Thursday, August 25, 2011

Downtown Fernandina Beach Project

News from The Newsleader about Fernandina Beach

$6 million loan for Forward Fernandina ~~ 'Now is the time for city to invest'

By Angela Daughtry, News-Leader

After hearing residents speak out both in favor and against a strategic redevelopment plan, Fernandina Beach Commissioners unanimously approved the plan with no discussion Tuesday.

Later, in comments at the end of the meeting, City Manager Michael Czymbor would call it historic, Commissioner Jeffrey Bunch would compare it to President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal almost 80 years ago and other commissioners would hail the plan as being appropriate despite hard times.

The plan, called Forward Fernandina, will finance improvements to the waterfront and downtown, including moving the library to Centre Street and, later on, renovating the post office.

The first phase of the plan, scheduled over three years, will cost $6 million.

The plan will be financed by a revenue bond loan, and will most likely be repaid by a fee on city residents' electric bills.

Resident Andy Curtin said he was "very disturbed that this is going forward" and called the plan "a bunch of projects that are of questionable value and questionable need." He also noted the city had other obligations such as beach renourishment and paying off a lawsuit with McGill Aviation.

"Where is that money going to come from?" he asked. "It's ridiculous, it has to stop."

Dee Torre, vice president of Friends of the Library in Fernandina Beach, urged the plan be approved and presented a petition with more than 1,100 signatures calling for a new library.

"Now is the time for the city to invest (in the strategic plan)," said Max Wohlfarth, president of the Historic Fernandina Business Association whose family owns the Crab Trap restaurant at North Second and Alachua streets and Amelia Dream Cars on South Eighth Street. "I don't think we can afford not to fix the waterfront."

The plan's first phase includes opening Alachua Street to vehicular traffic across the railroad track, reconstruction of Front Street and improving its infrastructure and construction of a park on the Amelia River waterfront,

Czymbor said the city's annual debt would be around $500,000 under the 20-year loan plan. City residents might pay up to $2 per $100 on their electric bills to repay the loan.

Improvements scheduled in the first phase would be completed by 2015. The city has set aside $350,000 in its proposed 2011-12 budget to stabilize the downtown post office's exterior. Renovation is scheduled later in the Forward Fernandina plan, but funds have not been secured for that purpose yet.

The resolution calls for quarterly reports from the city manager on the status of the plan. Adam Kaufman, president of the Amelia Island Fernandina Restoration Foundation, which pushed the plan, has promised that his group will continue to monitor the city's implementation of the plan.

Vice Mayor Tim Poynter said at the end of the meeting that commissioners "have the community's best interest at heart," and that residents should "embrace the opportunities that these times represent."

"I don't care what's happening in the nation as a whole, I care about what's happening here," said Bunch. "I want to move forward, and that's what I plan to do."

"I request that we move forward with incredible care," said Steger. "People are watching us and we should use tax dollars wisely."

The Forward Fernandina effort began earlier this year with public meetings and coordination with commissioners and city staff spearheaded by the Amelia Island Fernandina Restoration Foundation.

John Holbrook - Realtor Amelia Island, Fernandina Beach & Yulee, FloridaCell: 904-415-0171 Email: Web:

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