EDITOR’S NOTE: Contributing Columnist, Steve Nicklas, expresses his views and insights on various topics in Marketplace column.
A bright idea to replace the charming tree lights in downtown Fernandina Beach with ground lighting has left residents and businesses in the dark.
Twinkling tree lights have been a fixture in the historic district for several decades. The decision to remove them and place small ground lights at the base of the trees has cast a shadow of questions.
The intent of city officials was to save money. This is a noble initiative — although you wonder how much the costs of the tree lights impacted the city’s budget. Either way, a $40,000 contract was given to a local company to install the ground lights.
City officials gloated that the new form of lighting would pay for itself in five years — with the apparent cost savings. However, the true cost of the project is being felt by businesses along Centre Street.
Instead of a bright, cheerful downtown district, the area is now murky and shadowy. This should be addressed immediately by the city commissioners who agreed to do this.
The downtown area needs to be bright and cheerful and fun at night. Local businesses are reaching out in innovative ways to attract tourists and residents to the downtown area — both day and night.
The “Sounds on Centre” street concerts are an example of these efforts, as are the various festivals and parades and promotions. The downtown district is a jewel, a beacon of Amelia Island. And jewels and beacons are supposed to be showy and eye-catching.
The street light decision comes at a time when other issues are pre-occupying city officials. For one, questions are arising over the city marina’s operations. The private company contracted to run the city marina wants to pay less rent. Westrec officials contend the marina is generating lower revenues then anticipated because the city has not fulfilled its obligation over dredging.
In addition, a suffocating process over opening or improving businesses permeates within the city. The time frame to secure a building permit — and then complete construction — can take six months to three years.
For instance, it took nearly three years for the old Bank of America building to be converted into a new Pepper’s restaurant and general store. The permitting, the approvals, the regulations within the city are too laborious for new businesses.
There have been reported delays in the renovations at Slider’s Seaside Inn. Initially, city officials balked at parking space when the renovations were proposed. Since then, unexpected delays forced the popular restaurant to miss most of the busy spring break season.
Now, with summer in full swing, a new second-floor deck overlooking the beach is still under construction. Hopefully city officials will become accommodative to business improvements such as these — and embrace them instead of deterring them.
City officials are punishing the entrepreneurial spirit with costly regulations and delays. For instance, the haggling over the waterfront project by Lane Development Co. from Atlanta caused that project to sink amid escalating costs and a softening real estate market.
New and improved businesses brighten our area, provide jobs, and strengthen our local economy. City officials should let them shine.
(Steve Nicklas is a financial advisor with a major Wall Street firm who lives on Amelia Island. He can be reached at 904-753-0236 or send eMail to firstname.lastname@example.org.)