Florida Main Street
Program of the Month
March 2009 Program of the Month
Vilano Beach Main Street
Secretary of State Announces Florida Main Street Program of the Month
Secretary of State Kurt S. Browning announced today that Vilano Beach Main Street has been designated as the Florida Main Street Program of the Month for March 2009. As a Florida Main Street Community, designated in 2003, Vilano Beach has used its distinctive structure and waterfront location to develop a unique Main Street program. Communities are selected for this award based on active participation in the Florida Main Street Program.
"Vilano Beach Main Street has fostered an exciting downtown environment," stated Secretary Browning. "The collective efforts of organizations and volunteers are redeveloping the community into a thriving area to live and visit."
Geographically, visiting land planners and economists have compared Vilano Beach to Cape Cod, because of its small town waterfront feel and location. As an unincorporated part of St. Johns County, there are two waterfronts at either end of Vilano Road - the main street, one is the Atlantic Ocean, and the other is the Intracoastal Waterway. St. Augustine, the nation's oldest city, is the backdrop - a true Florida picture postcard.
In the 1920's a New York developer platted the Vilano Beach residential and beachfront downtown with a hundred foot right of way and built a grand oceanfront dance hall. However, in 1929, the development took a down turn, the downtown area was never built, and the dance hall was claimed by storms in 1938 and 1939. Later, though, Vilano Beach served as a beachside stopping place during the 1950s era of automobile traffic for tourists traveling to the historic tourist mecca of St. Augustine. Vilano still has classic old Florida motels within walking distance of the beach, as well as restaurants advertised in Gourmet Magazine. The area continues to capture this special time period in Florida's history and the ‘funkiness' of that era.
Vilano Beach Main Street is building a small waterfront downtown and revitalizing at the same time. In 1995, the new Vilano Bridge opened, bypassing the community's former commercial center, and in a short time only a few existing businesses continued to struggle there. With the exception of an upscale hotel completed in September 2001, most existing buildings are from the late 1940s and 1950s. These were ‘mom and pop' motels or restaurants, plus a fish camp, a single landing dock for boat sales and a bait and tackle shop on the Intracoastal Waterway.
In the late 1990s, Vilano Beach adopted a major long range goal to maintain the small beach town feel and to create a vibrant and sustainable commercial Town Center that met residents' desires. The project was to be a one of a kind waterfront destination based on new urbanist design that would celebrate the natural, historical and cultural environment of the place. Vilano Beach would be a model for waterfront redevelopment, infill and place making.
State program designations were key to success in building and revitalizing the area. As a Waterfronts Florida Community and a Florida Main Street community, the Town Center Project benefited from resources that helped to accomplish city objectives. Land use planning and architectural and development regulations ensured a mixture of uses. Design standards were created to reflect the unique characteristics of Vilano Beach and to support successful development.
In October 2008, Vilano Beach Main Street celebrated the completion of its distinctive, $13 million place-making Town Center infrastructure project. Included was restoration of the 1950s "Haley's Comet" motel sign, prominently placed in the landscape.
Vilano Beach is prepared to move ahead with other positive public enhancement projects. Existing property owners have been encouraged to clean up their properties. Vilano Beach Main Street has supported a beautification program with county sponsored workshops, code enforcement actions, and general cleaning projects. The next step will be to establish a façade program to paint and landscape the fronts of existing commercial buildings.
Other plans for the community include the restoration of the "Blue Bird of Happiness," a nine foot tall concrete and fiberglass icon from the 1950s. Also, a weekly farmers and crafts market for the fishing pier area is scheduled to begin Easter Sunday. Vilano Beach is experiencing growth and tremendous progress that enhances the area for the enjoyment of its residents and visitors. Florida Main Street is a technical assistance program of the Bureau of Historic Preservation, Division of Historical Resources, Florida Department of State. The Bureau conducts statewide programs aimed at identifying, evaluating, and preserving Florida's historical resources. Main Street, with its emphasis on preservation, is an effective strategy for achieving these goals in Florida's historic retail districts. Since 1985, the Bureau has offered manager training, consultant team visits, design and other technical assistance, as well as the benefit of experience gained by other Florida Main Street programs.
To learn more about Vilano Beach Main Street, visit www.vilanobeachfl.com/development.asp or contact Vivian Browning by calling 904.829.5405.