Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
November 19, 2015 6:32 a.m.
Last night’s Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) meeting may have demonstrated the problems associated with government’s moving too quickly to address a perceived problem, especially before all the facts are known. What was initially presented as a critical problem requiring immediate solution to avoid damaging consequences for the island’s economy, turned out to be a problem that many people and organizations have been working to solve. By the end of the meeting it was clear that parking would be found for car trailers associated with the Concours d’Elegance, removing any real or perceived concern that the event would be forced to leave the island for a new venue.
Last week Concours d’Elegance founder and chairman Bill Warner contacted Mayor Ed Boner with concerns about 2016 event parking for show car trailers following his failure to come to terms with the O’Conner family over use of their industrial park property for this purpose. Boner, apparently fearing a loss of this event for the island if a new parking area satisfactory to Warner could not be identified, jumped on the problem immediately. As a result, the city asked its airport consultant, Passero Associates, to determine if suitable parking area could be provided on airport property.
In presenting options to the FBCC at last night’s meeting, Passero Project Manager Andrew Holesko told commissioners that there were two parts to the question: could parking be provided on airport runways and taxiways; and should parking be provided on airport taxiways. Airport Advisory Commission (AAC) chair Richard Gray also weighed in, informing the FBCC that his committee had not had the opportunity to study the issue and provide input or suggestions to help solve the problem. But, Gray stressed, committee members and airport tenants would not react positively to plans that would close runways or limit aircraft operations during the event.
Mayor Boner and other commissioners were generous and genuine in their support for the Concours and the benefits it brings to the local community. Commissioner Tim Poynter also suggested that the car trailers might be able to be accommodated at the city golf course, thereby avoiding the problems associated with either shutting down part of the airport or getting FAA permission to use taxiways for non-airport related functions.
Bill Warner addressed the FBCC, thanking them for their quick response to his need for assistance. He recapped his arrangements with the O’Conner family over the past 20-plus years, which up until the last two years allowed the event to use their property gratis to assist in the non-profit fundraising efforts that the Concours supports with event revenue. Warner claimed that this year the family had upped its demand to a price which the event could not meet.
Shannon O’Conner, industrial park owner, also addressed the FBCC. He expressed support for the event and said that his family had supported activities such as hospice, which the Concours benefits. However, he said that he would not be able to continue the previous arrangement of low or no fee for business reasons. He also expressed discomfort with the FBCC’s publicizing what he thought was a private matter being negotiated between the parties.
Richard Gray agreed to work with the city to call a special meeting of the Airport Advisory Committee to come up with some other possible solutions to the parking issue. Boner asked that the solutions come back to the FBCC at its December 1 Regular Meeting.
After the meeting, TDC Executive Director Gil Langley indicated that he and others were also working to find parking areas that met Warner’s conditions. Another individual reportedly said that the issue of finding space at the airport to park the trailers could have been resolved fairly easily and quickly if the city had an airport manager.
That so many people reacted so quickly to fears that Amelia Island could lose the Concours d’Elegance over a parking matter reflects the importance that the community attaches to this annual event, which highlights Amelia Island around the nation and the world.
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.