Friday, February 13, 2004


Closing In On Success at Sebastian harbor

As I drive across the bridge over the San Sebastian River on King Street several times a week, I instinctively look right.

And each time, I remember all the failed attempts of the city of St. Augustine to bring Sebastian Inland Harbor into being.

I've alternately called it a boondoggle or that $2 million worth of dirt off the tax rolls. I've taken the calls that suggest from city officials that "something big is about to happen with the Sebastian." And I've been in on the ups and downs. I celebrated when clearance came from the feds for a marina and then on the cleanup of the old Atlanta Gas Light site.

And each time, I have watched the sighs of relief on city officials' faces; one more piece of the puzzle solved.

But now, it appears that success is in reach. The company that has truly won the hearts, minds and confidence of the city is San Sebastian Harbor Partners of Ponte Vedra Beach.

The city of St. Augustine and the partners are now in negotiations on a purchase agreement, a major step. It's no longer a wishin' and hopin' thing. It's no longer a pie-in-the-sky dream to think about a hotel, a complex of shops and a marina at the site.

And while the Sebastian Winery has a presence and a clientele at the site, whatever the partners do will enhance that business, too. And, too, all those King Street merchants who have been diligent in their efforts to present a nice cluster of shops and other amenities along King Street heading east.

The vision of the city all along has been to enhance the western gateway to the city to move people with their dollars and time east to downtown and to have them say, "Wow. I don't want to miss this place ever again."

So the day in the future when that first shovel of dirt is turned, the great visions of the past will be fulfilled. The city's desire to have a substantial entry complex to entice visitors will be on its way.

The city and the partners aren't the only ones who should be looking now at the site's development. The entire downtown business community needs to rev up now for the impact. The future of Sebastian Inland Harbor is closer than we think.

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