Another Costly Study? Amelia River Waterfront Plan

Same old movie with a recurring theme: “How Can We Improve the Downtown Waterfront?”

Fernandina’s Same Old Movie Playing Again

Editor’s note: Contributing columnist, Steve Nicklas, expresses his views and insight on various topics in Marketplace column.


We all have favorite movies that we’ve seen many times.

For the older generation, it might be “Gone with the Wind” or “Casablanca.” For middle-age adults, there is “The Godfather.” For millennials, maybe “Star Wars.”

For another subset of people, specifically those living in Fernandina Beach, it’s been the same old movie with a recurring theme: “How Can We Improve the Downtown Waterfront?”

Residents here have seen this movie before. And it always has a downbeat ending. Little is ever done by city officials. Not since the existing waterfront facility was constructed more than 40 years ago.

And it’s not for a lack of trying, or envisioning, or spending on futuristic plans. These have all been done. To little avail — besides a few benches, boat slips engulfed in silt, and a welcome center that no one uses.

So now we have the latest attempt. Another consultant doing another study, and eventually coming back with recommendations. Then it’ll be up to city commissioners to act on them. Or not.

You might recall the city initiating similar studies in recent years. By now, all the studies published on the waterfront could fill a room at the new city library. We do not need another. Especially when a viable plan is sitting right before us, in living color, on the social media site Facebook.

There, the Amelia River Waterfront Park concept is appealing, realistic and workable. It even has nearly 1,000 “likes” on its designated Facebook page (see below). So what’s not to like about it?

Posted by Amelia River Waterfront Park on Friday, March 28, 2014

Local architect Randy Rice has been one of the masterminds behind this innovative plan. The plan was derived in 2013 when yet another proposal for the waterfront failed. Rice, along with several contractors and concerned citizens, came together in a partnership to promote their vision to city officials. (It was pretty much ignored, however.)

Before the city embarks on another study, Rice feels his plan is worth another look. The plan is centered around a park, consisting of a stage, a lawn accommodating 400 people, a fountain decorated with the eight flags that have flown over Fernandina Beach, and ample parking.

“A park would drop a rock right along riverfront,” Rice says, “and the ripple effect of this is re-powering the entire waterfront so it becomes active again.”

Another Costly Study?

Meanwhile, city officials are considering spending $300,000 or more for a new study. Why not save that money and act on Rice’s plan? And it’s something they could move on quickly, efficiently, cheaply. “You don’t have to spend a bunch of money to get a park — today,” Rice says.

As part of Rice’s plan, some of the parking spaces along the waterfront would be moved to the unimproved lot next to City Hall. Within the voluminous reports written by previous architects and planners, many question using prime waterfront property for parking.

With fewer parking spots on the river, there would be “more open, free-flowing space,” Rice says. The open space would be augmented by palm trees, a veteran’s memorial, and other historical depictions of Fernandina Beach. And there would be no impact on the railroad tracks, a potential source of friction.

A similar plan to Rice’s had received the blessing of city officials — until Hurricane Matthew hammered downtown. Several new commissioners called for a delay in those plans, and opting to go for a fresh, new study.

However, Rice and others feel a new study, a new vision, is unwarranted. While the new study would encompass the entire waterfront, Rice endorses a smaller step for now — to pursue the popular idea of constructing a park.

Rice feels that a nominal investment in his park concept would provide immediate results, which residents and tourists alike could enjoy. In contrast, you cannot get much enjoyment out of another dictionary-size study.

Here is yet another proposal: Take the money the city would spend on another waterfront study, reduce the allotted funds (like $2 million of taxpayer money) for the airport terminal, and put it toward a waterfront park.

If city officials want to see the possibilities, they should go to the Facebook page for the Amelia River Waterfront Park. And it doesn’t cost anything to look.

Steve Nicklas
Steve Nicklas
Steve Nicklas is a financial advisor and a chartered retirement planning counselor with a major U.S. firm, who lives and works on Amelia Island. His financial columns also appear in several newspapers in North Florida and in South Georgia. He has published a book of his favorite columns from the last 20 years, “All About Money.” The paperback book is available at local bookstores and on Amazon. He can be reached at 904-753-0236 or at [email protected]