Editor’s note: Contributing columnist, Steve Nicklas, expresses his views and insight on various topics in Marketplace.
— Steve’s Marketplace —
A virulent virus and restrictive regulations have joined forces to pummel small businesses – in a devastating tag team.
We can’t do much about the virus. We can do a lot about the punitive rules, especially local ones. At a pivotal and vulnerable time, small businesses should be supported, not rebuked. This is hardly the time for burdensome government lockdowns, restrictions and overreach.
In our area, this overreach has been the most prevalent inside Fernandina Beach. Business owners within the city regularly complain under their breath about inordinate fees, stifling building codes and cockamamie sign ordinances. However, they fear that speaking out will make them a target.
For instance, three restaurants/bars have inquired with the city about building second-floor or rooftop patios. All have met substantial resistance, according to firsthand reports, while additions like these are the rage elsewhere. Four rooftop bars adorn downtown Jacksonville, and trendy Nashville is full of them. What’s nicer than sitting up high to see the downtown or the water?
The former Shakespeare’s Kitchen restaurant on Centre Street had a rooftop patio, and both Salty Pelican and Salt Life have idyllic second-floor levels. Other restaurants and bars should be not only allowed to follow their examples, but encouraged.
Instead, city building officials have caused hardships with stringent, yet arbitrary decisions. One downtown business with such plans has since closed, partly due to the virus. However, a rooftop deck would have differentiated the boutique-style restaurant. It never came to be.
In many ways, over-zealous building officials can put a business out of business before it even opens. And it is reported that the city’s building codes are outdated, complex and often open to interpretation – especially for small businesses.
Meanwhile, a monstrous new hotel is permitted on Atlantic Avenue, so big that it infringes on the sidewalk. The hotel could not be more overbearing and out of place, with its proximity to Fort Clinch and Main Beach. Someone at the city approved and monitored this monstrosity, an obvious sell-out for the property taxes it will generate.
All the while, housing subdivisions regularly violate tree ordinances and building codes with little ramifications. While city building officials look the other way. Not for small businesses, however. They are often scrutinized, criticized, hassled.
For one thing, turnover in the city building department has been higher than the summer temperatures here. There have been four building supervisors in recent years, hardly a sign of continuity. And let’s not ever forget, the city government is in the business of providing municipal services, not extracting fees and tax revenues for frivolous, city-sponsored projects.
Of course, we have many successful small businesses here. But getting open is a difficult part. City officials should welcome new businesses as well as the additions/improvements of existing businesses. That mindset should have been implemented yesterday.
We need small businesses to thrive here. And we need more of them. They drive the downtown economy. We all enjoy the restaurants/bars, the coffee shops, the stores. After all, these business owners are investing private money into our wonderful town.
Instead of regressive codes, let’s make them progressive. And let our small businesses flourish like the shrimp in our sea, or the sea turtles on our beaches.
Steve Nicklas is a financial adviser with a regional brokerage firm who lives and works on Amelia Island. He is also an award-winning columnist. His columns also regularly appear in weekly newspapers in North Florida and in South Georgia, and on his website at SteveNicklasMarketplace.com. He has published a book, All About Money, of his favorite columns from the past 20 years. The book is available at local stores and on Amazon. He can be reached at 904-753-0236 or at [email protected]