s.
ii. New bulkhead at perimeter of Pier: Further investigation is required to determine if this is a viable solution. There is no guarantee that this approach would receive the required approvals necessary to enclose and fill under the existing pier.
iii. Reconstruction: Reconstruction would involve the complete demolition and reconstruction of a new structure, compliant with current codes and regulations. This appears to be a viable solution provided the structure is deemed historic.

c. New Construction: New construction would involve the demolition of existing structures and replacement with new, compliant structures meeting current codes and regulations. This approach is similar to the reconstruction approach, with exception to the location of any new buildings. New buildings would be required to be located landward of mean high tide. (Chapter 4.6.3)

8. Recommended Action:
a. Due to the elevated risk of substructure failure, collateral damage and repairs necessary, Passero staff believe that the City should regularly inspect the building condition and consider the deteriorating condition of the building as a potential life-safety risk to the general public, to continue to occupy this structure.
b. To further investigate the possibility of surrounding the existing pier/restaurant with a new bulkhead and entirely renovate the restaurant to be fully compliant with current codes and regulations.
c. To investigate the possibility of designating the pier/restaurant as part of the downtown historic district and recreate the Welcome Center Teepee Building as an historic structure now used as a restaurant. (Chapter 4.7)

9. Cost Summary:
a. Thomas May Construction Co. – Total Construction Cost Estimate for Remodel and Repairs of the Existing Building: $2,402,000.00 to $2,580,400.00.
b. Thomas May Construction Co. – Total Construction Cost Estimate for Demolition of existing Building (to top of superstructure) including Service Yard: $276,000.00 to $331,200.00.
c. Thomas May Construction Co. – Total Construction Cost estimate for Demolition of Existing Building’s Remaining Foundation Structure and Substructure: $870,000.00 to $1,044,000.00.
d. Applying the repair threshold of only 30% of the assessed value of the pier/restaurant is allowed for repair/improvement makes it impossible to repair the structural deficiencies without being required to bring everything to compliance. Thus, limiting the options because as soon as the threshold is breached it is considered new construction thus not allowing the pier/restaurant to be constructed over the water unless designated historical. (Chapter 4.7)

10. Areas for Further Study: Investigate the possibility of designating the pier/restaurant site as an Historic Site and recreate the Welcome Center Teepee Building as a restaurant over the river with its lowest structure at +14.4’ NAVD88. (Chapter 4.8)

As always, please contact me with any questions.


Christopher Nardone, AIA
Senior Project Architect

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Benjamin Morrison
Benjamin Morrison (@guest_61461)
2 years ago

I sincerely hope he is not serious about recreating the teepee structure on our historic waterfront

Tim Walker
Tim Walker (@guest_61475)
2 years ago

Amen..but they are serious

Benjamin Morrison
Benjamin Morrison (@guest_61477)
2 years ago
Reply to  Tim Walker

Well this is advice coming from the same engineering firm that thought it was a good idea for our brand new airport terminal to be shaped like a gigantic vintage airplane… so no big surprise

Robert S. Warner, Jr.
Robert S. Warner, Jr. (@guest_61481)
2 years ago

I like the new terminal. A Grumman fighter plane. The airport was a Navy pilot training facility, once upon a time. Longer ago than most care to remember. They saved our butts. But then real estate was problematical then…

Elizabeth Tilton
Elizabeth Tilton (@guest_61463)
2 years ago

Great so I’m sitting having dinner and the restaurant falls. this is a big issue since a lot of tourists are drawn to Brett’s. I think this has been brought up before.

Robert Warner
Robert Warner (@guest_61473)
2 years ago

It’s time to turn this area (including the fish house and boat ramp) into a non-profit Ocean and Estuarian Research Institution – and Maritime, Logistics, and Boat building Training facility. Associate it with the Fernandina Museum of History. An extraordinary location and channel – with a unique set of high tech neighbors that can’t be matched. Plan for a high tech future for our young generation. Or just turn it over to the real estate speculators.,,,,

Tom Lohman
Tom Lohman (@guest_61474)
2 years ago

How much does the city receive in rental for the building? A profit/loss analysis to determine whether to rebuild or not is an easy task. There is no reason for taxpayers to subsidize a commercial operation if the analysis shows a loss,

Certainly the city should close the restaurant based on its current condition and the potential for loss of life as well as financial liability. The recent building collapse in south Florida is a stark example of delaying action on structural issues.

Louis Goldman
Louis Goldman (@guest_61476)
2 years ago

Tear the building down and make that location pRl of the park. Lease the southern end of parking D for a new restaurant to produce income for the Marina

Margo Story
Margo Story (@guest_61480)
2 years ago

OMG too scary…..there has gotta be a way for the city to make some $ from this property!!

Susan Steger
Susan Steger(@co-editor-2)
2 years ago

No it did not.