A group of influential, successful, and determined local citizens have come together to provide Fernandina Beach and Nassau County governments, their citizens and businesses an opportunity to realize a project that the Fernandina Beach city government has failed to get off the ground for more than 35 years – an extensive downtown waterfront complex involving all concerned parties — public and private.
Their ambitions are bold and leave nobody out. The City of Fernandina Beach — like any other entity — can join in if it wants or sit on the sidelines.
Instead of creating just a small portion of the waterfront from the petanque courts on the southside up to the marina, this group envisions an all-encompassing project of public and private properties extending from the petanque courts all the way north to include the Ocean Highway and Port Authority and West Rock. Even the CSX Railway can opt in. There’s something positive in it for all parties. Still in its infancy stages the project could possibly integrate not only park land, but music and recreational venues, a seawall, restaurant and retail spaces, residences, boardwalks, railroad walkovers, and more.
This group of insightful local citizens are quickly moving forward with this public-private partnership option for developing the waterfront and have created the Fernandina Beach Waterfront Development Citizen’s Authority (FBWDCA). This is not a “blah-blah, let’s talk about ideas,” crowd that’s spending tax payers money. This group has already filed with the state for its legal structure and with the IRS for 501(c)(3) status and is investing its own cash.
Their purpose? Why continue to have city government recklessly spend the public’s money when the project can be successfully accomplished through public-private cooperation and spearheaded by vested local residents experienced in such ventures.
If it gets the anticipated support it will be the first time the City, Nassau County, the Port Authority, and private property owners have come together to realize a mutually beneficial venture for all stakeholders – public and private.
For more than three decades Fernandina Beach city government has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars of tax money on consultants and plans with nothing to show for it but piles of dusty unused plans and cancelled checks. This dedicated consortium of city and county citizens is preempting the city hall’s talk-a-lot-do-nothings and taking the waterfront project into their hands.
“We are open to anyone who wants to join us and believes they have something to contribute to the process we are proposing,” says Jack Knocke, one of the group spearheads and a co-founder of the community watchdog organization Common Sense. Common Sense itself is not involved in the FBWDCA but several of its members are participating.
The group is calling the city’s bluff. City bureaucrats and politicos can look on in frustration, resentment, envy, or anger or jump aboard as this project is leaving the station with or without them. If they join in they have an opportunity to look like heroes for a change.
In a nutshell if this takes off the city government will no longer be in charge of the city’s waterfront crown jewel, the people who actually own it will. The city doesn’t own anything, the taxpayers own it, and city officials work for the taxpayers, a fact city hall would like its residents to ignore.
If the city wants to join in it should move swiftly as their residents are getting ready to demonstrate how a group of determined, talented citizens with a wide variety of skill sets, can turn a more than 35-year-old city government fiasco into a valuable asset for tax payers, businesses, and visitors.
This is an opportunity for the city to redeem itself and earn the respect and applause of locals by enthusiastically partnering with the group.
“We’re absolutely not trying to embarrass or pressure city or county governments” says Knocke. “This is a coordinated and collaborative effort that intends to support the community and our government leaders. FBWDCA leadership is united in believing the community will benefit from an open competition of different ideas on how to proceed with the redevelopment of the waterfront. This is all about creating competition among ideas and processes for creating the best value for the community with little or no expenditure of public funds. We want city and county officials to be an integral part of this process,” explains Knocke.
The new Citizens’ Authority is not proposing to use the private sector as paid consultants or contractors. The group emphasizes that the private sector will be a partner to the Authority which represents the community in creating the kind of value the community should expect from such an important asset. This group has already contributed their own funds to setting up the organization, so they’re putting their money where their mouths are,
Pat Keogh, a local developer, attorney, and author, who once created private-public partnerships in Washington, DC for a living, is one of the architects of the FBWDCA plan. He says: “Governments just are not good at being developers. They might be good at being regulators in terms of zoning and the like. An example is the local farmers’ market. Citizens developed the concept and structure, and they implement it week after week. The city provides a public venue (the street), and the neighbors support the enterprise by lending parking etc. The city provides regulatory oversight and maybe some security. That’s also the way it works with the B&B industry.”
Keogh went on to explain how the city, which is cash poor and asset rich, can successfully work with the group. “Private developers-owners can take declining community assets and with private business plans and capital create significantly more valuable assets subject to public oversight (e.g., business licensing, health and safety standards, building code enforcement, etc.). Government gets to do what government does best and the private sector gets to do what they do well. We have powerful examples of public-private partnerships that work.”
In this case, local business folks are proposing to deploy that kind of tool for harnessing the energy of the market. That is, they are proposing a public-private partnership to create the most value for the community from an underperforming asset (the waterfront). The city (the public) owns a portion of that waterfront and individual private owners own a lot of the waterfront too. Private developers are best at creating property assemblages and business plans to reposition these kinds of underperforming assets.
“I’m not for pandering to government but sometimes it’s best to look forward rather than backward,” added Keogh. “Everyone knows the city has spent a ton of money and not gotten this deal done. Now it’s time to get it done. The Citizens’ Authority can help make these city and county officials heroes when, working together, we all make this work.”
Those involved in the group are local residents who have made their marks in government and business. They include successful developers; financial experts, including one who spent 22 years rating businesses for Standard & Poor’s; corporate executives; respected local builders, developers, and engineers; government officials, and more. This is a group to be taken seriously.
They realistically admit the project won’t be a walk-in-the park and they have a lot of work to do to realize their ambitions. But the results will be well worth it.
Pressure Building On Building Dept: Things have gotten so out of hand at the dysfunctional Fernandina Beach Building Department that even the traditionally docile, timid and patronizing Nassau County Chamber of Commerce is becoming alarmed. So is the local News Leader.
The Chamber apparently has fielded so many calls and complaints about the Building Department it created a survey to assess the situation. According to the Chamber “all individual responses will be kept completely confidential.” I’ve heard from many local businesses that the city’s notorious for retaliating against those that publicly complain and question its methods. The Chamber says it’s only asking for business names, and contact information in case it needs to follow-up. The deadline to complete the Chamber’s survey is Friday, March 12, 2021. To see the survey go to https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/ProjectExperienceSurvey2021
The local News Leader, which has blissfully ignored the function’s price gouging and the city’s lame excuses, is also beginning to pay attention. New editor Scott Bryan appears to understand the concept of news gathering far better than the paper’s last editor, Peg Davis.
In a front-page article Wednesday, March 3, the News Leader ran a story headlined “Developers question building charges” with a subhead saying: “City charges twice as much as county for reviews, fees.”
The News Leader article rehashes a story I wrote in this space last October 16 that provided a detailed analysis of how Fernandina Beach Building Department fees are 5.7 time higher than Nassau County’s for the exact same services.
I suggested then that a commercial enterprise with such absurdly high prices could only survive if its customers were legally forced to shop there. Fernandina Beach city hall’s fiscal mismanagement is a prime example of turning price gouging into an art form. The city says its residents can’t shop for price so they have no choice despite the city and county enforcing the same state building codes.
Two well-respected local developers – Nick Gillette of Gillette Associates, and Ron Flick, president of Compass Group – provided a detailed analysis of the city’s permitting and building fee extortion racket, one of the most financially out of control shakedown functions in the city.
Using publicly available data and Messrs Flick’s and Gillette’s figures the newspaper compared building permits for both the City of Fernandina Beach and Nassau County jurisdictions for commercial and residential markets. They starkly reveal the vast price disparity between the city and the county for identical properties and services.
Stephen Beckman, the head of the City’s Building Department, lamely attempted to justify his price gouging in comments to me late last year. This week he told the newspaper’s reporter, Julie Roberts, that it was now a matter between the city legal department and Mr. Flick, who has justifiably requested a refund of $466,879 in fees the city charged him on his hotel project on Atlantic Avenue, near Main Beach.
Mr. Beckman recently admitted that his department has more than a million-dollar surplus and he’s currently recruiting an additional three new employees and has already purchased two vehicles for them. The state requires such surpluses be refunded or spent. Beckman, flush with cash, decided to go shopping.
The Fernandina Observer (aka Apologist) remained suspiciously silent on the issue after defending the city’s blatant extortion the past six months with weekly puff pieces. So far just crickets from the city’s unofficial PR agency.
If the city of Fernandina Beach government is at all concerned about local businesses and the area residents they employ you’d think they’d be acting to express concerns or assist those pandemic-stricken firms that have gone under or struggling and how to assist their out-of-work employees. Correct me if I ‘m going wrong here, but have you heard anybody in the city government express any sympathy or offer any positive suggestions for the owners or employees of the now shuttered Pozzi Bistro, 1000 Degree Pizza, Crab Trap, etc.? Me Either. Maybe because not many on the Commission or employees of the city government have ever run a business and probably can’t read or comprehend a profit and loss statement.
Commissioner David Sturges, who runs a construction company hereabouts, is an exception. Mayor Mike Lednovich told me he was once CEO of a company but based on his past antibusiness rhetoric and recent authoritarian noise-ordinance incidents I’d be surprised if that firm survived his tenure.
Speaking of Dysfunction Government Officials: A recent meme shows former bartender AO-C’s picture with a caption that reads: “The only waitress in history who brings nothing to the table.”
Is It Just Me or do the mannerisms of Fernandina Beach City Commissioner Chip Ross bear a striking resemblance to those of the late Italian dictator Benito Mussolini when Ross is in Commission chambers puffing himself up and pompously rolling his eyes whenever he hears items discussed upon which he disagrees? One of my neighbors told me Ross introduced himself to him at the city marina recently handing him a business card and saying: “I run this town.” This pompous self-appointed city spokesperson can strut while sitting down.
On The Other Hand: A tip of the hat to personable City Commissioner Bradley Bean for being the sole Fernandina Beach commissioner to vote against extending the city’s emergency order mandating facemasks in public spaces for another month, until April 7, 2021. Commissioner Bean may have based his vote on the fact that as a volunteer at the Emergency Call Center last week he learned that 71 percent of the County’s over 65 population has already been vaccinated, cases are rapidly declining, and that the state doesn’t require masks. “I feel that we are in a good spot,” Bean said.
Pass The Asafetida Please: The “Off Duty Section” of the Weekend Wall Street Journal often contains intriguing recipes. However, as appetizing as they are many times they contain ingredients that are not commonly found in the average US cupboard much less in grocery stores hereabouts. For example, last week there was an inviting photo of a dish with an accompanying recipe for something called Moong dal Soup. After reading the recipe I realized I’d need my passport to find two of the ingredients – tur dal and asafetida – but still be stumped as I have no idea which country I’d have to travel to in order to purchase them.
Dr. Suess Refugee: Living in San Francisco that’s run by far-left whacky politicians is obviously a nightmare, and for school-age kids it’s even worse. The city’s schools have been closed for more than a year, but the city’s dysfunctional school board has kept itself busy. During the shutdown, these nitwits attempted to rename 44 closed schools including George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. They also busily agreed to ban books including the Dr. Suess series.
The parents finally had enough and organized a recall petition for the cabal of screwballs running their schools forcing the dimwits to cancel their renaming effort. One of the clueless board members, Faauuga Moliga, whose name sounds like he jumped off the pages of one of the banned Dr. Suess books, objected saying he supported the school renaming project but not the recall effort. It appears to me that Mr. Moliga would fit in perfectly anywhere in the Biden administration.
Answering The Call: West coast columnist Burt Prelutsky wrote that he was alerted to the following notice found in many French churches: “It is possible that on entering this church, you may hear the call of God. On the other hand, it is not likely that He will contact you by phone. So, thank you for turning yours off. If you would like to talk to God, come in, choose a quiet place, and talk to Him. If you would like to see God, send Him a text while driving.”
Dangerous Times: Where in the US Constitution does it say that the government has the right to shut down businesses, schools, churches, public gatherings, etc. because of a disease or any other reason? Not once in the history of this country has that ever happened until now. It didn’t happen during the Civil War, World War I or II, the deadly Spanish flu, smallpox and polio epidemics, or any of the dangerous flu epidemics. In addition, where does the Constitution say private companies have the right to restrict the free flow of speech of groups or individuals? And where in the Constitution is it written that the government can control the right to purchase arms then build a fence around our capital to be patrolled by thousands of armed US soldiers? The federal government is now run by a cabal of socialist Democrats that are moving this country toward a dictatorship where decisions are made not based on medical science but the desires of a fanatical far-left party using their own science as their excuse to restrict our constitutional rights and control the populace. We are living in dangerous times.
An Exceptional Man & An Exceptional Country: As a proud naturalized American citizen from Canada, I am among the more than 20 million listeners who genuinely miss hearing the late Rush Limbaugh’s five-day-a-week radio show. One of the reasons was Rush’s unabashed patriotism and love for this country and his ability to hilariously mock the left’s pieties without expressing anger.
A few years ago, Rush summed up American exceptionalism – the rightful concept that the founding of the US was fundamentally different from other nations. He amusingly skewered politicians and others who rejected that notion.
“The US is the first time in the history of the world where a government was organized with a Constitution laying out the rules, that the individual was supreme and dominant, and that is what led to the US becoming the greatest country ever because it unleashed people to be the best they could be. Nothing like it had ever happened. That’s American exceptionalism,” he said.