Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
The Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) held a Special Meeting at 5:00 p.m. immediately preceding their Regular Meeting on July 1, 2014 to consider what was advertised as a presentation by Ms. Christi Osborne of Bonhams. There was no backup information on this item in the agenda packet and commissioners appeared somewhat in the dark regarding just what the presentation had in store for the city.
Little did they anticipate that Bonhams, one of the world’s premier auction houses, was proposing to hold a high end automobile auction at the city’s municipal golf course during the week of the Concours d’Elegance next spring. Commissioners listened to a 45 minute presentation by three Bonhams representatives, explaining both their company goals and their plans to make Fernandina Beach the third of three premier automobile auction sites in the United States, joining those in Scottsdale, Arizona and Monterey, California. Bonhams appeared before the FBCC seeking a permit to hold the event and to lease a portion of the golf course property. Commissioners gave a unanimous thumbs up to the project. City Manager Joe Gerrity will begin work with Bonhams today to secure appropriate permits.
According to their website www.Bonhams.com, Bonhams, established in 1793, is a privately owned British auction house and one of the world’s oldest and largest auctioneers of fine art and antiques. They conduct more than 600 auctions each year. It is the largest auction house to hold scheduled sales of classic & vintage motor cars, motorcycles and car memorabilia. The motoring division, one of 21 company divisions, enjoys world-wide success and holds the world record auction price for a motor car sold at auction, as well as for Alfa Romeo, Aston Martin, Austin-Healey, Bentley, Invicta, Jaguar, Lagonda, Lotus, Maserati, Mercedes-Benz and Rolls-Royce. The auctions are held globally at some of the most premier locations in conjunction with internationally renowned motoring events. On July 12, they will conduct an auction at the Mercedes Benz Museum in Stuttgart, Germany, to be followed on August 15 by the Quail Lodge Auction at the Quail Lodge and Golf Club in Carmel, California.
Bonhams representatives Christi and Mark Osborne and Rupert Banner walked commissioners through a slide presentation, stressing their belief in the importance of partnerships with hosting sites and their goal to make the Fernandina Beach venue part of their “global family.”
Bonhams representatives indicated that they have been discussing the possibility of holding an auction here in connection with the Concours d’Elegance for 10 years. They have visited the area during this time and explored various sites. They settled on the golf course because they felt that their car auctions have a natural affinity to such sites. The presence of a general aviation airport in the city was another plus. Mark Osborne said that their car auctions attract “the right clientele with the right presentation. The event is not a circus, but a contained, respectful event.”
As a sign of their commitment to the city, Christi Osborne said that Bonhams has already signed a contract with the Downtown Hampton Inn and Suites for 130 rooms to hold the Bonhams staff responsible for set up, marketing and the actual auction itself during a 10-14 day period. She said that by housing their staff downtown, they are anticipating a major impact on local restaurants and retail shops.
Designed to complement and increase the attractions of the events of the Concours d’Elegance week, Bonhams will hold its event from March 10-12, 2015, while the Concours events begin on March 12 and culminate on March 15.
Part of the Bonhams strategy is to showcase the city golf course. They will not interfere with play or take over the clubhouse. Rather their plan is to set up no more than two tents, to make as small a footprint as possible. Details on the specific golf course location for the event are still being worked out.
During the two days preceding the actual auction cars will be available for previewing. On the day of the auction, they anticipate they will need an additional 75-100 parking spaces, which will be handled by a shuttle from remote parking. They stressed the importance of paying attention to both neighboring homeowners and golf club members. They hold a champagne breakfast the morning of the event to which those people are invited in addition to auction participants.
Christi Osborne indicated that as part of the event they will conduct a “Mini Antiques Roadshow,” during which members of the public will be able to bring items other than cars for evaluation.
Commissioner Charlie Corbett asked if Bonhams had contacted the Tourist Development Council (TDC). Christi Osborne replied that they had first wanted to secure permission from the City of Fernandina Beach.
Commissioners expressed gratitude and enthusiasm to the Bonhams team. Corbett suggested contacting the TDC to obtain maps and booklets for use in promoting the event. Commissioner Johnny Miller asked about tax revenues from car sales remaining local. Mark Osborne responded that it would depend on whether the car were to be bought locally or shipped overseas. Commissioner Pat Gass asked whether the event would be catered professionally or by local non-profit agencies. Christi Osborne said that Bonhams has done both, adding that she was open to ideas to enhance the event. Mayor Ed Boner expressed his hope that the event would provide a way to redefine the city golf course and bring back local play.
Mark Osborne expressed his hope that the event would grow each year, adding more income for local businesses as well as to auction sales. Boner suggested indexing the lease terms so that the city might benefit in a minimal profit sharing arrangement with Bonhams. Vice Mayor Sarah Pelican also expressed her support saying that the event would be great for the local economy.
City Manager Joe Gerrity remarked that while he doesn’t mind the city’s sharing billing with Amelia Island, he is pleased to see Fernandina Beach get top billing, too. He reminded commissioners that while he had the authority to issue the special permit for the event, he brought it to the FBCC because he wanted to make sure that he had full commission backing.
As the meeting ended, Mayor Boner thanked the Bonhams representatives and asked, “Are we all excited?” The answer was a resounding YES followed by a round of applause.
Editor’s Note: Suanne Z. Thamm is a native of Chautauqua County, NY, who moved to Fernandina Beach from Alexandria,VA, in 1994. As a long time city resident and city watcher, she provides interesting insight into the many issues that impact our city. We are grateful for Suanne’s many contributions to the Fernandina Observer.