This is one of those stories with a sad beginning and a happy ending.
In the last two years, two major employers on Amelia Island had sought bankruptcy protection. It was a sad realization that the Smurfit-Stone Corp. or Amelia Island Plantation Co. might not be successful in reorganizing through the bankruptcy courts. Both carried burdensome debts.
Today, the outcome is happy, blissful. Both companies and their respective properties have emerged revitalized. They are cornerstones to our economic prosperity here — one on the north end of the island, the other on the south.
The townspeople, the business community, the county, can now rejoice. While Smurfit has pulled through pretty much intact, the Amelia Island Plantation Co. has been revamped with new leadership — Omni Hotels & Resorts. As partly a celebration, and partly an introduction, an event will take place on Nov. 10 whereby island residents can meet and hear from their new neighbors from Omni. A forum on the future and the economic impact of the Plantation will feature the new managing director of the resort, Tim Digby.
The presentation and ensuing discussion will also include Bob Bolan, president of the Amelia Island Plantation Community Association, and Vince Villani, president of the Amelia Island Club. Digby, Bolan and Villani will have short opening remarks before fielding questions from a panel and the audience.
The Plantation is not only a large employer (with 1,000 employees) here. With an assessed property value of $1.5 billion, it generates a significant portion of the county’s taxes. In addition, through 2,100 residences (houses and condominiums), there is financial support and involvement with local arts, charities and retail businesses. And tourists staying at the Plantation’s hotel and rental properties also provide a irreplaceable boost to our area’s economy.
The Omni has announced plans to inject some $40 million into improvements at the Plantation. With its inception in the early 1970s, the Plantation has become a mature, established property — in need of regular maintenance and upkeep. Some of this reportedly was not done in recent months, due to the financial instability of the resort.
The improvements also include an expansion of the existing Amelia Inn and a conversion into a prestigious Omni Hotel. Along with the Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island as well as other major hotel groups, the Omni will create another appealing amenity.
In recognition of the Plantation’s economic impact on the county as well as Fernandina Beach, a hand-chosen panel will also submit questions as part of the forum. The panel will include new county commissioner Steve Kelley, Mayor Susan Steger, and Gil Langley of the Amelia Island Tourist Development Council. Those in the audience may also ask questions.
The event will be held November 10, 2010 from 7 to 8:30 pm at the community room at the Fernandina Beach Police Station on Lime Street. It is being sponsored by the Amelia Island Association, a citizens’ group that supports effective government and a high quality of life (the group’s website is AmeliaIslandAssociation.com).
The story has ended the way we all wished. The Plantation’s direction and decisions will have near-term and long-range impacts on the city, the county, and businesses here.
To have lost the economic clout of the Plantation — and the Smurfit-Stone mill — would have created a bookend-style disruption for the island.
But the sad possibilities have given way — to happy times, again.