Train Depot to close next week for renovations; visitors redirected to Marina Welcome Center

Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
October 28, 2014 11:58 a.m.

Historic Train Depot - Visitors Center
Historic Train Depot – Visitors Center

Visitors arriving downtown Fernandina Beach during the first week of November following the Georgia Florida Game will discover some changes to on-site visitor services at the foot of Centre Street.  The historic Train Depot has been a magnet for visitors looking for information on where to stay, dine and visit.  For approximately 90 days, the depot building will be closed to visitors so that renovation work can be tackled on the interior of the Depot.   Signs at the depot will redirect visitors across the railroad tracks to the Marina Welcome Center/Maritime Museum.  There the same hours of service will be maintained.  Visitors Services personnel will share the facility with volunteers from the Amelia Island Museum of History, who normally staff the Marina Welcome Center/Maritime Museum.

Marina Welcome Center/Maritime Museum
Marina Welcome Center/Maritime Museum

At the same time the City of Fernandina Beach, which owns both the Train Depot and the Welcome Center, is moving forward with plans of its own to add a 675 square foot deck to the Welcome Center building as part of its plan to move forward with constructing a riverfront park.  Short-term plans call for making changes to what is known as Parking Lot B, which lies west of the railroad tracks between the boat ramp and Brett’s Waterway Café.

Neither Langley nor Museum Executive Director Phyllis Davis anticipate deck construction to interfere with visitor services at the Welcome Center, based upon information received to date from the city.  Langley said, “Our understanding is that the deck construction will not impede access to the facility and that we can continue operations, much as we did at the Depot during exterior renovation. Should that prove not to be the case, we will explore other options in the Centre Street area to provide visitor information.”

Davis added that once the deck is completed, she anticipates that the Maritime Museum will continue to function as it has.  “Of course, as you know,” she said, “we will be transforming it into a Shrimping Museum in the very near future. Panels are going through a final review process before being ordered and installed.”

Depot renovation/restoration

Langley said that once the Depot has closed, the interior demolition will begin.  “The plan is to completely remove the plaster/sheetrock, taking the interior walls to the original brick,” he said. “Until we get to this point, we don’t really know what we are dealing with. Our hope is that the brick is structurally sound and won’t require extensive repair. If it does, our plans may change, but the intent now is to have the original brick walls, heart-of-pine flooring (donated by local shrimper Dave Cook and currently being milled) and all original windows reinstalled with heart-of-pine trim. We do not have any old photos of the interior, but believe this configuration to be very close to the original.”

After that work is done, Langley said, “We will then complete the systems portion of the renovation with a new electrical system, high speed Internet and wireless connections. As you are aware, the air conditioning system has been replaced with new, energy efficient equipment, and the insulation has been replaced with high efficiency foam.”

But renovating the building is only the first step in improving the visitor’s experience.  Langley said, “We are still working on concepts for the final delivery of information services. We have had discussions with VisitFlorida related to their “Visitor Center of the Future,” which just opened in Tallahassee, and have spoken with their design firm as well as other leading retail display and exhibit specialists who may assist us with the concepts.  Although not yet finalized, we plan for the visitor experience to be very interactive, and very much designed to leverage our capabilities with Social Media. Large LCD displays, touch pads, and kiosks are all under consideration.”

Gil Langley Discusses Train Depot renovation plans with Benjamin Morrison of Cotner Associates.
Gil Langley discusses Train Depot renovation plans with Benjamin Morrison of Cotner Associates.

Once the design plan has been created, Langley will turn it over to John Cotner and Associates for construction documents. “Of course, during this process we will need to acquire the necessary city permits,”  Langley added. “Once construction begins, we expect it to go quickly, but again I want to stress there will be inevitable delays, which we will deal with as they come. Our guiding principal for this project has been to take our time and do it right. When completed, we want the Depot Visitor Center to be the Crown Jewel of Fernandina Beach.”

Work on the Depot has been a collaborative effort, underwritten by the Tourist Development Council, the city of Fernandina Beach and the Amelia Island Fernandina Restoration Foundation.

Aerial view of proposed deck for Marina Welcome Center (yellow)
Aerial view of proposed deck for Marina Welcome Center (yellow)

Welcome Center Deck Construction

On October 24, 2014, the city of Fernandina Beach closed receipt of bids for ITB 14-23, Engineering and Construction of the Marina Welcome Center Deck, after 6 weeks of advertising. The city received only one bid in the amount of $47,375 from Brance Diversified, Inc., Jacksonville, to engineer and construct a 675-foot deck on the Welcome Center Building.  According to Deputy City Manager Marshall McCrary, “We are proceeding with evaluation of the single bidder.  If all checks out, we will move forward to award.”

The Welcome Center deck will be constructed with funds from a Florida Inland Navigation District (FIND) grant and city impact fees.

Suanne Thamm 4Editor’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.

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