EDITOR’S NOTE: Contributing columnist, Steve Nicklas, expresses his views and insight on various topics in Marketplace column.
Under sunny skies, with 70-degree temperatures, community leaders and business owners came together at the Fernandina Beach Golf Course one morning last week.
The cause was not another charity golf tournament, however. It was instead an event that could cast a positive light on downtown Fernandina Beach for many years.
Nearly 50 people gathered to hear a presentation on the ambitious Florida Main Street Program. The Main Street organization fosters economic development and revitalization in historic downtowns in Florida and around the U.S.
Since its inception in 1985, the program has spurred on $2.3 billion of private and public investment into Main Street communities in Florida. It has also helped create 24,000 jobs, 700 businesses and 15,000 building projects in these locations.
In her presentation, Main Street coordinator Ronni Wood called the Main Street principles some of the “most powerful economic development tools” available for communities. These tools have been sharpened over many years, in many locations.
“Main Street is about economic development,” Wood said. “Period. Period. Period.”
Recipe For Prosperity?
This may be the missing ingredient in Fernandina Beach’s recipe for prosperity. The program has helped some 40 cities and towns (as big as St. Petersburg and as small as Apalachicola) around the state generate a renewed spark, addressing economic weaknesses like vacant storefronts, empty buildings and decaying infrastructure.
While the already attractive Fernandina Beach has a head start on most towns in the Main Street program, it also has a unique shortcoming — severe competition from nearby. The rampant growth of major stores and restaurants in Yulee inevitably compete with downtown businesses (as do those on the south end of Amelia Island).
Main Street has a unique formula for economic vitality. A full-time Main Street manager acts as a coordinator and ambassador of downtown, working with local businesses and residents and community groups. Also, volunteer boards are formed for various Main Street roles.
Meanwhile, Main Street provides proven technical resources from its state offices, likes teams of architects and urban planners. This is because the downtown sector of a city is “the economic engine that drives the rest of the community,” according to Wood.
In Nassau County, the economic focus in future years will be on the expansive Rayonier projects of Terra Point in Yulee and the Crawford Diamond on the west side. These will continuously tug at downtown’s appeal and demand, as will the plush Omni and Ritz-Carlton resorts on the south end.
A town must first be accepted into the Main Street program. Local business leaders will reportedly try to complete an application by the upcoming deadline. If chosen, Fernandina Beach could promote itself as a prestigious “Main Street city” and receive $10,000 in start-up funds from the state organization.
Windows of Opportunity Downtown
“You have a beautiful downtown,” Wood told those in attendance. “A lot of communities would kill for a downtown like Fernandina Beach has.”
However, there are “windows of opportunity here,” Wood said, like the old post office and unfinished waterfront and vacant buildings. And these windows should be opened. To let the sun shine in.
Learn About Investing, Free Class
Local financial advisor and columnist Steve Nicklas is offering his long-running class, “Investing in Today’s Financial Markets,” on Amelia Island this summer.
Nicklas has been teaching the continuing-education classes since 2001 at Florida State College in Yulee. Hundreds of local people have taken the class since its inception.
The four-part class will be offered on Tuesdays from 6:30 to 8 p.m. beginning July 7, 2015. The class schedule will be: July 7, Investing in Stocks; July 14, Investing in Bonds; July 21, Investing in Mutual Funds, IRAs and 401ks; and July 28, Developing a Financial Plan.
The sessions will be held at the Executive Park conference room, 1890 South 14th Street, in Fernandina Beach. The class is complimentary, although pre-registration is requested at 904-380-2376.