Fernandina Beach Main Street: a 6-month update

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Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
May 19, 2016 6:56 a.m.

 

Jeff Kurtz, Executive Director of Fernandina's Main Street program
Jeff Kurtz, Executive Director of Fernandina’s Main Street program

Fernandina Beach Main Street Program Director Jeff Kurtz updated the Fernandina Beach City Commission at their May 17, 2016 Regular Meeting on the program’s progress during its first six months of operation.  His entire report appears below:

Thank you, City Commissioners and staff, for allowing me this opportunity to come before you tonight and update you on the progress of Fernandina Beach Main Street.

It might be hard to believe, but by the end of May, we will have been in operation for six months. There is obviously something of a learning curve for a first year program, but I am hoping that the word is getting out that we are here, that we are becoming part of the fabric of community, and that people like what they see. Certainly a lot has happened since I last spoke to you all back on February 16, so I appreciate this opportunity to update you.

As a new program, we are going to great efforts to make sure that we are focusing on the right issues and taking on the right challenges that Fernandina Beach is facing. We have done this in two ways. First, not long after I addressed all of you last time, we worked with the Florida Main Street to get their perspective. As you will remember, Florida Main Street coordinator Ronni Wood and her team spent several days with us in late February. They spoke with business owners, property owners, members of the community, including many of you. Those findings were then presented in a public meeting on February 24, as well as in a written document that was provided to us.

Secondly, taking these findings into consideration, combining them with our own, our four councils undertook an exercise to cite their top accomplishments so far, along with their top three goals moving forward into the rest of 2016. Later this month, on May 31 (from 2-5 here at City Hall), we plan to gather all four councils for the first time to comb through all of this, but for now, I will provide a small snapshot of where we have been, and where we are going:

Marketing and Promotions: Chaired by Ashley Phinazee, owner of Collie’s Boutique. The accomplishments they cited:

#1- We have established a good working partnership with several of the larger events that occur within our district: Shrimp fest, Dickens on Centre, and Sounds on Centre. Our intention is really twofold: First, to establish good communication and smooth processes between the events and the downtown, and secondly, to provide direct input to the event…participate in the planning and the actual labor of the events themselves.

#2: We have attempted to enhance and improve the communication efforts within our district, communication occurring both from business to business, as well as between the business community and the general public. Given our modest budget, we rely on free services like social media and existing email lists, but the response has been positive, and we will keep working on it.

#3: We have partnered with the TDC on the creation of a video series promoting Fernandina Beach. The first episode was focused on downtown in just general terms. The response was beyond our best hopes…tens of thousands of views, with very positive attention and feedback. We envision a series of these promoting Amelia Island, and as much as possible, highlighting the many things we have to offer downtown. The TDC has our immense gratitude for running with this idea, and we look forward to working with them to make some of the stories that have been envisioned come to life.

Goals:

Goal #1: Define the events that Main Street partners with directly, and those we just focus on promoting or working with minimally. Connected to this, we need to define which events, if any, we will work on from scratch.

Goal #2: We are offering our service to the city regarding the events process itself within our district. Right now, we are experiencing a lot of events within our district, which is, generally speaking, a wonderful thing! However, we also recognize the concerns of many of the downtown merchants, city staff, and public safety, regarding disruptions, cost, etc. We look forward to the city workshop regarding special events, and would like to be part of the solution moving forward.

Goal #3: Continue to enhance the branding and marketing of downtown through social media and communications

Economic Vitality: Chaired by Laura DiBella of the Nassau County Economic Development Board Job. The job of this council is to ensure that the historic structures within our district are filled with successful businesses, offices, or living spaces. The accomplishments they cited:

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#1 We have in place a committee that represents the groups working to generate economic activity within the area. These things are always a work in progress, but I’m pleased to say we have representation from the Nassau County Economic Development Board, the Small Business Development Center, City of Fernandina Beach, The Historic Fernandina Business Association, the Chamber, as well as others. The goal here is to ensure good cross pollination of ideas and communication, and support each other wherever possible.

#2 We have been working with the property owner at 508 Centre Street to encourage a positive redevelopment of that space. Thursday evening, the HDC will be presented with plans for the redevelopment of that site by owner Ciree Harden. Part of our mission as an organization is historic preservation, but this building does not appear to provide any great historic or aesthetic significance to our district.  Our council would very much like to see the site redeveloped so that the property can serve our district more effectively.  A new building and business would do just that.

#3 We began a program to interact with business owners and property owners, assess empty spaces, and do what we can to fill them. The ground level commercial spaces within our district continue to be almost entirely filled with businesses, which is exactly what we want. Given that there is not at this moment in time a great need to worry about recruiting ground level businesses within our district, we looked above, and we looked beyond. So with that said, our goals moving forward with this council are as follows:

Goal #1: 8th Street advocacy and partnership with City on successful implementation of zoning changes. We applaud the efforts of Kelly Gibson and Adrienne Burke to initiate positive changes on 8th Street, and will assist in any way possible to help this be a success. We hope for a stronger design element leading into our district, as well as more residents within close proximity to our downtown that will spend time, money, and talents right here in downtown Fernandina Beach.

Goal #2 Change in Density within our downtown district: Mixed use, urban density, and preservation of historic and natural resources…these are things that are really at the core of what a good downtown program tries to promote and protect. While a good case can be made that too much development on or near Amelia Island will damage the quality of life here, I will make the case that urban sprawl, longer commutes, and automobile dominated development off the island in your backyard will make things far worse. We want to work with the city staff and city commissioners to ease current restrictions that will encourage residential development and utilization within our district, a process that will enhance structures that already exist but are underutilized. Our district is already a built environment, and encouraging someone to LIVE in an upper level loft makes as much sense if not more than encouraging an office worker to be there from 9-5.

Goal #3 Ownership and/or support of CRA tasks. There are a whole bunch of things, separate from what I am here tonight to discuss, that need to be done within the CRA. The recommendations of the CRA advisory council were presented to the City Commission last week. Goals are great, but what is needed is for someone to get up every day and do what is within their power and ability to move forward. I have offered my services in that regard, since the terms of my employment require me to assist the CRA with their tasks. As we work through the newness of all of this, I am optimistic that Main Street can serve as an even greater asset to this process.

Organization Council chaired by Amy LaCroix- Organizational strengths, financial, volunteer, internal policies, etc. The accomplishments they cited:

#1: Cultivation of private donations to support the first three years of the program has been very successful. This council Planned and executed donor appreciation event at Marlin & Barrel

#2: Created mission and vision statements for the organization. Our mission statement reads “We are dedicated to enhancing the vitality of downtown Fernandina Beach.”

#3 Organized and implemented the planning exercises that I have cited, both the Florida Main Street, as well as the upcoming council and board workshop

Goals:

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Goal #1: File for 501c3 status, which will enhance our grant and donor eligibility.

Goal #2: Research, create and execute a Donor Development Program to establish long-term funding options for the organization. This will include donor cultivation, relations and acknowledgement as well as communicating the budget needs of the four councils to the board of directors for budgetary considerations. Connected to this, we need to continue to explore ways to get the word out on all of these things I am talking about, so that people here know we are doing it and feel that we are offering a value to the community. Speaking to civic groups, working with existing organizations, and using print and social media…all things we are focusing on, as I mentioned.

Goal #3: Develop a Volunteer Program that 1) meets the needs of the 4 councils, 2) creates sub-committees as needed, 3) provides a clear explanation of the purpose of FBMS (PR/brag sheet) and 4) oversees the recruitment, training and retention of volunteer/ambassadors for the organization.

Design Council, Chaired by Eric Bartelt. The accomplishments they cited:

#1 Undertaken streetscape survey, looking for themes, both good and bad, that either enhance or detract from the appearance of our downtown

#2 Working with Martex, Flowering Fernandina, and the City to strengthen the landscaping on Centre Street via the activities of Flowering Fernandina

#3 Partnering with the City of Fernandina Beach and the Amelia Island History Museum on the historic preservation awards. This event is a fantastic way to encourage the great works that enhance our historic properties and neighborhoods, and we want to do whatever we can to support it.

Goals:

Goal #1: Explore partnership with the Historic District Council. We applaud the hiring of a new city planner that will possess a solid knowledge of historic preservation. The HDC is a great asset for the City, promoting and preserving our historic resources. We want to explore opportunities to work together to keep this process moving forward in the right direction.

Goal #2: I am going to lump a few items here, but we continue to focus on streetscape projects defining needs, looking for consensus on how to address those needs, and looking for resources to implement them…trash, parking signage, recycling, bike racks, lighting, etc. these are all important.   Trash and recycling is a topic that I know is being worked on by the City Manager, and anything we can do to assist in getting a positive outcome there we will gladly do.

Goal #3: The City now owns property along riverfront, the Vuturo Property. As has been pointed out by many folks in this room, removing that building from the landscape will greatly inhibit anything else from being built there due to the restrictions on new construction that would kick in. We would offer our services to the City Staff and Commission to work on preserving and utilizing this building. Someone needs to at least make the attempt. One of things that Florida Main Street suggested is preserving and promoting the “working waterfront” vibe that Fernandina has, and this building is one of those examples. While much has been made recently of the appearance of the riverfront, much of it very valid, one can also make the case that the rustic, authentic artifacts of the shrimping industry are one of the things that makes Fernandina Beach so special.

In conclusion, it is my sincere hope that you all are getting from this program what you envisioned when you signed up to be a Main Street community. The caveat I will offer here is that unfortunately, I don’t have any magic main street dust to sprinkle in the air and make problems disappear. These things obviously take time to unfold. But I truly believe, as I survey the landscape, as I digest what is happening, that the chessboard is set very nicely. Projects that can enhance the downtown along 8th Street and in the CRA remain very viable. These projects can enhance an already successful downtown, one that has benefitted from many years of hard work and dedication.   I give the City Commission, the City Manager and his staff, as well as the numerous groups doing great work here all the credit in the world. If you aren’t getting what you envisioned, I need to know it, because your satisfaction is my top priority. Please know that I will do whatever I can to further your goals and provide you with the value you envisioned when you signed on to be a Main Street program.

Thank you again, and I am more than happy to respond to any questions, concerns, suggestions, etc.

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