Island Issues

The Time Has Come For “We The People” To Take Control Of The Fernandina Marina?

The Time Has Come For “We The People” To Take Control Of The Fernandina Marina?

Jack Knocke, and the watchdog group Common Sense he helped create, have conceived a logical, business-like approach for the city to consider in an effort to rescue the city marina from the fiscal lunacy currently running amok in city hall.

Mr. Knocke and the Common Sense group are envisaging putting together a team of experienced local business and civic leaders to provide guidance to the city – if they are willing to listen.

Their proposition includes tangible ideas regarding public-private partnerships that could be a win-win for Fernandina Beach. In other words, they are telling the elected Commissioners: “You work for us, so listen to us!”

“We believe we can turn an impending $40 million debt into a net positive of $20 -$40 million for the city,” says Knocke. “Is that worth a listen?”

Successful business people realize the need for a business plan, are able to read a balance sheet, understand return on investment, appreciate the need for inventory control, cash management, and customer focus – which are foreign concepts to the current city government.

Of the five sitting commissioners, only the fiscally conservative Commissioner Mike Lednovich appears to be experienced in any of these areas. He was, he claims,  CEO of a $40 million construction company that did public works such as schools, fire stations, etc.

Commissioner Len Kreger, a retired marine, has proven a quick learner and allied with Commissioner Lednovich in an attempt to restrain the three out of control drunken sailors – Johnny “Moonbeam” Miller, Chip “The Big Spender” Ross, and Phil “The Listen Who Can’t Hear” Chapman.

Here’s the current overview as Common Sense and Mr. Knocke see it:

  • Fernandina Beach cannot support a $26 million park with no plan to pay for it. The Marina and FEMA were a colossal failure with $15 million in debt to deal with now. This is $31 million before even hitting the capital budget.

And here’s the goal:

  • Change the city from an inefficient property manager to a revenue positive owner

The current marina mess, says Common Sense, began in the 1960’s and it’s time to bring it to an end. There is only one way to fix this 60-year old nonsense they say and that is for “We The People” to take control.

The Common Sense group backs up its argument with the dismal financial and factual history of the municipal waterfront. It was poorly sited from the start they say.

Instead of using the naturally deep flowing river waters to the north of the present site, the waterfront complex was constructed landward of the natural channel edge by excavating shallow flats and marshland, aligning it with Centre Street.

In the early days of operation during the 1950s and 1960s, the facility was much smaller and hosted only the Florida Marine Welcome Center on the over-water structure that now supports Brett’s Waterway Café.  A Welcome Center “Tepee” was dedicated in 1963 as the Florida entry to the Intercoastal Waterway with great enthusiasm and fanfare.

This city-operated facility was never able to cover the cost of operations and became such a problem that in 1984 the city faced a dilemma – close the operation or seek outside help.

With the assistance of the Port Authority, a private company was selected and granted a lease to redevelop the waterfront area providing 150 boat slips, berths for shrimp boats, over 30,000 square feet of space for shops and restaurants, employment for 50-100 people, and increased tax revenue.

History repeated itself and the private company was unable to achieve a financially viable operation – caused by city actions and general business circumstances. The slips were constructed, but the land-side retail facilities, including a bed-and-breakfast, were never realized. In the end, the private company could no longer survive, and the facility was gifted to the city.

The 150-slip facility built by that company is now operated by the city.

The problem of financial viability continued, and the area gradually deteriorated becoming an ever-increasing liability with a professional operator hired in 2009. Even with this group in charge, the losses continued requiring an annual taxpayer-funded subsidy to just break even.

Adding insult to injury, not only were taxpayers subsidizing the waterfront and the boaters and businesses who use it, but in 2016 Hurricane Matthew caused catastrophic damage. The facility was left unusable and the city faced a major decision for the second time—fix it or close it down.

In 2018 following much debate and several expensive consultant studies, the city awarded a contract for reconstruction of the existing boat facility. A facility that carries a $12 million debt now owed by city taxpayers. To close that chapter a new operator is being hired with the hope of better financial performance.

As of this writing, the complex is only partially completed. So, this new operator starts with a disadvantage – not an ideal situation.

After decades of trying, a succession of city leaders have failed to create a profitable or appealing waterfront worthy of the historic character of Fernandina.

Literally tens of millions of dollars of tax payer dollars have been spent since the 1960’s and where are we today—some $12 million in debt. Further, the city wants to spend another $30 million or more to create waterfront greenspace, game courts, and “shoreline resiliency” for a low-lying marshland area.

After years  failure why is the city rushing to ramrod a massive $30 million park through? Particularly in the midst of a financially crippling pandemic. Does somebody in city hall have a pal that builds such parks? Huuuum.

The definition of insanity it’s been said is to do the same thing repeatedly with the expectation that each time the outcome will be different. Well, welcome to the insane asylum of Fernandina Beach if this course of action is implemented.

It is time for “We The People” to take over the waterfront and accomplish what 60 years of city actions have failed to achieve.

They’re looking at a complex encompassing a wide range of experiences that will attract not only visitors, whether by land or water, but also local residents seeking entertainment, knowledge, and refreshment. Indeed, a commercial enterprise that fully realizes the heritage and place that make Fernandina unique along the east coast of the United States.

However, this time the outcome has to work. The private group who design and implement the vision must have full reign to create beauty and grandeur. Because they have their own money in the game they are financially motivated to succeed.

The entire physical plant and surrounding public land west of the railroad must be granted to the enterprise, which in turn will guarantee a return to the city – enough to cover the marina rebuild debt as well as taxpayer relief through revenue sharing, sales tax, and property tax.

The city failed because of short-sighted actions. This time they cannot be allowed to fail – “We The People” will require it and will ensure the vision is at long last realized. The time has come.

Do you want to face an endless future of taxpayer funded subsidy for those few who use the waterfront area and profit from it? Me either.

Common Sense proposes developing the waterfront with an approach that meets the following objectives:

  • Leverage current plan and enhance it with city appropriate retail development
  • Grow tourism dollars
  • Protect the ecosystem
  • Blend with the historic character of the city
  • Increase the tax base
  • Increase foot traffic in and around downtown
  • Create more local jobs
  • Make Fernandina Beach a top tourist destination – by boat and by land
  • Clear the marina debt off the books
  • Long term lease to an aligned developer
  • Marina and waterfront park combined into a single entity
  • Minimum of $1 million in revenue to the city annually (instead of losses!)
  • Solid agreements that benefit all
  • Commitment from city commission and staff to support and encourage the project’s success (not delay with permits, rules, and excuses)

To meet the objectives and achieve the goal Common Sense is suggesting the following approach:

  • Local team of citizens and experts to present updated concepts, recruit developers, support agreement negotiation
  • $20-$40 million dollars TO the city versus the city paying $50 million over the next 20 years
  • $30+ million in new taxable revenues to the city annually (Brett’s generates $4 million today)
  • Change the city from a property manager to an owner
  • Engage targeted developers for fact-finding meeting and determine interest
  • Develop financial plans that are desirable to the city
  • Establish a solid steering committee to oversee project with clear roles
  • Support local businesses in the project

This will be a citizen-led organization motivated to work toward a goal that will benefit the entire community to and address a variety of important concerns including the area’s ecosystem, financial balance, and livability.

I have yet to see anything proposed by the City Commission or anyone else that compares with this approach. Have you? And what do we have to lose?

People interested in the marina task force or joining or learning more about Common Sense can call Jack Knocke at 470/295-4365 email: FaceBook: ​ Web:​http:/// Founding members of Common Sense Fernandina Beach are Patti Clifford; former controller/finance director at City of Fernandina Beach; Phil Griffin, realtor/developer & entrepreneur; Jack Knocke, entrepreneur, virtual Chief-IoT-Officer, adjunct Professor Of Business/Florida State College at Jacksonville; Frank Quigley, retired writer, editor and CEO of a publishing chain that specialized in magazines for governmental employees.


Michigan Dems Flush With Stupidity: A Michigan resident’s very obvious joke displaying disdain for voting by mail is no laughing matter for dim Democrat election officials there.

A resident put this toilet on his lawn with a sign that says: “Place mail-in ballots here.”

Barb Byrum, the Democratic clerk of Michigan’s Ingham County, publicly displayed the  witlessness of Democrats when she filed a complaint with police over the display, saying it could mislead people who aren’t familiar with the voting system.

“It is a felony to take illegal possession of an absentee ballot,” Ms. Byrum said.

“Elections in this country are to be taken seriously and there are many people who are voting by mail for the first time this election,” she added.

People as stupid as Ingham County Democrats should not only be banned from casting a vote, they shouldn’t even be allowed to own pets.


Living Dead Dems: This from my favorite west coast pundit Burt Prelutsky: “When I see the rabble on the streets of America, looting and burning and chanting their insipid mantras, I’m reminded of those zombie movies that show the doomed souls stumbling along in their rags searching for their favorite source of zombie protein. And there is the one big difference.  The zombies in the movies are always on the hunt for brains, something that the living dead who make up Antifa and BLM seem quite content to do without.”


Things I Wish I’d Said: “Keeping colleges closed this fall is far more likely to stop the spread of communism than it is to stop the spread of Covid.” –  anonymous


A Losing Bet: American Spectator writer Scott McKay notes that Ruth Bader Ginsberg “was advised to retire years ago, when Barack Obama could have appointed her replacement. She gambled on Hillary Clinton and she lost. That was Ginsburg’s problem. Not America’s.”


Sad News: Long-time Fernandina Beach restauranteur, hotelier, car enthusiast, and all-around nice guy, Richard “Choo Choo” Germano, died last week following a brief illness.

Choo Choo and his daughter, Holly, who manages the iconic Crab Trap.

I first met Choo Choo during a visit to his landmark North 2nd Street Crab Trap eatery more than a decade ago. The Crab Trap offered a Wednesday evening beer and wing special that myself and several of my local pals frequented on a regular basis. During those sessions, the amicable Mr. Germano would entertain us with tales of his early days running that iconic establishment and some of his exploits living aboard a boat when he first arrived here.

Tired of my incessant whining about the rising costs of wings and what I perceived as their shrinking size, he once plopped a plate in front of  me at the bar on a Wednesday evening that contained the largest Buffalo style wing that I’ve ever seen – a Buffalo turkey wing he cooked up to shut me up.

I’ve talked with many people hereabouts who dealt with Choo Choo over the years and never heard a harsh word about the man, just the opposite. There are many island residents, and I’m sure others elsewhere, who he reached out to with a helping hand when they needed it. He had a wonderful sense of humor, a kind heart, and an outgoing personality.

His nickname ”Choo Choo” had nothing to do with trains but was a result of his Italian heritage. He told me that when he was born a grandmother arrived from Italy to stay with the family to help care for the new-born tot. She spoke no English and because of his small birth size she exclaimed that he was “cucciolo” an affectionate Italian term for a small baby. It stuck, became anglicized, and he carried the moniker  “Choo Choo” thereafter.

He will be missed but not forgotten.


 More Things I Wish I’d Said: “Most rock journalism consists of people who can’t write interviewing people who can’t speak for people who can’t read.” – Frank Zappa


All Quiet On The Mid-Eastern Front: We rarely read or hear about acts of terrorism or impending war in the Middle East these days thanks to President Trump’s foreign policy in those parts. His administration has managed to wipe out the ISIS caliphate, move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, convince two more Arab countries to recognize Israel, kill two of the world’s most vicious terrorist leaders, further isolate Iran, and significantly reduce U.S. troop presence in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Thanks to President Trump the Middle East is more peaceful than our own middle west, where the Democrat outlaws in Antifa and BLM are besieging cities like Minneapolis, Chicago, and Kenosha


Sneeze Or Treat: I would anticipate Halloween being the biggest holiday of the year during the Covid-19 virus pandemic since everybody’s already wearing masks. With the exception of the one year we lived in a third-floor condominium while renovating our house, ever since we’ve lived here we’ve had an avalanche of kids come to our door trick-or-treating. We always look forward to the creativity they put into their costumes and the ingenious yard decorations in our neighborhood. Costumes range from incredibly clever homemade gear to simple masks and face paint. One thing we could always count on was the politeness of the kids, a testimony to good parenting hereabouts. Does anybody have any idea what to expect this time around? If I were a kid this would be the year I’d go as the grim reaper.


Debate About The Debate: At the presidential debate, Chris Wallace demanded that the President denounce the Proud Boys, but didn’t demand that Biden denounce BLM or Antifa, although it’s those two groups that have been burning down cities and shooting cops while being financed by major Democratic donors.

The mission of the Proud Boys, on the other hand, is to protect the rights and property of law-abiding citizens.  It’s also worth noting that although the left, including the Southern Poverty Law Center, a radical leftist organization, has labeled the Proud Boys white supremacists. A large number of their members are Mexicans and blacks. I read that their leader is a black of Cuban descent.


Drinking, Dining & Dancing: Wing Wednesdays have returned to the 12 South 2nd Street PJD’s Beer & Wine Garden.  The Wednesday evening tradition began a number of years ago at the late Richard “Choo Choo” Germano’s Crab Trap on the other end of North 2nd Street. Pajamadave Voorhees, his late mom Carol Voorhees, Zan Maddox,  Bob Ramshaw, me, and a few others would meet there on Wednesday evenings to take advantage of the Crab Trap’s happy hour beer and wing prices. When Choo Choo stopped serving wings and Pajamadave opened his beer and wine garden we moved the Wednesday evening affair there, with Dave and I taking turns buying Publix wings and the South 14th Street’s Island BBQ’s fried chicken gizzards and livers to feed the Wednesday gathering. The virus pandemic brought that to a halt until PJD’s obtained a food license and the pajama-clad-bearded oddball decided to make his own. Starting this Wednesday evening wings will be on the menu with Dave serving up two kinds — mild and spicy for a buck a wing, a bargain hereabouts. Drop by Wednesday evening and bring a few paper towels as these flappers are wet and messy. The Fletcher Avenue Surf rolled out a new menu and says it is now  open for dine-in and carry-out Sunday-Thursday 11am-9pm, Friday & Saturday 11am-10pm. They have live music on the deck Wednesday-Saturday evenings and Karaoke every Tuesday beginning October 13th from 5pm-8pm. Check ‘em out online at The Surf Happy Hour is Monday-Friday 3-6 pm for half off well drinks, wine, and drafts.



Melodie Winston - 14. Oct, 2020 -

If the News Leader employed you Dave, I might start reading it. Thank you for your brilliant eye-opening blogs.

Dave Lott - 12. Oct, 2020 -

The devil is always in the details. The summary of the Common Sense plan appears to be all wine and roses, but I have great concerns about some of the underlying financial assumptions. $30 million annually in taxable revenues to the City seems like major development (retail and lodging/housing) along the city-owned property – a concept that has been soundly rejected by the citizens for the last 40+ years. Unless the boat slips are moved completely to the north, the dredging expenses that are the major source of the marina debt prior to the Hurricane Matthew damage will continue. This supposedly was the justification for the purchase of the Venturo property. The City tried this back in the early 2000s but the owner was not interested in selling so the project was abandoned as gaining the riparian rights was crucial. Of course, since then new questions have arisen about those rights as well as the movement/abandonment of the river channel. If this was a simple problem, it would have been solved a long time ago.
Certainly worth exploring, but if Common Sense’s “solution” is going to involve major development on the city property (as proposed by Bob Allison a couple of years ago), I suspect there will be major opposition.

Donald (expletive deleted) Trump - 11. Oct, 2020 -

Just a reminder that the Regeneron anti-body cocktail that I got and may have saved my life was developed with the help of embryonic stem cells. Sure, I’m trying to block their usage, but that’s just for you peasants. As for me, I would eat babies if it would help my hair grow back!

Nomadi Costieri - 11. Oct, 2020 -

What a puerile post. Regeneron Pharmaceuticals REGN-COV2 does not employ human stem cells. Anyone with a computer (and a brain) can go to the Regeneron website and learn what this company does.

Tammy Brandl - 16. Oct, 2020 -

When we start using facts instead of fear to educate ourselves we will come to sound decision making.

What’s False
NO human embryonic stem cells or recently harvested fetal tissues were used in the development of REGN-COV2, according to the manufacturer.

Your statement is in FACT completely false and you’re either the root of the problem or a complete moron. It’s takes literally seconds to complete a search on the internet to completely debunk your gaslighting tactics. Just stop!

John Goshco - 11. Oct, 2020 -

Build a high seawall.
Fill in with dirt.
Top off with grass.

norma M storms - 10. Oct, 2020 -

Thanks for the info about the new Boat House.
Also, thanks for giving the Surf a plug. The new menu
offers a variety of good food–thanks to Chef Daniel.

Larry Cook - 10. Oct, 2020 -

Urgent need to get rid of the City Manager. He is driven to spend with no plan with an overall budget. He let this Simmons Road Park proceed just like the Marina.

Richard Norman Kurpiers - 10. Oct, 2020 -

“The entire physical plant and surrounding public land west of the railroad must be granted to the enterprise…”

Huh? The last time I checked the dictionary, granted=give. Your research also mentions that private control for the development of the marina and surrounding land was tried once before and failed miserably. So what was that again about the definition of insanity? There is a long list of municipal-owned marinas throughout the country that are successful in terms of generating revenue for the respective stakeholders. How about we start there for modeling the future of the downtown marina.

William Shaffer - 09. Oct, 2020 -

Solid ideas which enlightened politicians ought to recognize and adopt as their own.

Larry Thornberry - 09. Oct, 2020 -

Another fine column, Dave, tearing more strips off the city hall crowd. In their list of favorite things I’m sure a visit from you comes in right below a letter from the IRS.

Funny item about that Michigan city clerk who called the fuzz on the local guy’s droll, front-yard comment on mail-in ballots. Leftists long ago lost their own sense of humor and have since been trying to criminalize it in others. It’s one of the many dreary things about the Left.

Speaking of the Left, Anonymous nails it again. From what I see and read from and about the campus, the longer universities stay closed the safer the republic is.

Keep making a pain of yourself in the name of sanity.

chuck hall - 09. Oct, 2020 -

thanks Dave;

All Quiet On The Mid-Eastern Front:

There ae plenty of Vets that have complained for decades about how America wages war and sends young men off to die.
I hope these folk take this current administrations efforts to end this practice of being world police.

I think it speaks volumes about attempting to keep our army out of others business.
It is so complicated, yet I see this as a good step.

Stephen Hall - 09. Oct, 2020 -

All hands on deck! Let this revolution begin!

Dean Abrassart - 09. Oct, 2020 -

Dave, perhaps one of your best blogs yet. Even though the Marina is considered a COFB issue it is really a County and even perhaps State issue as it pertains to the ecologic and economic for all above. We need to involve local businesses and at a minimum Westrock and Rayonier in on this effort. Your column outlines the issue and potential process well. We now need a strong team with a strong Private Partner to develop a sustainable project. Common Sense FB have driven awareness we now need to expand its reach. Good job!!

Neil Borum - 09. Oct, 2020 -

Hope the incoming FBCC listens and acts.
It would be very refreshing.