New parking venue needed for Concours d’Elegance show car trailers

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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.

The annual Concours d'Elegance on Amelia Island draws visitors and car entries from around the world. (Photo credit: Cypix)
The annual Concours d’Elegance on Amelia Island draws visitors and car entries from around the world. (Photo credit: Cypix)

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.

Passero diagram presenting possible options for parking car trailers at municipal airport
Passero diagram presenting possible options for parking car trailers at municipal airport
Andrew Holesko asks FBCC to consider whether parking should be provided at the airport along with whether it could be provided.
Andrew Holesko asks FBCC to consider whether parking should be provided at the airport along with whether it could be provided.

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.

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Commissioner Tim Poynter suggests that parking space at the city golf course be explored.
Commissioner Tim Poynter suggests that parking space at the city golf course be explored.

 

 

 

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 thanks FBCC for its quick reaction to his problem.
Bill Warner thanks FBCC for its quick reaction to his problem.

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 expresses discomfort over public discussion of rent negotiations.
Shannon O’Conner expresses discomfort over public discussion of rent negotiations.

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.

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Richard Gray agrees to call a special AAC meeting to identify airport areas that could be used for parking.
Richard Gray agrees to call a special AAC meeting to identify airport areas that could be used for parking.

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.

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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14 Responses to New parking venue needed for Concours d’Elegance show car trailers

  1. Mrs. D. Hunter says:

    “Shannon O’Conner…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.”

    Many thanks to the O’Conner Family for their behind-scenes generosity in years past. Surely there must be a way to grant the Family an in-kind-contribution deduction to satisfy the “business reasons” suddenly laid on the negotiations table.

  2. Commissioner Poynter, pointed out, besides the Air Port, The City golf Course could accommodate Cars and Trailers for the event. Another Option, although a little farther would be the Boat Ramp Area up 14th , for larger Trailers, once their, cars have been unloaded at the Ritz. My concern with the Golf course with the Big Rigs would be “What if it Rains”? a lot of damage to the course, and inconvenience to the Haulers. Just a thought.

  3. Marlene Chapman says:

    To us, it seems as though between the parking at Peters Point and the airport, that should accommodate everyone? Steve, your idea of Dee Dee Bartles sounds pretty good also, as that park has quite a bit of parking to the east that is almost always empty, but is it too far away? I believe that park is under County jurisdiction though, not sure of what that would entail. The golf course sounded like a great idea as it is close, but again, what about damage? What would repairs cost?
    It is honorable that the O’Connors had allowed usage of their land for so many years, most pro bono. What I did not understand is, how did the fee go from $20K last year to $50K this year? I can see an increase, but more than double? I wish I could understand that. In the end, we do not want to have the Concourse think that they have to leave our island due to something that seems easily fixed?

    • Mrs. D. Hunter says:

      “from $20K last year to $50K this year”

      Wow. If O’Conner was embarassed to have his “private negotiations” discussed in the sunshine, I’m glad his usurious rate of increase is also on display. He knows his location is ideal in multiple ways, among them the proximity to airport for car owners jetting in from around the globe, the convenience to the van drivers vis a vis the short single lane road distance required to deliver those massive rigs, the year-to-year known parking venue. There are plenty of alternatives, not to worry, but brickbats to the O’Conner Family for their eleventh hour stickup.

  4. Jim Layman says:

    There are several locations that could accomidate the car carriers.
    -Peters Point
    -the old Food Lion parking lot and the grass area directly across Sadler.
    -the old Blockbuster lot
    The real concern as an airport tenant is the manner in which the CC was looking to close a runway during the busiest week of the year. Our airport is an import economic asset for the entire area and stands to loose important revenue from this knee jerk proposal.

  5. Bill Warner says:

    With the growth of the Concours d’Elegance and the addition of four auctions, the demand for trailer and semi rigs has grown exponentially. In addition to the 300 cars for the concours, there are approximately 300 more cars for the auctions. I’d like to point out that Peter’s Point is only for the semi-rigs. All single car trailers must be accommodated nearby to minimize the period these valuable cars are on the road to the golf course. I appreciate and applaud Mayer Boner and the City Commissioners for formulating a solution. Mr. O’Conner has been very generous over the years and we appreciate all he has done for us. We also understand the economic pressures in owning the property (taxes, maintenance, etc., etc.). We are a charitable foundation who supports several charities in Nassau County and the increase from $ 16,000 plus show amenities to $ 50,000 was just too much for us to absorb in the 11th hour of staging the event. Please bear in mind we countered at $ 30,ooo which was virtually double what we spent in March, but the offer was rejected. It was my choice to ask Mayor Boner for assistance and he responded immediately, to which we are very appreciative. This event employs eight full time employees and all of whom work year long to present what has been named the Best Motoring Event in the World (2013 by Octane Magazine in London) and has a $ 15.7 Million impact on Fernandina and Nassau County. When we make decisions on traffic, parking, and a myriad of challenges to put on the event, we study the impact on the community with great scrutiny and concern on how it impacts the community and the environment. We appreciate all the support we get from Nassau County and strive to be responsible custodians of the public trust.

    Bill Warner
    Founder and Chairman
    The Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance Foundation (a 501C3 Charitable Corporation)

    • Mrs. D. Hunter says:

      Mr. Warner, you’ve grown this event to massive proportions, you are to be commended. How the O’Conner Family could pull this fast one is beyond me. No one knew about the $30K counter snub, so thank you for adding that into this embarassing mix.

      Bonhams has booked the Fernandina Beach Municipal golf course for their auction + parking; Gooding has booked AIP for their auction+ parking; Sotheby’s has booked the Ritz for their auction+ parking. Given your increased global exposure w/ jets coming in/out for the weekend, the airport is out as storage for cars/rigs. But have you considered speaking w/ George Sheffield regarding his Amelia River Golf course and parking area for harboring the cars/rigs? Amelia River Golf is but a mile or so south of the office park, and it has even more safe/secluded acreage than O’Conner.

      Wishing you all the best,

  6. First: I’m sure that some solution will be found and this will take some effort. Our thanks to Mayor Bonner for taking a leadership role and the Commissioners help. Let us thank the O’Conner family for their past help in providing space – which has helped to bring this event to be an outstanding event. Thanks to Mr. Warner and his group for their efforts also.

  7. Mrs. D. Hunter says:

    Many of Mr. O’Conner’s itemized costs [enumerated in another local publication] can be met by the City [and deducted from Mr. Warner’s tab].

    Mr. O’Conner [in addition to donating the acreage for parking] provides a pick-up truck and several golf carts for the drivers and assistants to use while they travel between the trailers and the show. Might the City relieve Mr. O of this financial burden by donating a pickup and several golf carts from the City golf course for the event weekend?

    Mr. O’Conner has bought $30,000 worth of gravel of over the last three years. Might there be a gravel donor out there?

    Mr O’Conner mows all those acres before everyone arrives. Might the City send one or more of their golf course mowers across the street to cut Mr. O’s grass prior to the event?

    Question. Does Mr. Warner’s tab include offloading/storage/transport for those stacks and stacks of foundation beams [for the tent] from Mr. O’Conner’s property across the street to the Bonham’s auction site across the street?

    Mr. O’Conner, thank you for all the years you and your family have made these quiet donations to the City and to the Island for this event.

  8. Robert Warner says:

    Time to invest in the future of Fernandina Beach, Amelia Island, and our county. We have been given the privilege of using a real asset for nothing from a real benefactor for a long time. Look at the big picture, deal with, and get on with this issue – before it turns and bites all.

  9. Mary Maguire says:

    Mr. O’Conner questioned weather the event foundation could have donated as much as it has to hospice over the years if he had not given his land, time and equipment free of charge. This is a good question. It does not appear that events like Concours can exist without people willing to give their time and/or money for free. And this group includes taxpayers.

    Mary

    • Mrs. D. Hunter says:

      “It does not appear that events like Concours can exist without people willing to give their time and/or money for free.”

      Exactly. And that’s called non-profit philanthropy.

      Same with those who give to Barnabas, Mica’s Place, Amelia Island Museum of History, Hospice, Boys & Girls Clubs, etc – ie. those who give with scant expectation of return.

      Mr. O’Conner has championed the Concours over the years as a gracious donor. The community has, in turn, recognized his generosity, and profoundly thanked him and his family. I think it’s clear, though, that everyone understands that last week’s “line in the sand” is telling the community it’s time to move on.

  10. Christopher Hoyt says:

    The recent article regarding the parking situation brings a few things to light. First of all, Mr. O’Conner has donated the use of his land for these many years – at no charge. But, at the same time, he has also spent a sizable portion of his own time, money and machinery to keep the land in the best shape possible for the many heavy rigs that use it – both for the concours and Festivals of Speed. O’Conner is looking at the big picture and how these events benefit the entire island. Second, based on the growth of the Concours, surely it could have easily absorbed the parking fee. Make no mistake, Mr. O’Conner is a big supporter of these events and what they do for the island and North Florida.

  11. John Goshco says:

    First, and most importantly, thanks to Shannon O’Conner for all he has done in the past to support this event. But – I only know what I read in the newspapers, so maybe I missed a few details.

    Has Mister O’Conner explained why the higher fee is justified? It appears that much of the “parking area” in question is essentially vacant land, possibly held as investment property, and used once a year for the Concours.

    I ask this question in order to explore if the City and/or County is able to contribute some in-kind materials or services that would defray O’Conner’s costs. (Another question is whether the City/County SHOULD contribute materials/services .)

    Could the City/County provide labor and equipment to mow the grass prior to the event? Are there liability insurance issues? Could the City/County provide liability insurance coverage under their policies instead of O’Conner incurring this expense?

    You can see where I am going with this. If O’Conner has legitimate expenses related to this event, then maybe there is a way to defray those expenses. If this event is that financially important then maybe the City, County or even businesses which benefit could contribute in some way. Maybe a portion of the “Bed Tax” for that week could be used to defray some expenses.

    Any other ideas out there?

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