Musings, opinions, observations, questions, and random thoughts on island life, Fernandina Beach and more

Musings, opinions, observations, questions, and random thoughts on island life, Fernandina Beach and more

Area Citizen Group Has Organized A Public-Private Partnership To Create A Comprehensive Island Waterfront Project

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

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.

Those interested can contact the group at info@FBWDCA.org. For more information go to www.FBWDCA.org

***

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.

The Fernandina Building Department explaining its fee structure to a local businessman.

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.”

***

“Il Duce” reincarnated

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.

 

  • Comment (24)
  • Dave: Free speech as you know is a hallmark of American democracy. However, Criticism of an elected official attributed to an unidentified person is just a cheap shot to fit your narrative. Your report of Commissioner Chip Ross’ statement “that I run this town” is yellow journalism at it’s best. The person reporting this incident is not identified, the date and time it happened is not included. Where are your facts to support this even took place. You have zero facts as usual. Your reporting of this event is “fake news” at it’s finest.
    P.S. please go back to referring to me in your diatribes as Mayor “Left Coast Lednovich.”

  • Having watch the development of Baltimore’s Inner harbor in the 70’s; from vacant & run down warehouses to successful retail, office and residential complexes, I know it can be done. Successful real estate developer James Rouse was the driving force along with a dedicated Mayor Donald Schaefer (future governor), they got the job done.
    Best of luck guys

  • Couldn’t find the “Like” button for living in the county. Well written as always.

  • Rush Limbaugh was a sellout to conservative principals (Reaganism) once he jumped on board the Trump train and abandoned his own stances – such as imposing new tariffs – in order not to alienate the very base of voters he helped cultivate with his vitriol. Just about every measure of democracies around the world, including the Economist Intelligence Unit Democracy Index, has lowered the scores for the U.S. for the years coinciding with Trump’s reign. In 2020, the U.S. ranking has fallen to 25th among the world’s democracies, and we now hold the label of “Flawed Democracy”. This is largely due to the increased distrust in the political system that Limbaugh and Trump have fostered with their lies and false rhetoric. You must be so proud Dave.

    • I read the Economist and took something entirely different from the article on the US having been demoted to a “flawed democracy” essentially because of its generally low public confidence in the government. (in January 2021, the Congressional approval rating was 25%). As noted in the article, this observation was not unique to US as other countries are also experiencing the same trend. You forgot to mention this, and that the Economist report also stressed that the decline was strongly in evidence prior to the election of Trump in 2016.

      • With a little research you’ll discover that the Economist’s rankings for the U. S. we’re never lower than the years 2016 – 2020, with 2020 being the lowest ever. Obviously you’re free to draw your own conclusions but in this case I believe there is an undeniable link between correlation and causation.

        • Thank you for your additional comment. A you state the rankings “we’re (sic) never lower than the years 2016 – 2020”. I agree that cause and correlation is significant to any trend. However, my recollection was that Trump Administration started in 2017. What was going on in 2016 that started the downward trend?

          • The downward trend was set in motion by Limbaugh and aided by Roger Ailes. The runup to the 2016 Presidential elections simply provided an avenue for conservative audiences to act, stirred by the provocative words of FOX talking heads who hitched a ride on Limbaugh’s mass derangement of white America. Trump’s “Drain the Swamp”, “Make America Great Again”, and all his other assaults on the tenets of our political system have led to a growth of far-right extremism and a significant distrust in our government. The really alarming thing about the decline of our democracy is that it is based on a false narrative pushed by Trump, his boot-licking cohorts in Congress and elsewhere in the Republican Party, and of course, people like Dave. Meanwhile, Putin’s plan to destabilize our country and weaken our democracy is working to perfection.

  • In all due respect, given the extensive report in today’s blog about the intent to form a public-private partnership with the stated goal to remedy 35 years of City Government waste and failure in developing the Marina and its adjacent property, what Mayor Lednovich choose to comment upon is an indication of his priorities and depth of self-awareness as an elected community leader.

  • The concept of FBWDCA sounds interesting. I think it could grow legs and run, as long as all the different interests understand that compromise must be the order of the day, so all stakeholders will buy in. All in all, it has the potential of helping greatly, and I look forward to learning more about this initiative.

  • Agree with Mayor Mike’s comment about the cheap shot on Chip Ross. Hearsay in its fullest form. I often disagree with Chip’s positions but one can’t argue about the effort he puts into researching a particular subject, willingness to listen to other perspectives, developing a position and sticking to it. One can still disagree and be respectful.
    It will be interesting to see the initial plans FBWDCA. Pat Keogh once remarked to a group of us (I have witnesses) “that any vacant land owned by the City is a wasted development opportunity.” While no judgements can be made until a plan is put forth, I fear the “solution” will be large scale commercial/residential development of the city owned land around of the marina as Bob Allison advocated a couple of years ago. The reality is that the city owned land is the only property that has enough uplands to build any structure on and developers have been salivating over this property for decades. The community has consistently rejected further commercial development on the riverpark land south of the marina. The privately property north of the marina is held by numerous different owners all with different objectives which is why practically nothing has taken place with that property for 20+ years. If a plan can be developed for utilization of that property that can be agreed upon by those owners, that would be wonderful in curing the visual blight often seen there. Will just have to stay tuned to see what happens.

    • Pat Keogh definitely said any number of times that the city has a number of underperforming assets. Want to see them? Go to the County appraiser’s site and enter City of Fernandina Beach as “owner”. In fact, as Chairman of one of the city pension plans we presented to the City Manager a list of all the apparently dormant assets owned by the city when he complained about the city’s inability to meet its financial obligation to the fund. The only place Pat Keogh ever said “any vacant land owned by the city is a wasted development opportunity” is in your mind.

  • Outstanding work to pull together the initial steps for this critical Private-Public Partnership. This approach is the correct way to develop and manage significant public resources. The “us versus them” approach is dead. All projects must provide for meeting today’s need for a multitude of social, economic, environmental, and aesthetic impacts. Governments (especially local) do not possess the skill set or resources to make these decisions on their own (nor do the consultants). They also hate to give up power, a PPP allows for a much more balanced approach to this opportunity. Clearly, 35 years of resource squandering and taxpayer support need to be stopped. This approach should pave the way to many other opportunities that exist here in the City and County.

  • asafetida is prevlent in Indian cuisine. it is obtained from the roots of several Near Eastern plants belonging to the genus Ferula, of the parsley family, used in folk medicine to prevent disease and in Indian cuisine as a flavoring, and formerly used in medicine as a carminative and antispasmodic.

  • Great Dave. Maybe they will bring back the TEPEE to the FB dock. OH no, an insult to our Seminole native brethren.
    The Economist really does appeal to the Globalist
    scheme of things. Amusing how some of our citizens here in this country still refuse to understand the concept of corrupt government. Maybe a better scale for the Economist to work on is ” How much more corrupt is the US compared to other nations”.

  • Build a tall seawall as far into the waterway as permitted.

    Fill in behind it with clean dirt.

    Cover with grass and leave a LITTLE room for parking.

    My fear for the public, private partnership is that the so-called private interests will whine that they can’t make it work unless the City changes zoning requirements to allow 5-story buildings (or amusement parks, or whatever) on the undeveloped land. After they create their Special District, they will ask for City subsidies (paid through bonds or taxes) to make their unprofitable plan profitable.

    On second thought – this is Fernandina Beach. It could never happen here.

  • After reading Mayor Lednovich’s and Mr. Lott’s comments questioning Dave’s source and credibility for Commissioner Ross’s “I run this city” comment I felt obliged to respond. I am the individual to whom Commissioner Ross directed his comment. I was walking on the marina four or five weeks ago, enjoying the morning, when a fellow on a yellow bike approached me and asked how I liked it here and if I had any issues? I told him I enjoyed the area to which I had just moved and that I didn’t have any problems. He asked where I lived and then handed me a business card saying; I’m Chip Ross and I run your city.”

    After glancing at his card and seeing that his title was “Commissioner” and not Mayor or City Manager I thought his comment presumptuous. A few days later I mentioned the incident to my next-door neighbor, Dave Scott, who asked me if I would give him permission to use it in his blog. I said “yes”. So, Mr. Lednovich and Mr. Lott, the comment is not “yellow journalism” or a “cheap shot.” But the facts. Dave accurately described what occurred.

    • Mr. Stuart thanks for providing the details of your interaction with Commissioner Ross. It reads much differently than Mr. Scott’s bare bones declaration.

    • Minor point.
      Actually, the elected Commissioners, as a group, DO run the city. The City Manager (not elected) works for the Commissioners and implements their directives. He/she is NOT an independent executive.
      Similarly, the Mayor is appointed by the City Commission, usually, but not required, in accordance with a straw vote in the general election.

    • Thank you Jay for the information. I just wonder since Dave asked you for permission to use it why he wouldn’t have identified you as the source even with just initials? Maybe Chip will provide his recollection of the conversation and then there wouldn’t be any doubt. Welcome to Fernandina Beach!

    • With all due respect Mr. Stuart, your first thought was to think Mr. Ross was being presumptuous? After all, he doesn’t need your vote since he was just newly re- elected. Curious, has any other elected official thought to solicit your opinion of the city and inquire as to whether you have any issues? Or perhaps hand you a card so that if there is a need you can contact them directly? While I’m a property owner and pay taxes to the city of Fernandina Beach, I do not yet live there and thus, cannot vote for city commissioners. However, Mr. Ross personally contacted me and extended the same courtesy he afforded you. Presumptuous was not a thought that came to mind when he did so. Sounds like you and Dave will make great neighbors.

  • The PPP approach was tried in the 1960’s and ultimately failed

    Don’t repeat the mistakes of the past, court the City, get them involved.

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