The 2011 groundbreaking for Vilano’s Publix was an especially joyous event for the 5,000 residents living east of the Intercostal. No longer would the need for a few groceries require a trip to the mainland. The Publix was also celebrated as the start of a planned commercial center of shops, sidewalk cafes, upper-level residences and hotels, to be called Vilano Town Center. This concept was (and still is) a highly creative redevelopment idea, first championed by the North Shores Improvement Association. And, given the traffic jams impeding access into St. Augustine, Vilano needs its own business district now more than ever.
Sadly, the town center’s development seems to have stalled at the edge of the Publix parking lot. Expanses of vacant land along Vilano Road, some of it with high weeds, continue to wait for the next phases of the town center to happen. So do the 160 on-street parking spaces.
The wait has been especially painful for local taxpayers. St. Johns County is a huge investor in the town center’s development, a project initiated under Florida’s Community Redevelopment Act. In 2004 the county issued $12.7 million in tax-increment revenue bonds to create the streets, sidewalks, fountains, landscaping and storm sewers intended to jump-start private development along Vilano Road. These bonds were backed by the county’s full faith and credit, with the expectation that the new taxes generated from the town center’s development (the tax increment) would pay off the bonds.
The wait for development along Vilano Road has also been challenging for Vilano Main Street, Inc., the non-profit entity created to promote the town center’s development through events and advocacy. Vilano Main Street’s leaders continue to make commendable efforts to apply the principles of the National Main Street Program into an area still desperately seeking a critical mass of businesses and activity.
To read the full editorial, click here.