The Southeastern Association of Law Schools (SEALS) President Jeffrey M. Hirsch, recently sent a letter to the owner, the CEO, and the President of the Dallas, Texas-based Omni Hotels & Resorts telling the three of them that if they didn’t remove the word “plantation” from their Amelia Island property name the group would not return to that facility for its 100-member annual meeting again, ever.
The SEALS 2016 session at the Omni Plantation ran from last Wednesday, August 3 through this past Tuesday, August 9 and I’m sure those delicate snowflakes breathed a collective sigh of relief once they were safely outside that oppressive “plantation” property.
I have no idea what Robert Rowling, the owner of TRT Properties, CEO James Caldwell, or the President Michael Deitemeyer did when they received Mr. Hirsch’s letter or how they responded, but I can picture a scenario where the executive trio high-fived each other to celebrate the fact that their Amelia Island property was finally shed of these loopy lawyers without having to call security to physically toss them out on their briefs.
An amused local Omni Plantation home owner, who is not an employee of the Omni organization, alerted me to the lengthy letter signed by SEALS President Hirsch, which said in part:
“When the 2014 SEALS Annual Conference was held at your resort, it was brought to our attention that there was discomfort with the selection of a conference site that included the word “plantation” in its name. These concerns have been magnified by recent events highlighting racial tensions around the nation. When it was announced that the 2016 SEALS Annual Conference would be held at the Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort, the voices of those concerned with this decision multiplied, as many felt it was unwise to return to a hotel that had already been the source of prior discomfort and protest. Although the SEALS Board feels obligated to honor its contract to host the 2016 SEALS Annual Conference at your facility, this decision has been difficult to accept by those members of our organization who find themselves discomforted by the name of your hotel.”
The letter went on to say that “… in increasing numbers, members of our organization have reached out to the SEALS Inclusiveness Committee and have formally requested that SEALS provide alternative hotel accommodations for them…” Mr. Hirsch also complained that “…the inclusion of ‘plantation’ in your hotel name runs the risk of valorizing an economic structure that supported the institution of slavery, blah, blah, blah, blah,” ad nauseam.
For those who think I am making this silliness up, or that it is a parody from the Amelia Island News-Wrecker or the national Onion, following is a link to the SEALS site where this letter can be found along with a statement from the livid litigators titled “Statement on Omni Hotel Name and Board Letter:” http://sealslawschools.org/statement-on-omni-hotel-name/
The discomforted SEALS, whose asinine request I am guessing was rightly rebuffed by the Omni executive suite, also announced that their bothered barristers will conduct future annual meetings from 2017 to 2021 in Boca Raton and Fort Lauderdale, where they will presumably attempt to bully unsuspecting hotels there unfortunate enough to host them and their Bambi vs. Simon Legree hysteria. When dealing with these people, bearing what appears to be a surplus of unpleasantness, hotel event coordinators might want to consider using a whip and a chair.
As they pursue their whacky sanctimonious politically correct crusade during their south Florida sessions and beyond to avoid future “discomfort”, the incensed SEALS will have their work cut out for them as they obviously must avoid Ft. Lauderdale’s Plantation Marriott Hotel; boycott bars that pour Plantation Rum and Plantation Soda; steer clear of restaurants serving Plantation Tea and shun gourmet Plantation Peanuts. In addition the beleaguered barristers will have to pass on watching the PGA when it’s played at Georgia’s Sea Island Plantation Golf Course, the Plantation Golf Course at the Sea Pines Hilton on Hilton Head, SC or the Plantation Golf Course in Indio, CA. I’m also assuming they’ll never visit upstate New York’s Cornell University’s Gardens called Cornell Plantation; buy an Astria Plantation wood burning stove; subscribe to the art publication “Plantation Journal”, live in or visit a building
with plantation shutters; buy a luxury home from Texas’s Plantation Builders; rent an apartment from the nation’s many Plantation Apartment complexes; stay at the Sheraton Broadway Plantation Resort in Myrtle Beach, SC; use oil-based products from Kinder-Morgan’s Plantation Pipeline; buy anything from Plantation Furniture; purchase flower or vegetable seeds from Plantation Products, or eat Plantation Rice or All of Us Old Plantation Soups & Dips, and so much more. I can only imagine the panic attacks and intense distress that would ensue if a bus load of these loopy lawyers were driven through Plantation, FL passing by Plantation High School, Plantation Diary Queen, Plantation Used Cars, and so on. They’d have to be rushed to the Plantation General Hospital while suffering severe discomfort disorder….oh, but wait. There are many, many more fine American companies, schools, communities, institutions, and brands, that use the “plantation” name that compel these apprehensive attorneys to shield their eyes in abject horror like Dracula when confronted with a Crucifix. This must keep their frail and overly sensitive legal minds very, very busy firing off letters of indignation and boycott threats. I never knew it was this easy to annoy an attorney, but apparently a harmless “plantation product gift basket” sent to a SEALS legal office would likely prompt them to evacuate and call in a hazmat team.
This group, that regrettably uses the acronym SEALS, which is the same one that represents one of our nation’s most courageous and prized military units of the U.S. Navy, is a collection of lawyers that have attended, and I presume graduated from law schools at universities throughout the Southeastern U.S., ranging from FSU and Florida to Alabama and Tennessee and many more according to its literature. I assume it is not representative of all lawyers with Southeastern law school connections, just those who have never learned to argue above the level of a six-year-old and have behavioral characteristics that approximate the impotent rage of screaming, leg-thrashing toddlers refusing to take a nap.
I know a number of attorneys with law degrees from these schools that I respect and like very much, many here on Amelia Island, and my Texas-based brother-in-law and our son’s father-in-law, and they don’t buy into the SEALS “plantation” codswallop.
Fortunately not all lawyers who attended Southeastern law schools are members of this sad group, but it helps those of us who are seeking rational, tough-minded, mature legal assistance by enabling us to cull out those who associate themselves with this pathetic organization. Personally I don’t want a lawyer representing me who is “discomforted” by words nor do I want any who might be prone to stammer with indignation or break into tears when confronted with an opinion contrary to theirs and then fall to the courtroom floor in a weeping heap.
As a former corporate spokesman I know it wouldn’t be the proper diplomatic approach to take, but I’m sure it would have been tempting for the company’s public relations executive to suggest that the Omni executive suite respond to the SEALS harebrained demand to eliminate the word “plantation” from their hotel’s name or they wouldn’t return, with the following simple statement: “Frankly, sir, we don’t give a damn!”
The Miracle On 8th Street: For the past many years Fernandina Beach commissioners, city officials and others have done a lot of talking about cleaning up the shabby 8th Street corridor which serves as the front door to historic downtown, but it takes folks that invest here to actually get things done, and one of those who is actually doing what everybody else is just talking about to clean up the various 8th Street eyesores into attractive businesses is Phil Griffin, Amelia Coast Realty (ACR) principal and broker, who has put money and hard work where his mouth is.
Mr. Griffin, along with many others worked hard to change the zoning and density along South 8th street to ensure that small town and urban zone projects can be realized, and he says: “Over time we hope to transform 8th Street from urban blight to a gleaming gateway to historic downtown Fernandina Beach.” He is well on his way to doing just that.
The affable Mr. Griffin has managed to successfully combine profit making and community improvement activities with his efforts, resulting in a variety of rundown, drab and empty locations along South 8th converted into appealing and thriving operations including the following:
22 S 8th Street (Fred’s)
Fred’s, which was a popular but not very attractive chain store that sold an inventory of household items from brooms to bubble gum, is now closed and ACR has the building under contract for a mid August sale. Rumors, including some printed here, abound, but Mr. Griffin confirms that the buyer is a south Georgia developer group of partners, who are studying the property for its potential and then plan to design and build a mixed use commercial and residential project — condos or apartments. Retail is an option for the ground floor with one unit possibly a grocery. It would be the first such downtown project ever, and since its location is surrounded by attractive historic homes, B&B’s and restaurants, I suspect it will be a quick sell out.
432 S 8th Street (next to Gilberts Restaurant on the corner of Elm)
This is the site of what is believed to be the second oldest oak tree in Fernandina Beach and was once the Big Oak Gun Store and most recently a dry cleaners before it sat empty for a number of years. Kenny Gilbert told me at one time that he wanted to convert the property into a barbeque joint that also sold smoked mullet but apparently abandoned that option due to the expense of converting the property into an eatery. Fortunately Kenny still sells smoked mullet at his 8th St and Elm location. But back to Phil who tells me that his Big Oak Art Galleries project will be opening this week or next and who personally partnered in this one because he couldn’t find a buyer with the vision to imagine this rundown site as a profitable and cozy retail spot. Phil and his group purchased the property last year and completely rebuilt the existing block building saying that they used “the same green adaptive reuse methods followed in many other locations but seldom seen here.” Insulation conforms to new Florida energy codes and the site was finished off with a green parking lot, which means they cut back the existing asphalt to allow the Big Oak’s root system to absorb water and breath. To ensure the iconic oak will survive many more years they invested $5,000 trimming the massive old tree and expect tourists and locals to stop and take pictures of themselves under the Big Oak before going inside to meet some of the half dozen local artists that are jointly operating there, including Linda Green and Susi Sax formerly of Sax on 3rd Avenue fame. The floors are a glazed sealed epoxy that is more attractive and durable than traditional floor and blends in nicely with the site’s varied artwork decor. The building also boasts a new roof, new electric and plumbing as well as HVAC.
2742 S 8th Street (Formerly Sonny’s BBQ)
Speculation was wild about what would become of the abandoned Sonny’s BBQ but it is now open as Do It Yourself and Celebration Party Rentals where customers can pick up an inflatable slide for a kids party or rent just about any type of construction equipment or tool. “After 20 years as a barbecue establishment that was once one of the island’s busiest places but time had passed it by,” says Phil who also leased the nearby old Pizza Hut to Enterprise Rent A Car. The Pizza Hut folks told Phil that this location was for many years the busiest Pizza Hut in their system. “That was either a testament to how great the pizza must have been, or more likely, the lack of competition or options back then,” says Phil.
1987 and 1995 S 8th Street (Urgent Care Clinic, near the corner of Sadler)
Phil says one of his proudest 8th Street achievements is reuniting the adjacent properties at 1987 South 8th Street with the former laundry spot next door at 1995 South 8th. “Two years ago I sold the former ‘meat and three’ known as 5 Points Pantry and Store to a local group that wanted to open an Urgent Care walk-in clinic to capitalize on the nationwide medical treatment trend of moving away from hospital emergency room clusters,” he says. “And last week we happily reunited the little building next door by selling them the old car dealer office to the Urgent Care group so they can use the site for parking.”
2528 Sadler Road (across from Days Inn & Suites)
This isn’t a South 8th Street project but deserves mention because as Phil says: “You never saw such a homely piece of property as this one. It’s a real diamond in the rough with 15 years of plants overgrowing the property it was used by Starting Point as an adult day care operation where a van or family members would pick up people and drop them off on a daily basis. They would play games, watch TV and chop wood, which was then sold to the public on the honor system for folks who slipped cash through the front door.” In April they moved down Sadler Road to the corner of Drury and restarted in a more attractive new facility that Phil sold them last year. Meanwhile 2528 is now being cleaned up and transformed into a “collectibles” gallery by new owners, Glenn and Emily Bewan, who are new to Fernandina Beach, but boast a number of island relatives. They are currently going through the city permitting process and hope to open for business in October. I suggest that if they steal an idea from a similar operation in nearby Woodbine, GA they would generate more business than they could handle by simply putting a sandwich board sign out front that says: “Dead people’s stuff for sale.”
Drinking, Dining & Dancing: Friends Cal Atwood and Joe Murphy had our monthly lunch last Friday at what might possibly be the only European flavored restaurant anywhere that provides chop sticks. Luca’s at 610 Centre Street in downtown Fernandina, is owned by personable restaurateur Luca Misciasci, who also operates the very successful Chao, at the corner of Centre & South 3rd Street. The chop sticks only come with the Bento Box, a meal that was popular when the location was known as Benito Grill & Sushi, before it closed a few years ago and customers repeatedly requested. Luca obliged and this tasty $12 item contained tempura cod, a black bean cake, salad, and dumplings, which I successfully speared and ate with a lone chop stick. Cal had the thinly sliced pork loin on a crusty baguette which was served with an order of fries while Joe ordered the sliced roast pork on flatbread with greens, a mild salsa on top, with a side of couscous. We all gave our meals a thumbs up and agreed we’d be back again. From what I’ve heard from several sources the construction on the south side of the Harris Teeter shopping center on Amelia Parkway is another Don Shaw project that might be home to a restaurant, an old fashioned barbershop, and more. Stay tuned on this one as it will get interesting.