Submitted by Suzanne Z. Thamm
August 12, 2012 1:15 p.m.
Reporter – News Analyst
Bill Warner, founder of the Concours d’Elegance, approached the Fernandina Beach City Commission during its August 7 regular meeting, seeking approval to pursue what could become another high end motoring event for the United States right here at the Fernandina Beach Airport. Representing two sponsors, who prefer to remain unnamed at this time, Warner indicated that Fernandina Beach is in competition with two other possible locations to land this event, which could become the fall counterpart to the Concours d’Elegance, held annually in March at the Ritz. The Concours has become known as the premier East Coast classic car event. The target date for the first vintage car-racing event is November 2013.
The proposed event would draw race and classic car fans from all over the world to watch racing cars manufactured before 1972 drive a 2.3-mile road course on airport runways. The event would also feature vintage aircraft and motorcycles. Spectators and participants are encouraged to dress in vintage clothing to add to the event’s atmosphere. A similar event in England (Click here) has proven to be a great draw for families as well. Some of the racecars in the event have sold for tens of millions of dollars in auctions associated with the event.
Warner explained that even with the city’s support, landing the event is not a given. Other cities under consideration include Palm Beach, FL and Watkins Glen, NY. However, the event sponsors have stipulated that the event should be associated with a 5-diamond resort and a nearby racecourse. Neither of the other cities seems to be able to match their amenities to sponsors’ requirements as well as Fernandina Beach and Amelia Island.
Warner stipulated that one airport runway (9-27) would remain open during the event so that normal operations could continue. The sponsors were willing to pay to resurface runway 18-36, which would be used as part of the racecourse. He went on to tout the economic benefits to the community from such an event.
At the conclusion of his slide presentation, he offered a brief video depicting the British counterpart of this show, held in Goodwood, United Kingdom.
Commissioner Charlie Corbett jumped in with the first question, asking Warner if this show would conflict with the Georgia Florida Weekend. Warner opined that this event would probably draw a different audience, but he would be mindful of the calendar.
Several concerns were raised regarding the position of the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) on holding such an event at an airport. Warner said that he has received a list of FAA requirements and that currently, all but one have been met. Vice Mayor Jeffrey Bunch and City Manager Joe Gerrity emphasized that as the airport’s sponsor, the city of Fernandina Beach, not the event sponsor, must seek FAA approval. Bunch expressed reservations about the alleged buy-in from all the tenants and McGill Aviation, the fixed base operator (FBO). This is a precondition for FAA approval. Warner said that he and his team have been diligently working on meeting all the FAA conditions, and that at this time he was seeking conceptual approval so that the process could move forward. Because of a sponsor-imposed deadline, failure to move in a timely manner will in effect mean that Fernandina Beach has forfeited the opportunity to be considered.
City Manager Gerrity asked if he had consensus to move forward on this item. With Bunch cautiously agreeing to support the concept, the other commissioners joined in. Gerrity will now work with a small committee to move the application to the FAA for their review and approval.
August 12, 2012 1:15 p.m.