Fernandina’s Complex, Pressing Issues

The Fernandina Beach city marina, the municipal golf course, local growth, and parking are complex issues, with complicated solutions.

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


Like model students, several city commissioners are doing their homework on pressing issues.

And they are receiving exemplary grades for their work. After all, some longstanding issues here have been as difficult to solve as an equation in quantum mechanics.

Front and foremost, there is the city marina. And density, and the municipal golf course, and parking. Complex issues, with complicated solutions.

Marina Quagmire

Chip Ross, a new commissioner, carries around a detailed map of the marina. He also has a notebook of studies and proposals on this valuable amenity.

Ross has talked to enough experts and read enough reports to realize the marina’s financial outlook is sobering.

“It may break even,” Ross says, “but it is unlikely that it will ever make money.”

Such is the life of a municipal marina. However, Ross has a realistic plan for the marina to recover from hurricane damages, but it requires a little time and a lot of money.

Public/private partnerships on a few waterfront parcels or buildings would help matters. Delays in permitting and pitfalls with approvals — from the Army Corps of Engineers to the U.S. Coast Guard – have fed into this quagmire.

Fellow commissioner Len Kreger has an accurate depiction. “It’s a political fiasco,” Kreger says.

Kreger says the city has dumped $1.8 million into the marina in the past six years. Another $1.5 million has been soaked into the municipal golf course. Financially, both have struggled.

Municipal Golf Course

Kreger wonders if the city course would prosper under a private lease, like at Royal Amelia. Maybe the same arrangement be used at the marina.

Currently, the golf course is managed by a private firm. However, the city still pays the bills. The same goes for the marina. The repair and improvement bills are the hardest part.

Like the exorbitant costs for repairing only the outermost “attenuator” dock at the marina. A bid for $6.1 million looks appealing. The city must cover nearly $1 million of that bill.

It seems like $1 million is a common denominator with the marina. It’ll cost about $1 million to dredge, another $1 million or so to rearrange the interior docks if the city pursues this route, and another $1 million or more to extend the marina docks farther to the north (if approvals are granted).

Ross scoffs at suggestions for moving the marina to the west, into swifter currents, or bulk heading the silted-in area. These ideas sound appealing, but may be impractical or impossible.

Ross also doubts that outside investors would be interested in leasing or owning the city marina. Two profitable activities for marinas – dry storage and boat repairs – are not possible on the property right now.

Kreger has opted to seek re-election, hoping to buy more time to complete the marina project. He sees it as a major issue, requiring attention. The same goes for density.

Growth Too Great

Citizens protest about housing developments that exceed allowable density. Once projects are approved, too frequently a request is made for more units. This tactic has pretty much run its course, however.

Further density changes are unlikely due to public outcry. “It’s not in the cards right now,” Kreger says, “because people feel the growth is too great.”

Indeed, growth is upon us. Eight hundred units in the new Lime Street apartment project. Townhouses on the old lumber yard. New units at the old healthcare facility site on Atlantic Avenue, and around the corner, the Island Club condominiums back up on Fort Clinch.

Another 1,000 to 2,000 units (houses, condominiums, town houses, etc.) are possible within the city limits. But no more, Ross says. “We have a plan,” Ross says, “and we’re going to stick to the plan.”

The growth must be managed. That’s where proactive legwork can pay off. And where commissioners like Ross and Kreger give the city a leg up on important decisions.

“This is the most active commission in a long time,” says Kreger. “We’re going in the right direction.”

Steve Nicklas
Steve Nicklas
Steve Nicklas is a financial advisor and a chartered retirement planning counselor for a regional U.S. firm who lives on Amelia Island. He is also an award-winning columnist. His business columns also appear in several newspapers in North Florida and South Georgia, and on his personal website at SteveNicklasMarketplace.com. He has published a book of his favorite columns from the last 20 years, “All About Money.” The book is available in local stores and on Amazon. He can be reached at 904-753-0236 or at [email protected]