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The Buzz 12/13/12

Downtown Roadmap Weighing in on a recent report from an advisory committee, Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward recently said the growth of the downtown area is important for the city’s overall success.

“A dead downtown means a dead city,” Hayward said at a windblown press conference at Plaza De Luna.

The Mayor’s Urban Redevelopment Advisory Committee—formed earlier this year—recently issued a report that focuses on the future of downtown Pensacola. It contains recommendations for growing the urban core.

The committee has recommended that the city make downtown more pedestrian-friendly and put publicly-owned parcels of vacant land to better use. Its report stresses the importance of more affordable housing and bringing jobs to downtown.

Hayward called some of the recommendations “common sense suggestions” and said others would require further consideration. He said it was too early to make a decision regarding one of the more controversial recommendations—that the Downtown Improvement Board be whittled down to a clerical position contained within the mayor’s office.

After the press conference, Pensacola City Councilman Brian Spencer called the MURAC’s report “an abundant amount of material to study.” Spencer has spent the past year serving as the chairman of the Community Redevelopment Agency, the boarders of which encompass the same downtown boundaries addressed in the report.

“Most importantly, he said, “they have provided an action list.”

Good ol’ Beulah Everyone’s got a project in the hopper for the coming RESTORE Act money. But the project up in Beulah is the one that’s got Escambia County Commissioner Wilson Robertson’s attention.

“Every time I mention the interchange at Buelah, the blogs start flying,” the District 1 commissioner said at the Dec. 11 Committee of the Whole meeting.

An underdetermined amount of money will most likely be coming to Escambia County as a result of the RESTORE Act and Clean Water Act fines against BP for the 2010 oil spill. Commissioners have decide to form an advisory committee to vet proposed locally projects for the funds, which must be spent on environmental restoration, economic development or infrastructure.

Robertson has serval times mentioned a planned interchange off of Interstate 10 in the north of the county. Other commissioners have also expressed support for the project. The project has long been on the drawing board, and in August the commission approved a $2.7 million environmental study.

Robertson recently scoffed at the notion that the interchange project, and related grab for RESTORE money, was meant to benefit “the good ol’ boys.” Recently, community chatter has circulated around RESTORE and the recent shake-up in county administration—“that me and Gene and the good ol’ boys, we brought back Mr. Touart”—and only increased with Robertson’s focus on the interchange project.

Of the Beulah interchange project, Commissioner Robertson has said that the work is needed to whip the area into shape for the coming Airbus subcontractor boon. He has also said that people had invested in the area and were ready to play host to such a boon.

In immediate proximity to the proposed Buelah interchange project is Florida’s First Super Site. The theoretical site is being marketed as an 850-acre industrial technology super park to accommodate businesses working with Airbus.

“That has to be number one in my opinion for economic development,” Robertson said of the overall interchange project, emphasizing that the county’s portion of RESTORE money shouldn’t be used for environmental projects.

In other RESTORE-related local news, the commission retooled the structure of the county’s advisory committee. Two newly elected commissioners, as well as sitting commissioners had expressed interest in reworking the structure, which had been drawn up by former administrator Randy Oliver.

The expanded nine-member committee will now consist of a representative from the city of Pensacola, a representative to be chosen by local environmental groups, and five experts in respective fields—financial, business, transportation government and an at large seat—each chosen by a commissioner. Two additional members will be added collectively.