Island Issues

Airport & Golf Course Situation Muddled As Fernandina Continues Its Bizarre Maneuvers

The headline on the lead story on the front page of the local bi-weekly News-Leader last Friday, February 17, blared “City weighs sale of Amelia River golf property.” It quoted Fernandina Beach City Manager Dale Martin, and Airport Advisory Chairman Sam Lane, but nowhere in the story was a member of the Amelia River Golf Club’s 70-year lease holder, Amelia Island Hospitality Group quoted or even mentioned.

In fact, the story apparently took The Sheffield family group’s Amelia Island Hospitality Group (AIHG) by surprise as no sooner had it appeared than the following letter was sent to all Amelia River Golf Club members:

Dear Amelia River Golf Club Members: 

We are sure most of you have seen the recent article in the News-Leader regarding the City’s interest in purchasing our leasehold interest. We were approached by the City several months ago about purchasing the course and we will begin discussions in early March with City officials in an effort to reach mutually agreed upon terms. Should those negotiations be unsuccessful, we intend to vigorously defend our position as the rightful leaseholder.

If the City does secure ARGC, we cannot speculate on what their actions would be in the future. We strongly urge the City to preserve ARGC and close the City course if they in fact wish to stay in the golf business.

In the meantime, we pledge to sustain the course in the tremendous shape that you all have come to enjoy. In addition, our staff continues to work hard for each of you and we will keep you informed as future developments occur.

Thank you for your patience and support of ARGC.

The Sheffield Family

From what I have been told no one from the News Leader contacted the Sheffield Group for comment and they are disappointed the issue has gone public.

Wasn’t that generous of the city and the News-Leader to tell potential members of the Amelia River Club that its future may be unknown? I’m sure that’ll generate a rash of new affiliates.

According to the Michael Miller bylined News-Leader article the city wants to sell the property and use the funds to help build the new terminal and/or welcome center or whatever it is the city wants to erect at the airport that will not be used by anybody but a handful of private airplane pilots.

This airport building lunacy is expected to cost between $2-5 million and I wonder how much of the tax payer’s money the city is willing to spend to buy out the 52-years remaining on on the Amelia River Golf Club lease?

I’ve submitted a list of questions about the airport issue to City Manager Martin this past Wednesday and will share his responses when I receive his answers.

Of all the comments about the airport issue in last week’s blog only one, from former interim city manager Dave Lott, attempted to justify the new airport building. I very much respect Dave and normally agree with his comments. However, on this issue I don’t.

I do not see how this airport building can possibly be justified and from what I’ve been reading and hearing I’m not the only one, as even former members of the airport commission are opposed to it. Why do we need a $2-5 million building to impress a handful of pilots who don’t shop here or stay here? Maybe the city needs a place to store its extorted impact fees.

Oh, and what the hell is the city doing in the golf course business anyway? If should sell its 27-hole course on Bill Melton Road and get out of the golf business altogether. If I’m going wrong here somebody tell me why.


Semper Fidelis: The full house attending the European American Business Club’s February 21 evening session at the Amelia River Golf Club heard a talk from local resident Cal Atwood, that had them laughing, applauding, gasping and dabbing away tears. Mr. Atwood, a 92-year-old Marine Corps veteran who parachuted onto Iwo Jima as a 20-year-old in 1945 and was eventually evacuated after being wounded, is not only a hardened combat vet, but a renown poet, educator and husband other wives could only hope their spouses would emulate. Age hasn’t slowed the mentally and physically agile Atwood down as in a voice as authoritative and clear as a Marine Corps Drill Instructor, he sat straight as an arrow as he regaled the attentive full house with stories about his marine corps comrades, read poems he recently wrote, and paid tribute to his gorgeous and gracious wife, Carol Ann. At the end the raconteur received a well-deserved standing ovation. The Marauders, a group of about 20 local golfers that includes Pound Puppy founder Mike Bowling, and have been called “rowdy, obstreperous, fun-loving and ready to jump into a well-intended benefit to support Marine Toys For Tots, Navy Seals and the Fernandina Beach Museum golf tournaments, among others,” presented Cal with a plaque making the “Jarhead” a lifelong member. If you ever hear that Cal is going to talk at an event near you, made a reservation as it is an occasion you will not want to miss. I’m honored to call this fine gentleman my friend.


“No Fair! He Hit Me With A Right Hook:” Just how goofy have things become on college campuses was demonstrated by a student group at Orlando’s University of Central Florida, which hosted a “leftist fight club” to train liberal students to defend themselves against Trump supporters and “other Alt-Right Neo-Nazis.” An amateur boxer demonstrated hand-to-hand combat techniques, and the clinic was billed as open to “everyone except Republicans.” Maybe parents of Young GOPers should counterpunch by pulling junior out of school there and sending him to a campus where he might get an education instead of an indoctrination and an audition for reality TV.


And It’s A Short Drive: Donald Trump is driving the left insane and if you don’t believe it just tune into National Public Radio (WJCT, 89.9 FM) and listen to those unhinged folks howl at the moon. Then log onto your computer and check out Facebook where every liberal acquaintance you know spends their every spare minute screeching away at their fellow travelers with anti Trump bilge. These loons will eventually fade way once they realize their childish rants are leading nowhere, much like now “former” NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick who is no longer under contract after parting ways with the San Francisco 49ers. This no talent lout got worse with every passing season, sending the 49ers to the bottom and following an injury and some serious downtime, he turned radical and went anti-police, pro Black Lives Matter, and anti-Trump ultimately leading to his silent protest of refusing to stand during the national anthem. That, and the fact he stinks as a player, spelled the end of his career. What team would possible want this cretin on their roster or in its locker room? Just think how productive these misguided misfits would be if they put this much energy and time into working at their jobs, furthering their education, working for a charity, running for office or some other worthwhile endeavor. Their anger is fueled by the fact that the Democratic party today has less direct influence on American government at all levels than at any time since Reconstruction, just after the Civil War. At the rate they’re going they should be extinct in about four years.


Things I Just Learned Department: There are only nine more days for hunters to bag their limit of squirrels in Florida as squirrel hunting season here ends March 5. Does that mean I can pick them off my bird feeder with a pellet gun and if so what side dish goes best with these expired furry rodents?


Roses and A Stink Bomb: I very much like and respect Susan Steger, former Fernandina Beach City Commissioner and mayor, and co-founder and editor of the very informative online newspaper Fernandina Observer. Despite not having a journalism background Ms. Steger’s news blog factually and accurately reports local news and forced the local biweekly News-Leader print publication to awaken from its news gathering hibernation and scramble to try and keep up. I don’t see or hear much about her co-editor, Douglas Newton, very often, but he’s obviously doing something right too as the publication appears to be steadily picking up ad revenues and is considered a go-to source for folks looking for accurate local news.

Retired banker and area native Ms. Steger is a keen observer and careful to avoid partisan politics carefully screening those contributors that screech and rant about one political party or another and shriek “Trump – Not my President” or “lock-her-up.” If you want local news, reported fairly and factually, the Observer is the place to go. I’ve also found it a valuable source for facts to back up some of my commentaries on this blog and when I use material from the Observer, I give it credit.

The Observer’s Suanne Thamm may possibly be one of the finest political analysts and writers I’ve run across and Adam Kaufman provides expert reporting on legal matters. His series on the Impact Fees trial in late 2014 was exceptionally well done. Former out-of-state journalists Anne Oman and Karen Thompson also contribute and are excellent writers and story tellers and assets to any news gathering enterprise.

However, there comes a time when, despite her superior efforts to date that Ms. Steger fails in her selection of external reporting sources.

For example the Florida Times-Union once had a reporter, Matt Pittman (Matt About Jax), who wrote about restaurants in that paper’s circulation area, mostly Jacksonville establishments. Mr. Pittman, much to my delight, has disappeared from the restaurant review pages of the T-U. He never met a plate of food, a burger, sandwich, hot dog or any other edible item that sat in front of him that he didn’t rave about. This guy knew as much about food as Flossy the Wonder Chicken and according to him all the restaurants in the area were “really great ones.” A local magazine, the Amelia Islander, features a food “critic” who also isn’t critical, but since that publication is a forum for ads from local eateries and other establishments, serious criticism would result in lost revenue. You know what you’re getting when you pick up the give-away Islander.

The Observer’s “Roving Reporter” Gerry Clare is an example of an Observer correspondent who desperately wants to write interesting and informative articles, but is obviously incapable of realizing her aspirations. Her disjointed ramblings read like a third grader’s “What I did on my summer vacation” report while her restaurant reviews consist of a bizarre inventory of locations she considers eateries and fare that she discovered under movie theater seats, in local dumpsters and compost piles.

Her most recent review February 8 began by describing to Fernandina Beach Observer readers how much she enjoyed eating at Collage, a restaurant in St. Augustine, some 90 miles from Fernandina Beach. Apparently it hit the “Roving Correspondent” during dinner that she was no longer on Amelia Island as she wrote: “Eating at Collage was such a delightful experience (60 Hypolita Street) that I realized I haven’t been covering the new eating places in Fernandina recently.”

She then proceeded to list a series of “exciting new places” on Amelia Island that included a home furnishings shop, a health care facility and a men’s clothing store, for all those locals that enjoy noshing on home furnishings, men’s clothing and various medical paraphernalia. And when she actually did mention a restaurant, it was a wacky dog’s breakfast that hardly made a prospective reader want to open his wallet much less his mouth there. Facts that she actually got right in a couple of the items she described were a year or more old and details about others were just flat out wrong. Her list of “exciting new arrivals” failed to mention PJD’s Beer & Wine Garden, Lagniappe, Pogo’s, 801 Kitchen & Bar, Sadler Ranch, Locals, Salt Life, Decantery, the new Sadler/Fletcher Ave. and North 2nd Street boutique hotels with their bars and restaurants, and the renovated 14th street movie theatre with food and booze.(For details on those establishments go to this blog January 13, 2017, “2017 To Be Year Of Restaurants & Bars”). Other than that…..

At the end of her periodic word jumbles, Ms. Clare is described in an “Editor’s Note” as follows: “…… began free lance writing for fun.” She may be writing for fun, but I doubt Observer readers are sharing her amusement. They deserve better.


Drinking, Dining & Dancing: If you want to have a fun time tomorrow, Saturday, Feb. 25, then head downtown for the annual Chili Cook-Off with tasting from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and other stuff til 3 p.m. This event is well worth the $10 entry fee that includes live music, stuff for junior to do, crafts, and enough chili to send you to CVS for a large supply of antacid tablets. The entry fee money goes to help support the Amelia Island Montessori School. Oh, make sure you stop by the Pajama-Wrecker Chili booth in front of Pajamadave’s Pajama Life shop where Mr. Pajamapants and I have teamed up to serve a News-Wrecker/Pajama Life chili that’s sure to rake in all the top awards. We even have our own private surprise musician, beer stash and more. And talk to Pajamadave about his new PJD’s Beer & Wine Bar to be located directly behind the Pajama-Wrecker Chili Booth and possibly opening this March. I’ll be the cripple with the broken leg in the wheelchair and we’re providing bribes and looking for sympathy votes. Following the cook-off head over to the North 3rd Street Green Turtle from 3-6 pm for the Humane Society’s Mardi Paws event featuring more food, a full bar and live music where a lot of the money goes to help out Fluffy and Fido, a down-on-their-luck canine and feline couple. I’m told that The Decantery, the wine and cheese emporium that was scheduled to open in the empty Dog Star location on North 2nd Street, will now take over the Sheffield’s Cocktail Lounge space on Centre Street, directly next to the Palace Saloon. The Decantery will feature wine, craft beer and a cocktail lounge. In addition to its extensive 200-bottle wine selection, there will be homemade desserts and state of the art wine dispensing machines. All wines will be served in the lounge and are available for package purchase. Another unusual twist is that the Decantery will have an engraver on site, craft beer with growlers, and liquor, all of which will be available for package. It will be open seven days a week and the wine dispensing machines will enable customers to purchase a tasting, 1/2 glass or a full glass from one of the 16 bottles that will be featured. There will also be charcuterie boards and homemade desserts along with cappuccino. It will also feature regular wine, and beer tastings along with open membership to featured wine clubs. They also say they will have some form of live entertainment on the weekends. Look for an opening sometime in May says the gorgeous blonde Kelly Hovey, Decantery manager and former Britt’s bartender. No word on what may go into the empty Dog Star space. Dr. Robert Hogan, who owns The Tavern and the building housing the Alley Cat, confirms that he has purchased the Parkway Grill property and that his Pogo’s (formerly Gourmet Gourmet & GG’s Bistro) is still grappling with Nassau County bureaucracy. He says he bought the Parkway Grill and property behind it in order to preserve the trees there. Lagniappe, Brian Grimley’s new Cajun flavored restaurant under construction in the Harris Teeter shopping area, looks like its grand opening will be pushed back to May or June due to parking lot issues that are not the fault of the Lulu’s at the Thompson House owner Brian.


Lew Eason - 01. Mar, 2017 -

I can’t help but sense the common miscconception in the comments above related to potential increased use of the airport. It is the basic design and subsequent infrastructure that determines usage by aircraft weight. When FHB was constructed it’s use was intended to be for military training aircraft. Those when loaded with fuel , armament, and a twenty year old Navy Ensign weighed less than twenty thousand pounds. That data was considered when the runways were poured. Over the years since , the runways have seen some resurfacing and routine maintenance but the weight limitations remain pretty much the same. Today’s modern aircraft usage is limited to business class jet and lesser weighted turbo and piston driven aircraft (and some hang gliders). So, those of you who have visions of someday catching a Jet Blue flight to Atlanta from here, fa’getta boutit. Likewise, those inhibited by the fear of the deafening roar of the big fan -engined Boeings, Jax Int’l. Is your closest option. As was mentioned before, “if you can’t bear the noise of passing traffic, don’t invest in a home bordering the interstate”.

Dave Lott - 01. Mar, 2017 -

I believe that my comments to the previous article were misconstrued. In no way was I intending to voice support for a $4 million dollar terminal building, welcome center or whatever you want to call it, but simply voicing support for a new FBO terminal facility. When I saw the original conceptual design, while I thought it was novel, in talking to others that know much more than I do about such things, they indicated that the construction and maintenance costs would be extremely high and even questioned the facility’s endurance (i.e. the wings) in a major hurricane. The point I was trying to make is that the new FBO operator, Eight Flags Aviation, is committed to providing a first class facility to pilots and their passengers and maintaining competitive fuel prices to eliminate the current problem of pilots refueling elsewhere to what many consider to be non-competitive prices as Lew wrote about in his comments . The current FBO facility owned by the City and leased to the McGill’s is old and worn and the McGills have done the best with what they had to work with but they will be the first to tell you that it is not up to standards that corporate pilots expect. Nobody would sink major dollars into renovations for a facility for which one’s lease might end soon.
So new terminal/FBO facility – YES!! $4 million pricetag – NO!!!

LM - 26. Feb, 2017 -

One more comment since you asked the question – the city shouldn’t privatize the City golf course because it will drive up the greens fees, the cart costs, and the annual membership expense and directly impact the locals that support the jobs, the community and tourism. The city is making a margin on the golf course today and it should reinvest the dollars back in the course and ensure that it remains a place where people want to play and can play at a reasonable price. Even if it winds up subsidized by the city one day, it’s a benefit for locals that helps make Fernandina a place where people want to live and can still live affordably (without having to leave the island to play golf) – and its those people that serve the businesses that generate the rest of the city’s tax revenue.

LM - 26. Feb, 2017 -

Dave –
As you continue to help the city navigate through the decision making on the airport, the welcome center and the golf courses, I’ll add a few things for you to consider. First, any city manager worth his salt maintains an airport with a 5000 foot runway. Without it, a city drops to the bottom of the list in site selection for any major employer or event selection. Getting high level decision makers in and out for events is critically important. I’ve been a part of hosting hundreds of visitors on the island over the last 5 years and Amelia is on the list because of the beauty of the island and the amenities, but also because of the ease of access to Fernandina’s airport. Second, there are “welcome centers” that go completely unused across the country when they are not co-located with the FBO. The FBO is where you actually go in when you arrive at the airport to pick up your car, pay for your fuel and complete your flight planning. If the FBO is not housed in the welcome center, the center will go unused. And third, and most importantly, the welcome center wont bring pilots – but the fuel prices will deter them. Admittedly, I have not read the city’s contract with its new FBO operator, but the focus should be on controlling fuel price and not building the center. Today’s published fuel price is $6.30 per gallon and there are no discounts available under any fuel program. The FBO hides behind the Jacksonville price of $6.45, but the JAX discount program price is $3.55 (the objective is to deter small operators from using the complex airspace – every corporate user belongs to a fuel program). For comparison, Fort Lauderdale is $2.90 per gallon and Orlando is $2.75. Prices are lower throughout Florida and typically by half. When you’re pumping 500 gallons of jet fuel it makes a big difference – and a beautiful welcome center doesn’t mitigate the economics or resentment an operator feels when they pay the bill. Forget the welcome center and focus on the fuel contract with the FBO or planes will land in Jacksonville and drive, ferry in fuel by overloading their tanks for arrival, or choose another city. Each one is a bad outcome and has further negative implications.
We’ve never once discussed the poor facilities at the Fernandina Beach aiport when we’ve made a destination decision – but we’ve listed its strengths to include the number of golf courses (including both the City course and Amelia River). Cut the fuel price, keep all the golf courses open to keep density down, and scrap the welcome center. And don’t underestimate the impact that maintaining a quality airport with excellent runways has on the long-term viability of large meetings and events on the island.

Lee Murray - 26. Feb, 2017 -

Thanks for the updates. The city does not manage the golf course. The FBGC is managed by Billy Casper management.

Peg Dickinson - 25. Feb, 2017 -

Dave, I do love following your local news and particularly the restaurant and business news. At the same time I skip over your “reporting” on Trump and your feelings about the Dem’s. Funny while you whine and complain about all the terrible things the Dem’s are doing I’m not hearing much bragging about Trump. I would think more of you if you could admit you’re unhappy with some of Trump’s shenanigans. You are intelligent enough to worry about some of it, loyal Rep or not! In a county that went 73% for Trump I have yet to talk to a single educator, retired or working, who likes
DeVoes . Are politicians all lemmings, not voting with their brains but following their leader?

Vince - 24. Feb, 2017 -

Dave, the issue of the economic value of the airport has been debated for years against the back drop of it being about 900 acres of an approximate 11000 acre island. The last idea was to make it an enterprise fund to take its costs off the city taxpayer’s back. So far, for operating expenses it has worked, for other costs like legal fees and improvements it has failed miserably.
Generally absent from cost benefit analyses is any consideration regarding the reduction in quality of life a busier airport will bring. Just because you can do something, does not mean it is effective to do it i.e. building $5 million welcome facilities. Apparently now it will require the purchase of a leasehold and the sale of a portion of the airport lands to pay for a bloated terminal facility. Interestingly, that plan was kept quiet, away from the prying eyes of the citizens of the island, because the gnomes of the airport feel they did not need to know. Furthermore what would happen with this land after sale: development. Just what we need, more housing, congestion and impact on our schools!
Proponents like Mr. Eason say you have to look at the economic impact. I have an anecdotal story for that. A home across the street from mine was being viewed by a prospective buyer. The buyer was motivated to seek out assessments from neighbors and came upon me. While we were conversing, one of the potential money bombers flew in over our heads. The startled potential buyer said: whew, I did not know that airport was this close or that it handled planes that large. He left, and never pursued an offer. So, the economic impact on my neighbor was no sale.
What further galls me about these businesses seeking customers is this: they knew what the airport was when they located here. In fact, the Plantation was the dream of a group from Hilton Head who proposed the project to forestall a mining operation on the south end of the island. They did not wish to see the island devastated by uncontrolled development. I wonder how they would feel about the continued upgrading of what was a bucolic airport into something akin to LaGuardia in NYC.
As I write this I note the terminal project is out for bid with a rapid 30 day turnaround. Kind of like, let’s get this done so we have no chance on being stopped. Any mistakes can be taken care of in the “change order” process. The terminal/welcome center this size is the wrong plan at the wrong time in the wrong place. I hope the citizens take a close look now that the light has been shined in the dark recesses of the back room. Having secret talks to collapse a leasehold to pay for this project may just be the tip of the ice berg. All stop would be my recommendation now before it is too late.

Ron - 24. Feb, 2017 -

Thank you, Dr. Hogan, for purchasing the Parkway Grill and the mature oak trees surrounding it. A bavarian biergarten would sure look good in the shade of those heritage oaks. Prost!

Robert Warner - 24. Feb, 2017 -

“Freelance writing for fun…. They deserve better”. Yes we do, Dave.

Lew Eason - 24. Feb, 2017 -

Airport Improvement:

Usage and benefit derived by the private pilot community surrounding our airport (referred to as KFHP on aeronautical publications) is only a small part of the picture. There is an economic side that should not be overlooked. The two major resort hotels on the island periodically serve as a high demand venue for corporate activities and exhibitions such as the annual Concourse D’ Elegance. You may have noticed the collection of business jet aircraft (yes, some of those jets are private) parked on the far side of the airport during that week. At other times you see them parked on the fixed base operator ramp near the one story, one bathroom, coffee, but no soda, and no pilot’s lounge, building. The passengers (not the aircrew/pilots) come to visit and bring their wallets. After tiring of the expensive resort cuisine they visit the lovely restaurants and colorful watering holes downtown. The average private pilot expends most of his hard-earned cash on maintenance, hangar fees, and fuel. A portion of that is returned to the City of Fernandina in fees and taxes. Those corporate jets consume hundreds of gallons of fuel obviously required to return their passenger load to distant home bases. So, the pilot’s question to his co-pilot is, where is the best place to refuel ? “Well, Jacksonville has a nicer, more modern FBO with cheaper fuel and we only need 700 gallons at a dollar/gallon cheaper than KFHB”. So, there is a snippet of the economic side. Now, how many times have you been to an airshow or seen an airplane flying low on approach or departure from an airport? Did you not feel the urge to stare? How about the kids in the back of the car, did they look? How would you like to have a place at the airport where you could spend time absorbing aviation related activities (even skydiving)? What about the kids developing an understanding of air transportation? Wanna keep them in the dark until they leave the nest? Call it a Welcome Center, FBO, hurricane proof shelter or whatever you feel is appropriate, the tax payer will not be shouldering the total cost and it will not be for the sole benefit of the private pilot and his crusty old Piper Cub. There has long been that element of folk that moved to the island and found it so pleasing that they urged the construction of a gate at the I-95 exit. I wonder if they have the same leanings about air progress?

david freilich - 24. Feb, 2017 -

What’s wrong with the current airport building? It’s plenty good. Lots of unused rooms and space in the back. Ok, so throw a few hundred thousand at it to spiff it up a bit, open it up a bit……. what more do we truly need? Will planes stop coming if we don’t spend $4 MUSD?

Bob Hanrahan - 24. Feb, 2017 -

Great blog Dave! Exciting to see all the new growth in Fernandina, just too bad the patrons can’t Uber home after enjoying a night out. Keep up the good and informative work, appreciate it!

Jeff McDowell - 24. Feb, 2017 -

Cal is a local treasure. Great stories are just the beginning with this gentleman. A walking history book. Glad to see he’s out and about!

Joe - 24. Feb, 2017 -

Thank you for the fine write up on Cal. See you Wednesday March first.