EDITOR’S NOTE: Contributing columnist, Steve Nicklas, expresses his views and insight on various topics in Marketplace column.
The ubiquitous azaleas are starting to bloom — a surefire sign that spring has come to Nassau County, Florida.
But something else is happening here. In the air, there is a sweet fragrance of economic activity.
The housing market appears to be recovering, retail sales are somewhere between solid and spectacular, and corporate activity is robust. That adds up to a profitable formula.
Real estate prices reportedly increased on Amelia Island by 5 percent last year (depending on how you measure it). Anything but a decline is good after five rough years. So far this year, it appears home prices are rising nicely.
In one neighborhood, two comparable houses sold recently for $280,000. A third one went on the market at around $320,000. It reportedly sold within about 10 days — at just under the listing price.
The inventory of homes for sale is one-third of what it was at the trough of the real estate decline. Therefore, there are fewer homes with hungrier buyers. Those buyers searching for “steals” are going away empty-handed.
At one shop in downtown Fernandina Beach, sales are brisk. More expensive merchandise is being bought at a feverish clip, despite a normally slow period in January and February. (Several businesses like Lowe’s and Ross in Yulee have even displayed “help wanted” signs.)
Some of the economic activity is likely being driven by major conventions at the Ritz-Carlton hotel here. While the Omni Resort at Amelia Island Plantation has been undergoing renovations, the Ritz continues to book premier events and corporate meetings.
Once completed, however, the Omni Resort is reportedly close to being booked for the foreseeable future. There is plenty of anticipation surrounding the Omni’s $90 million investment into the amenities at the Plantation — most notably, a grander Amelia Inn.
Just off the island, Rayonier has received most of the approvals from county commissioners to proceed with the Terra Pointe project in Yulee. The project is reportedly the largest commercial endeavor in the southeastern U.S., and will include a mixed-use format of retail, commercial and residential.
Although it is a long-term project of some 30 or 40 years, Terra Pointe will add substantially to the corporate environment here — as well as bring in thousands of more homes. The triangular-shaped site stretches from State Highway A1A to the Georgia border, framed by U.S. 17 on the east and Interstate 95 on the west.
Meanwhile, a new slate of city commissioners has taken steps to encourage business activity in downtown Fernandina Beach. Some of the rigors of obtaining permits have been simplified, and new City Manager Joe Gerrity has even showed up in person at several businesses that have inquired about issues.
In addition, an outdoor basketball tournament has been approved for April along the waterfront, and other longer-standing activities are being embraced and even expanded. It all feeds into economic activity — which becomes economic vitality.