Vilano Beach poised to ramp up business development
Posted May 24, 2019 at 8:13 PM Updated May 24, 2019 at 8:13 PM
The first bridge that connected St. Augustine to Vilano Beach routed traffic straight through the heart of the beach town. When motorists reached the western side, they traveled along Vilano Road, dotted on either side by small mom-and-pops like Haley’s Comet motel and the Lazy Sands bar.
When a new span, the Usina Bridge, was constructed in 1995, it was built further north up the Intracoastal, bypassing the commercial district altogether.
Shortly after, a public/private association called Vilano Beach Main Street Group formed with the mission of creating a Vilano Town Center that would support residential alongside business development and bring economic vitality back to Vilano Road while encouraging walkability and density, a movement sometimes called “new urbanism.”
Between 2006 and 2008, that group succeeded in creating a new streetscape reminiscent of Vilano’s original art deco and old Florida style and began to court interest in commercial investment. The recession that followed slowed that progress somewhat, but in 2012 a long-awaited Publix grocery store opened along with new and renovated retail shops and eateries.
Now, with two hotels rising on either side of Vilano Road and other plans in the works, the community is poised to attract more tourists to the “other beach” town sometimes overshadowed by nearby St. Augustine Beach and Crescent Beach.
Currently, a Hyatt and a Holiday Inn Express are being constructed. The Hyatt, which is slated for opening in summer 2020, will encompass 120 rooms, underground parking, a rooftop bar and an independently run restaurant. The Holiday Inn, which should be completed by the end of the year, will have 50 rooms and a ground-floor space for a coffee shop and retail.
Also on the horizon is a plan for 49 townhomes on Loja Street, just off Vilano Road. The project hasn’t been formally submitted to St. Johns County officials yet but, if it moves forward, could also bring considerable more foot traffic to the Vilano Town Center.
“We’ll have 170 rooms within walking distance, plus at least 100 employees who will also want to have lunch, run errands and do other business here,” said Vivian Browning, president of Vilano Beach Main Street in a recent interview with The Record. “What our goal here in the Town Center has been is to provide services to the locals and the tourists so they don’t have to travel across the bridge and spend money over there instead.”
As a semi-governmental group, the Vilano Beach Main Street association has been instrumental in laying the groundwork for what future progress would look like, what kind of mix of businesses it could bring, and providing input for overlay zoning and design standards for the area.
“We can coach, encourage and suggest but, in the end, we have no decision-making power,” noted Sallie O’Hara, the group’s executive director.
The Main Street association holds regular meetings where stakeholders, community members and developers can air ideas in an informal setting.
One of the ideas that came out of those meetings is for an “Airstream Row.” The project, recently approved by the St. Johns County Planning and Zoning Agency, allows for several silver retro RVs to be temporarily stationed at 182 Vilano Road beginning this summer. The vision is based upon a similar model in the city of Seaside, Florida, which allows for light retail and a concierge booth where volunteers sell tickets to local attractions and also provide information about development in the works in Vilano. The permit is for three years, and the hope is to have the property redeveloped following the hotel construction.
There are plans to also run a regular water taxi out of Porpoise Point that would carry passengers to and from Vilano Beach and St. Augustine.
To Jimmy Beaches’ way of seeing it, all these new developments are exciting to see.
Beaches’ father-in-law, Lloyd Small, built a small marina in 1954, one of the first buildings to greet travelers across the old Vilano drawbridge. The area also served as a prime location from which to watch the Fourth of July fireworks across the water.
Beaches, who now runs the marina, said he has a lot of local, repeat customers but looks forward to those numbers increasing.
“It’s good for my business; I see a lot of new people coming in here,” Beaches said.
Lou Marcantonio, one of the owners of Beaches at Vilano, a waterfront restaurant and boat pier, also sees a ramp up in tourism as positive. The business is in the process of expanding its services to include boat rentals, jet skis and marine tours.
“As a visitor, there will be nothing you can’t do here,” Marcantonio said.
But what about the saying, be careful what you wish for? Is Vilano Beach in danger of losing its sleepy, small-town surfside charm?
Browing and O’Hara say, no, too much work has been done to implement safeguards under the Florida Growth Management Act that promote smart growth and prevent the kind of vertical build-out that could make the community look and feel like a mini Daytona Beach.
“It’s a new generation,” Beaches said, “you’ve just got to get used to it.”
Commission honors Vilano Beach Main Street
By Sacha Martin / Correspondent
Posted May 27, 2019 at 1:51 PM Updated May 27, 2019 at 1:51 PM
The St. Johns County Board of County Commissioners presented a Certificate of Recognition to Vilano Beach Main Street to honor its designation as a nationally accredited Main Street by Main Street America which signifies community commitment.
“Since 1980, Main Street programs across the country have generated a total of $74 billion in public and private investment, rehabilitated 276,790 buildings, created 614,716 jobs and started 138,303 businesses. Vilano Beach is one of over 1,600 community-based organizations across the country and 47 in Florida with a proven track record for celebrating community character,” according to Timothy Parsons, state historic preservation officer for the Florida Main Street Program.
The certificate read: “It is with great pride that we recognize Vilano Beach Main Street’s commitment to community revitalization, economic development and historic preservation. We acknowledge their significant contribution and impact within St. Johns County and congratulate them on this most distinguished designation.”
The pedestrian-friendly, sustainable Vilano Beach Town Center was created through an initiative of our residents through the North Shores Improvement Association, starting with a formal vision of the future accepted by the County Commission in 1999.
The area was designated a Waterfronts Florida Community in 1999 under what is now a State Department of Economic Opportunity program. That program has provided technical assistance to help with land planning and to obtain initial grants of many that would follow for new public assets such as for our pier and beach pavilions, nature greenway boardwalk over the marsh, public floating dock, and acquisition of the former Fiddler’s Green property through a grant from Florida Communities Trust to become a public oceanfront park in perpetuity.
Vilano Beach was designated a Florida Main Street in 2003 under the Department of State. This is under National Main Street, a technical assistance program to revitalize downtowns and help with the ongoing cornerstones of success — organization, promotion, design, and economic restructuring.
In 2018, the Vilano Beach Town Center was named a Florida Trail Town to support non-motorized travelers on land and on the Intracoastal Waterway. You can sign a petition to support a proposed Multi-Use Trail for A1A North at A1ATrail.com.
MARCH 20, 2019
ADVENTURE CYCLING FROM VILANO BEACH TO SAN DIEGO
By Sacha Martin
Just after the Vilano Beach Town Center had been designated as a Florida Trail Town, twelve people on bicycles – between the ages of 60 and 82 -- left Vilano Beach’s Magic Beach and OceanView Hotels at the Atlantic Ocean on February 12 headed to San Diego for expected arrival on April 18. The owners of our Vilano hotels invited this special group of adventurers to have a send-off breakfast at Magic Beach before departing.
The initial group arrived from points all over the country – Oregon, Colorado, California, Maryland, Washington D.C., Vermont, New Hampshire, Chicago and Baltimore. John Griffin of Eugene, Oregon is traveling on a uniquely designed recumbent bike with a really big windshield. Coordinators Nancy and Ken Wright (who is descended from aviation’s Wright brothers) are from Sharon, Vermont. When they finish, there will have been twenty-two cyclists on this adventure. Nine will have made the entire trip. They were to pick up more cyclists in Tallahassee, and five from California will join the group in Austin, Texas. When they finish, they will have bonded as a family of travelers.
This is not just a one-time bucket list check-off. They said, “We will travel 3,500 miles with beaches, mountains, deserts, aliens [Roswell,NM], national parks and thousands of friendly Americans.” Some of the participants have done cross country before on the Northern Tier. Nancy Wright has done the Northern Tier 10 times and wanted to do a Southern Tier. After departing ten stops in Florida (they will be using our new River to Sea Trail when they get to Hastings) , they travel through Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas (13 stops), New Mexico (including Carlsbad and Roswell), Arizona (15 stops including the Grand Canyon), and then on to California.
How did they decide to leave from St. Augustine, specifically from Vilano Beach? There are national routes for cycling. They got route maps and help planning from Adventure Cycling in Missoula, Montana. Each day each cyclist has a Google map-type cue sheet in a transparent waterproof holder posted behind their handlebars. This tells them where to turn, how many miles to the next turn and when they will stop for lunch. A cell phone with GPS is also mounted on their handlebars. Normally every day they will cycle 50 to 60 miles, but there will be an 80 mile trek going into Austin.
There are four support staff with Ken in charge traveling along in a half-ton Ford double cab pickup truck hauling a 23’ outback terrain travel trailer where the cyclists are able to store their gear. The trailer has a drop-down exterior shelf to offer snacks and refreshments. The support vehicle is also communications central and has a Daily Departure Sheet to keep track of who is on the road that day. Each is encouraged to share stories in the “Notes” section. Carol Zemola Garsee from Chicago claims she will be the oldest woman cycling cross country. She said their group has a guideline: “Ride to be Joyful.” The message is we should all strive to do things to be Joyful.
SUNRISE AT VILANO BEACH FOR EASTER
By Sacha Martin
On April 21, our community has a secret to share – the 19th year for an Easter Sunrise Service overlooking the ocean and the inlet. The service begins at 6:45 a.m.
If you have attended before you have witnessed the sun as it rises over the ocean. There is a sense of enduring spirit, a reminder of the beauty of nature, a calmness you have felt when communicating with God, and renewed energy through the dawning of the sun rising over the ocean with a sense of your own journey for the future ahead. We don’t know at this time if there will be parking on the beach, but there will be parking at Vilano Publix, and as directed by parking attendants. Come prepared for possible testy weather, bring chairs and blankets.
This year The Turning Point at Calvary Baptist Church will be coordinating the event. The Church at Vilano will be participating. Turning Point is located at 3500 S.R. 16. Church at Vilano is at 120 Meadow Avenue, Vilano Beach. For more information on church services and programs go to www.tpcalvalry.com and www.vilanochurch.org.
NEW STATE COORDINATOR FOR GREENWAYS AND TRAILS
VISITS VILANO BEACH
By Sacha Martin
Donald Morgan, Florida Office of Greenways and Trails Regional Coordinator, Paul Haydt, East Coast Greenway and Friends of Scenic A1A Director, Sallie O’Hara, Vilano Beach Main Street Executive Director and Committee Member, National Scenic Byway, Dr. Michael Shirley, GTM Research Reserve Director, and Mark Atkins, North Florida Bicycle Club President, at the February Main Street meeting.
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The push to prioritize a feasibility study for a proposed A1A Multi-Use Trail accelerated during February, as the newly appointed Regional Coordinator for State Greenways and Trails, Donald Morgan, visited Vilano Beach and was given a tour on A1A, followed by a meeting with Multi-Use Trail Committee Members and then a question and answer public presentation at the February 20 Vilano Beach Main Street Meeting chaired by Vivian Browning. Our Vilano Beach Town Center was recently designated a Florida Trail Town. Mr. Morgan had met separately with Reuben Franklin, the City of St. Augustine’s Mobility Manager for the proposed link-in.
Attending a prior Trail Committee meeting were representatives from Velofest, St. Johns County Parks & Recreation Department, Rodney Cooper, Transportation Engineer for the County Public Works Department, Barney Bennette, FDOT State Trails Coordinator, Ayres Associates who conducted a past feasibility study, and North Shores Improvement Association committee members.
The A1A trail is anticipated to pass through a number of miles on existing hard packed trails in the Research Reserve and State Wildlife Preserve, as well as through Mussallem and North Beach county parks. Following the completion of the county River to Sea Trail, the committee is working to get our A1A Trail ranked as #1 priority in order to enhance goals for design, funding and completion, given a number of constraints we have in certain areas of right of way on a roadway initially built in the 1920s. See: VilanoBeachFL.com. Click on A1A Multi-Use Trail for information or to sign a petition or provide Letters of Support.
FRESHY-ROASTED OYSTERS CONSUMED
By Bill Long
Imagine the scene: clouds of steam rising from 53 bushels of oysters which served almost 400 people during three hours on February 16. The ravenous crowd came to enjoy the Boating Club Oyster Roast, where oysters were accompanied by chowder, pilau, crab bisque, chili and home-baked desserts.
The Douglas Davis family from Camachee Island reported “The roast was professionally run, and everyone volunteering was incredibly kind and courteous. We had an absolute blast and sincerely hope this becomes an annual tradition.”
Some of the proceeds will subsidize boys ages 6 to 18 to attend summer camp through St. Augustine Youth Services. There is a waiting list to become a Boating Club member, but the club facility can be rented. See: staugustineboatingclub.com or call Andy at (904) 669-8046.
COMMUNITY GARDENERS ARE PREPARING AND PLANTING
By Sacha Martin
A Vilano Community Garden workday on February 24 had gardeners weeding, filling beds with new soil, tending to new plants growing, planting a community herb garden, turning compost and installing a new gate, in preparation to shine for the Party in the Park on March 16, which will be held right next to the garden beds at the corner of Gardner Avenue and Second Street. The Garden Club for the Deaf and Blind School was also selling plants from their nursery there. Thank you to our new volunteers, Dot Peck for taking over our facebook page, Diane Longo for loaning us a table and chairs for the Party in the Park, and visitors from Albany on vacation, David and Lorna, for helping out with some Party logistics.
We are also asking gardeners if they would like to help design and put plants in at the Community Center (shade) and Fire House (sun) planting beds. Email Jean: [email protected]. Facebook page: Facebook.com/VilanoBeachCommunityGarden.
Annual race offers breathtaking views
By Fran Windeler
On St. Patrick’s Day weekend, the Vilano Bridge 5K & 10K Runs will begin and end at the Vilano Beach Community Center, 120 Meadow Ave. Festivities start at 7:30 a.m. March 16.
Started 23 years ago as a small community event, the Vilano Bridge 5K & 10K Runs has grown to include more than 700 runners and their families. During the run, participants take in the million-dollar view while crossing the Vilano Bridge.
Runners in the 10K race also pass through Camachee Island and the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind’s beautifully landscaped grounds.
In addition to the 5K and 10K runs, a one-mile Fun Run will start immediately following the other races.
The first 800 registrants will receive a a colorful race T-shirt. Finisher medals are collector’s items and feature the dolphins on the Vilano Beach pier.
Awards will be given to the top three men and women overall and the top three male and female finishers in each of the following age groups: 9 and under, 10–14, 15–19, 20–24, 25–29,30–34,35–39, 40–44, 45–49, 50–54, 55–59, 60–64, 65–69 and 70-plus.
Following the race, the Party in the Park, for runners and spectators, will include music, family games, and food and drinks available for purchase.
Runners will receive a complimentary beer provided by Ancient City and Dog Rose brewing companies. Runners can also visit physical therapists from Vighetti & Associates for post-race rub down. Chair massages will be available for all.
A major fundraiser for North Shores Improvement Association, the event also includes a silent auction of items donated by generous sponsors. North Shores Improvement Association is a not-for-profit organization serving the community since 1939. In addition to giving back to the local community, half the registration proceeds will be donated to the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind.
Registration is $25 for the 5K and $40 for the 10K until March 1. From March 1–14, registration is $30 for the 5K and $40 for the 10K. From March 15 through race day, registration is $35 for the 5K and $45 for the 10K. Registration for the 1-mile fun run is $10 from now until race day.
To register, go to 1stplacesports.com/run/vilanobridgerun. To volunteer, go to VilanoBeachFL.com.