Editorial: Vigilance required in weak economy


400-KENS-CONVENIENCEOver the past 50 years that I recall in St Augustine, I can’t remember a time when there have been so many businesses close — many have been in business for years, some for decades, and even some that have been owned by the same family for generations.

It is becoming commonplace to see vacant buildings all over town. Big-box locations, like the former Eckerd Drugs on San Marco Avenue, entire shopping centers like the Ponce de Leon Mall, and dozens of retail store fronts along King Street, Anastasia Boulevard and even on St George Street; where, at one time, business owners would have been willing to pay “key money” just to take over a retiring business owner’s lease.

Despite an occasional encouraging economic report, or hopeful tourism forecast; short-sale properties, bank foreclosures, and vacant retail stores for rent, are here to remind us that there are few guarantees of success in business — if, in fact, there ever were.

Last week, I read, with interest, the agenda for the Planning and Zoning Board for the City of St. Augustine; the meeting will convene at 2:00 p.m. on Tuesday, January 8, 2013.

Apparently the Green family’s Four G Partners, RLLP, has found a tenant for the Hamblen Hardware Store at 111 King Street. The vacant storefront housed one of those St Augustine landmark businesses, founded in 1875, that you think will last forever but closes anyway.

I realize that the building has been dark for the last year. The Green’s paid $5,215.09 in property taxes, water, electric, and other utility bills, insurance premiums, repairs and maintenance — even though no rent was being collected after their last tenant, K.C. and Gail Kremer, closed the hardware store last January.

The proposed replacement for Hamblen Hardware is a convenience store; to be called “Kenny’s Market Place”. We know the future tenants, Nrupal Kaushik Patel and Pinkyben Nrupal Patel, because Nrupal also owns “Ken’s Corner Store” located at 890 W King Street; at the corner of Volusia Avenue.

The Patel’s want a zoning exception to allow “retail alcohol sales” at their business, so their date before the zoning board is insured. The neighbors and the public needed to know about that; because, given “Ken’s” history, “Kenny’s” request might raise some concerned eyebrows.

After the agenda was published, starting a buzz around the neighborhood, it was pointed out that zoning signs were not properly posted on the property in sufficient time to allow the zoning exception to be heard next week. Mark Knight, Director of the City’s Planning and Building Department, informed Historic City News Friday that the “Kenny’s Market Place” application has been pulled from the agenda and will not be heard until Tuesday, February 5, 2013.

We at Historic City News are concerned about the appearance of closed businesses along our largest entry corridor; however, we are more concerned about a potential nuisance taking its place.

First of all, where will the traffic to support the business park?

The spaces between the post office and St Johns Printing belong to the Masonic Lodge and are reserved for their tenants. There are no spaces in front of the store, although there are a few unpaved spaces behind the building. The spaces to the west also belong to the Four G partners, but they are for the use of the tenants whose stores face that small lot.

Not very convenient, if you ask me.

What about the undesirable element that has been allowed to loiter in front of “Ken’s”? County law enforcement officers regularly answer calls, and make arrests, at what is often called, “Cocaine Corner”.

City police finally closed down the M&M Market — a magnet for drug-related crimes around the block, on Bridge Street at MLK Avenue, after it was seized in a drug raid and purchased by the City. That building, owned by another Patel family, has been boarded up for two years.

The Patels only incorporated the “Kenny’s” partnership, KMPN Investments, LLC, in November; however, the “Ken’s” partnership, N & R of St Augustine, Inc, has been around since 2002. Before we invite package beer and wine sales, we need to consider the inevitable baggage that may accompany it. Broken beer bottles on the sidewalks, used beer cans discarded in neighbor’s parking lots, hazards from patrons jaywalking into traffic, just to name a few.

The walk by, bicycle riding, patrons at 111 King Street are more likely to be getting a free meal at First United Methodist Church across the street, or looking for a place to buy a 40 oz. Mickey’s Ice Malt Liquor, since the Little Champ, next door, closed its doors; as opposed to the upscale customer described in Mr. Patel’s zoning exception application.

Please call your PZB members, individually. Make your concerns known, and, most importantly, come to the public meeting February 5, at 2:00 p.m. in the Alcazar Room; on the first floor of City Hall, located at 75 King Street in St Augustine.