NEWSENSE

Amelia Island's AIRPORT Soars

… While its marina sinks

Posted

A gentleman from St. Simons Island was complaining on Facebook recently about the lack of progress repairing the damage to Fernandina Beach’s downtown marina caused by Hurricane Matthew last October.

Here’s what he wrote:

“I’m not sure who the commissioners there are and I know they have a thankless job. But those of us from St. Simons (I’m sure other areas too) who enjoy taking our boats down to your marina for a day of shopping, dining or even just spending a weekend at the Ritz really hope the docks will get repaired there soon.

“Myself and many of my boating friends have been unable to reserve dock space due to storm damage from a year ago.

“Please let your village leaders know those of us from other islands can’t spend money on your island.”

Well, sir, I’m sure you’ll be delighted to learn that, despite the fact that the marina is still a mess of busted docks, inoperable gas pumps and boats sitting in mud, we’ll soon have a new airport terminal, which almost looks like an airplane, except it won’t have a nose or a tail. How about that? Excited?

Thank our city commission for voting 3-2 on July 18 to spend $4.39 million to construct a new airplane terminal for all those folks with airplanes. Since Amelia Island doesn’t have commercial air traffic, privately owned and corporate aircraft are the only ones flying in and out of here. I imagine you’re wetting yourself in anticipation.

I conducted an informal poll and nobody on my street owns an airplane and none of my pals who share barstools by me at PJD’s Beer & Wine Garden has one, either. However, many of my neighbors and drinking buddies own boats. Further investigation also reveals the majority of folks who do own airplanes around here live in the luxurious gated communities on the island’s south end around the Ritz-Carlton and Amelia Island Plantation resorts, which aren’t in Fernandina Beach city limits, and therefore don’t pay city taxes.

City Manager Dale Martin says he expects revenue from an annual car auction and racecar event at the airport will help fund the new terminal. The car race is not quite the Indianapolis 500, but still, racers will drive in endless circles and attendees will drink large quantities of beer, which is the only thing about car racing that makes any sense.

People don’t watch auto racing, they only listen to it, because there’s actually nothing to see. It’s just a loud noise fading in and out, with an occasional crash.

Many years ago, an editor sent me to New York to cover the Watkins Glen Grand Prix and, after settling into my press box seat, all I could see were blurs zipping past on the piece of racetrack that was actually visible from the press box. There were other sports writers to talk to, and lots of free booze and food, but absolutely nothing to see, just blurs whizzing past.

I decided to wander the infield and see what the spectators were up to. What they were up to I can’t describe here in detail. Watkins Glen is near Cornell University. When I covered this race in 1968, it was the era of “free love” and that’s exactly what the spectators—students whose parents thought they were in the library—were up to. I’m not sure any of them were even aware there was a race going on. After the whole thing was over, and British driver Jackie Stewart was given the winner’s trophy, the drunken, half-naked crowd celebrated by burning down the outhouses, throwing up and passing out.

But back to Fernandina Beach’s airport terminal and marina issue.

Here’s our airport deal. The city commission is determined to have a Build-it-to-look-like-an-airplane terminal to resemble a Corsair F4U, a plane that flew out of Fernandina airport during World War II, but we’ll have to spot them a nose and a tail.

A little more than two weeks ago, the commission voted to accept a $4.39 million “It’ll-look-almost-like-an-airplane” bid, close to $2 million more than the $2.6 million first budgeted. One bid came in at more than $7 million. However, the tail section piece on that one would’ve cost between $400,000 and $1.1 million, and they decided that was too much money for a piece of tail. No nose section, either—also too costly.

So we’ll have an airport terminal that looks like a set of Corsair F4U wings for all the folks who own airplanes to enjoy, while we boaters have a marina that resembles the Titanic.
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Scott is a former newspaper reporter and retired corporate and agency public relations professional. He blogs at davescottblog.com.

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Hemingway

David Scott is spot on. As a resident and FB city taxpayer I'm amazed at how dysfunctional the city government is regarding both issues. Pump millions in to an air terminal that few utilize but neglect the downtown waterfront including the marina area that is the epicenter for locals and tourists.

Barnum and Bailey has closed up shop. But, here on Amelia Island, the "circus" continues Thursday, August 3|Report this

AnglersMark

I call it "something stinky in Fernandinky". The City Manager and commissioners have a plan for the waterfront and it doesn't include boaters, shrimpers, crabbers or anglers. What it does include is a beautiful grassy park, a bandshell, a fountain (like there isn't a water feature due west). Does downtown Fernandina really need to be drawing even more people to the area with a bandshell when they have a huge central park that would suffice? Does Downtown Fernandina really need yet another park? There's a boardwalk, cabana's and seating area to the south of the boat ramp that is rarely used. When the bandshell, park and fountain (gag) are installed, where will the visitors park? The City is just about ready to instill Paid Parking at the waterfront. That's going to kill the Charter boat operators who have guests parking during their trips. By not addressing the marina issues, those of us Charter captains that trailer our boats are being squeezed out. What a shame. Rumor has it that the Marina Manager is considering a $100/month "drop off/pick up" fee for trailered boats (like mine). I won't pay it. I'll pick up elsewhere. Downtown business's will lose out on those customers who get off the boat and shop and dine. Instead of "something stinky" maybe it should be called, "the killing of an industry". But they'll have a beautiful park that folks can visit at sundown. Thursday, August 3|Report this

Frank1

Having attended several city commission, planning board and other FB meetings I appreciate the challenges the board has, managing growth and pending issues. I also appreciate the city manager's process for prioritizing city-support ($$) initiatives. The one point he makes regarding the port is that it is not a profitable operation, therefore not high on the priority list to fix, repair and even expand. I beg to differ. The Fernandina Beach "brand" is based on its Old Florida charm. It's pearls are its clean beaches and its diamond is the historical downtown leading to what was once a working port. That port/marina are a huge part of the village's attraction. To have a marina with no boats in it (but mud & muck, instead) is pretty weird and a bit of buzz kill to both visitors and residents alike. I don't see how a cost/profit analysis fits regarding the port. It is a big part of attracting people who will spend money at restaurants and shopping. It should be invested in - if merely to get it back up and running as an operating marina. Friday, August 4|Report this

spasto1960

Well written David! I also like your gratuitous plug for PJD...Even though I no longer live on the island I still frequent it at least once a month. The airport has always been a topic of financial conversation much as the City Golf Course which also got a face lift at the expense of a lot of trees. The marina is what our town is known for and was obviously built as the port of entry in Old Towne for many founding businessmen and of course pirates! Hopefully, somebody listens to the screams of the boating community. The Marina has been an eyesore for way too long and is most definitely seen by many more travelers than the airport! Thanks for the story! Bill Hughes Friday, August 4|Report this