At a Zoom meeting held to receive public feedback about the latest plans to develop the city’s Amelia River waterfront, residents said they want to maintain the blue-collar nature and history of the waterfront, keep the current businesses at the Fernandina Harbor Marina, and ensure the area’s appeal to locals as well as tourists.
The project has three components: resiliency work to protect the area from flooding and erosion, redesigning the layout of Front Street, and a new park that stretches from the south end of the marina north past the docks.
The park is being designed by Marquis Latimer + Halback. The firm hosted the Zoom meeting on Monday, Oct. 12. About 20 people watched the meeting, although not everyone talked to Elijah George, Jeremy Marquis and Fremont Latimer.
The firm presented park plans to the Fernandina Beach City Commission last month.
The southern section of the park, as initially proposed, would be an event lawn, a greenspace that opens into a sculpted, earthen berm. A river walk ascends a mound to an elevated overlook plaza with an outlook structure for even higher, more dramatic views of the river. A monument to the shrimping industry would be built at the overlook, adjacent to the water. This plaza also provides additional seating for the overall lawn, which is oriented for a band shell facing the river to keep music and sound from the band shell moving northwest, toward the river and away from the neighborhoods and commercial center of town. The band shell also has restrooms incorporated on the back portion of the stage. Other elements to the south event lawn include pétanque courts, an informal play area for children with boulders and wooden elements, and two potential retail sites for waterfront-themed businesses.
The northern part of the park would create a greenspace to experience the Amelia River while reflecting the unique character of Fernandina Beach, Marquis said. A new brick intersection and drop-off area visually connects to downtown while also providing an area for users of the marina, tours and other visitors to have convenient loading and unloading. In front of the intersection is an expanded veterans monument, which elevates the current monument into a new ADA-accessible plaza. Radial pathways extend from the drop-off area to the wooden paths and river walk. These are designed to bring visitors to long views of the river extending north and south. Lawn panels with seating walls provide informal gathering areas with orientation toward the water, flanked with palms and trees to provide shade. The walls, veterans monument, and raised lawns are all envisioned as part of the resiliency barrier.
Atlantic Seafood Bait and Tackle is located at the marina and was the starting point of a discussion about the overall feel of the park plans. Atlantic Seafood is a wooden structure leased from the city and built over a storm water drain next to the marina’s boat ramp. Plans for the new park have two retail spaces located south of the current location of Atlantic Seafood, which could house the business.
Mike Spino participated in the Zoom meeting and said the Atlantic Seafood building is not a historic structure and “is nothing we should go out of our way to preserve.” He also called Brett’s Waterway Café, also leased from the city, “an eyesore.”
Julie Ferreira said the locals want to keep Atlantic Seafood, noting that it adds to the ambiance of a working waterfront to have a retail space that sells fish caught by local fishermen at the marina. She said the building has been featured in photography magazines.
“People want the real feel and not a new and improved feel down there,” Ferreira said.
Marquis said the park plans work with Atlantic Seafood either in its current location or moved south, and suggested a new boardwalk around the current structure. He said authentic materials would be used for the park elements, enhancing the “rustic, working waterfront” feel of the park.
Spino noted that the Port of Fernandina and the Rayonier Advanced Materials plant are still visible from the park, ensuring that industry is part of the park plans.
Tammi Kosack, who serves on the city’s Historic District Council, said the design of the park leads visitors to the veterans monument, which should not be the focal point of the area. She said the focal point should be the working waterfront, an official designation only 24 cities in Florida have received from the Florida Coastal Management Program.
“We want to see a working waterfront, not a veneer,” Kosack said, warning against becoming “a little like Clearwater, Destin and Miami.”
“The more ambitious a project is, the more we should be cautious,” Kosack said.
Concerns were also raised that the park was more adult-oriented and does not appeal to families with children. Fremont suggested using more elements such as the large antique anchor currently on display at the marina to “tell the story of Fernandina.”
An online community hub is currently taking public comments on the park plans, and will continue to do so until Oct. 18. The link to that hub can be found on the city’s website or at fernandina.mlhhub.com.