Suanne Z. Thamm, Reporter News-Analyst
At a special meeting called for 5:00 p.m. on October 2, 2012, Fernandina Beach City Commissioners (FBCC) voted unanimously to direct City Manager Joe Gerrity to enter into negotiations with Drs. Joseph Lee and Elizabeth Harrelson-Lee on a franchise agreement to keep the Amelia Island Market Place operating downtown. While the FBCC had issued a general invitation to all parties interested in running a downtown farmers market to present their vision and plans for such an activity, only two parties responded: Mr. Joe Johnson, who runs Joe’s Produce and Deli in the Deerwalk Shopping Center in Yulee; and Drs. Joseph and Elizabeth Harrelson Lee, who have been operating the Amelia Island Market Place on a week-to-week basis on North 7th and Centre Streets since the original downtown farmers market relocated to the south end of the island in September.
Mr. Johnson presented his brief proposal first, stressing his more than 20 years experience in the grocery and produce business. He expressed no preference for a particular downtown location, but stressed that he wanted to feature local growers and vendors. In a prepared statement he said, “I want our Market to be professional, fairly priced, clean and friendly. That’s the way I run my produce store.” The FBCC had no questions for Mr. Johnson following his 5-minute presentation.
Dr. Elizabeth Harrelson-Lee presented the Lees’ vision for continuing and expanding their Amelia Island Market Place. She emphasized that she and her husband had changed their plans to open their own market on their property at 14th and Lime Streets to meet the needs of local citizens for a downtown presence. Despite short notice, they were able to open almost immediately with both new vendors and some of the vendors that had been part of the first market. They currently have 30 vendors, and are poised to grow over the months ahead.
Lee stressed that it was part of their vision to promote brick-and-mortar businesses downtown as well. She and her husband plan a “Business of the Week” program, that will allow a Centre Street business to have a free booth to advertise or otherwise promote their business to farmers market patrons. She also expressed interest in expanding the scope of the farmers market to include special events in connection with other events in town, like the Petanque tournament or the various street festivals. She suggested a variation on the Riverside Arts Market in Jacksonville that features arts and crafts in addition to produce, plants and food.
In reviewing various location options, Mrs. Lee said that after considering the pros and cons of the current 7th Street location and two possible waterfront locations, she believed that the current location is the best at present. While the waterfront location had some appeal, the unrelenting sun would create problems for food and produce vendors as well as patrons. The 7th Street location provides a certain amount of shade and room to expand, possibly into the circular parking area of the neighboring bank.
Commissioner Charlie Corbett questioned Mrs. Lee regarding her intention to include arts and crafts. She emphasized that she was not suggesting that this would be done immediately, but might come along as a way to feature local crafts people. She was clear that it would not become a flea market featuring manufactured goods.
Commissioner Tim Poynter expressed his concerns about transparency in operations and criteria for selecting vendors. He suggested that perhaps a committee should make decisions regarding the number and types of vendors, as opposed to concentrating these decisions in the hands of the franchise holder. Mrs. Lee said that a successful market needs a good mix to avoid over saturation and to ensure that participation can return a profit to vendors. She said that she and her husband were already considering a committee approach.
Following the presentations, Mayor Arlene Filkoff asked commissioners for their comments and ideas. Commissioner Poynter said that he wants the farmers market to remain a farmers market and believes that special events should be considered separately and covered by a special events permit. He felt that the market should remain on 7th Street for now and that there should be some oversight because a farmers market operates on city property. He also felt that priority consideration should be given to city vendors. Vice Mayor Jeffrey Bunch concurred.
Commissioner Corbett agreed that the farmers market should continue to sell prepared food, plants, herbs, produce and other items traditionally associated with a farmers market as opposed to arts and crafts. He suggested as an alternative location the park across from City Hall on the corner of 2nd and Ash Streets.
Commissioner Sarah Pelican asked if the Lees still planned to hold “Non-Profits” weeks, and Mrs. Lee responded affirmatively.
After a half hour of presentations and discussion, Vice Mayor Bunch moved that the City Manager enter into negotiations with the Lees on a franchise agreement for a downtown farmers market, looking at both the current location and the park across from City Hall. Commissioner Poynter seconded the motion, stating that he strongly favors the 7th Street location for now. The motion passed unanimously.
In response to City Attorney Tammi Bach’s request for parameters for the agreement, by consensus the FBCC instructed that:
- The term of the agreement will be one year with the possibility of two 2-year extensions;
- A franchise fee paid to the city will be negotiated that may include fees for city water and power;
- Sales will be restricted to prepared food, plants, produce and other items generally associated with farmers markets.
Approximately 20 people attended this meeting, but no member of the public spoke in favor of either presenter.
October 3, 2012 1:03 p.m.