Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
April 1, 2020
Funny things happen in the final days of the Florida Legislative Session, and 2020 was no exception. Despite a last minute flurry of activity to address the coronavirus, a private bill with significant impact for waterfront development plans in Fernandina Beach slipped under the radar, achieving approval with no discussion or fanfare.
The Legislature approved a request from the MAGA Corporation, Inc. to exercise eminent domain powers and exceed city height requirements to build a truly massive hotel on the city’s riverfront at the foot of Centre Street. The hotel will be modeled after Rome’s Victor Emmanuel II monument, which is 442 feet wide and 230 feet tall. The upper section of the monument consists of a huge curved colonnade with 50ft tall columns with small temple-like wings.
The size and location of the edifice will require relocating existing structures like the Veterans Monument and the Shrimpers Monument, apparently to be replaced by a large statue of an as yet unnamed modern American President.
The hotel will be the flagship of a major chain boasting luxury hotels and resorts around the world.
The architect for the project is a leader in classical Italian design, Benito Briscola. This will be his first project in the United States.
Briscola said, “We’re grateful to the Legislature for sharing our vision that the Amelia Riverfront is a perfect setting for a unique, luxury experience. The view from the top floors, all the way to Brunswick, GA, will be breathtaking. The helicopter landing pad will sit atop the roof and not obstruct the views even a little bit.”
While many details remain to be worked out, some of the plans include a world class casino, many upscale dining and retail opportunities. The Presidential Suite, occupying most of the top floor, will be reserved for use of the owner and his family along with heads of state from around the globe and their security details. The owner, who currently chooses to remain anonymous, maintains his official residence in Palm Beach, FL.
As part of the grand plan for the new hotel, MAGA plans to reopen passenger rail service to Fernandina Beach, and berth a cruise ship alongside the hotel in the abandoned federal channel.
Briscola said, “This will be huge for Fernandina Beach and add a new flag to the island’s colorful history.”
Some have speculated that this is only the first step in MAGA’s plans to rebrand Amelia Island as the entertainment mecca of Florida, following the destruction to businesses in South Florida caused by the coronavirus. Representatives have been exploring building a theme park on what is today the city golf course. Also contemplated is a huge amphitheater where earlier plans to build a car-centric complex failed to materialize.
Unconfirmed reports say that this same firm is in negotiations with the U.S. Postal Service to take over the Historic Centre Street Post Office as well. The interior would be gutted and replaced by a giant indoor swimming pool and a botanical garden.
“Of course,” Briscola said, “this is a multi phase plan that will require widening existing roads and probably some eminent domain actions for the public good.”
The Fernandina Observer will not cover future developments of these plans for a good reason: April Fool’s Day only comes once per year!