Pensacola, Florida
Thursday March 30th 2017

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Making Maritime Work

Theres a Ballpark, Now What?
By Jeremy Morrison

From one side of Pensacola City Hall there is a sparkling bay view of the Community Maritime Park across the street. Randy Oliver is tucked away in the finance department on the other side of the building.

Its a stark office. Theres no view of the park. Just binders full of numbers and agreements and amendments to agreements. This is where Oliver plans to figure out the mess across the street.

What things can we do better? he said. What can we do differently? How can we maximize the facility?

Oliver was formerly Escambia Countys administrator. Hes now working as a consultant for the city of Pensacola, brought aboard to assess the finances of the Community Maritime Park Associates as well as future prospects.

Known as a numbers-man, Oliver enters the scene just as the CMPA requested forgiveness from the cityor rather, the Community Redevelopment Agencyon a $500,000 loan. The CRAcomposed of Pensacola City Council membersdenied that request earlier this month.

It should act like a business and not a public service project, Councilwoman Jewel Canada-Wynn said at the time.

The CMPA borrowed the $500,000 a year ago for so-called back of the house amenitiesdressing rooms, restroomsfor the amphitheater. That amount represents the entirety of the facilitys revenue and half of its budget this year.

If they cannot pay this loan, Canada-Wynn posed, how are they paying basic operational costs?

CMPA Chairman Collier Merrill pleaded the park boards caseweve come a long wayand said the city had been tapped to coordinate events at the site and advised against squeezing the Pensacola Blue Wahoos baseball team for too much money.

A lot of people want to bring up Pensacola baseball and say youve got to squeeze every penny out of themweve got to be careful with that, the chairman said.

Merrill told the CRA that the park was currently looking at several revenue possibilities. The one that seemed to pop for CRA Chairman Brian Spencer was the notion of selling naming-rights.

Several hundred thousand dollars naming rights? Spencer asked Merrill. In what is currently the no-name stadium?

In the end, the CRA extended the CMPAs loan eight months, from January until September. In the meantime, it required the park board to compile a list of its expenditures, revenues and a plan to better the prospects in the future.

I want to give them a real, good healthy opportunity to take a look at this, Councilman Larry B. Johnson told his fellow CRA members after making the extension motion.

Leaning forward in his desk chair, Oliver estimated it should take him about six months to get a fix on the scene at the park. He will be looking at ways to cut costs and maximize revenues.

When he turns in his final report, it will not be a collection of intangibles or theoreticals. It will be precise instructions for going forward.

Its going to be nuts-and-bolts specifics, Oliver said. Visions are goodI may want to fly to the moon, but how do I get there?

Much of the revenue potential of the CMPA lies in the multiple empty parcels surrounding the park. With only one parcel sold to Wahoos owner Quint Studer to build an office building, sales and development of the properties are a long-term goal.

Currently, much of the revenue generated at the parkvia use agreementscomes from the Pensacola Blue Wahoos, which have about 70 dates a year on the calendar. The question is what to do with the rest of the year.

You want to minimize your dark nights, Oliver explained. Its like a hotel that doesnt sell any roomsyou still have your base costs.

This isnt Olivers first experience with a ballpark. When working in South Florida, he was involved with the construction of a Minnesota Twins training facility. In Arizona, his county position saw him working with a facility that hosted spring training games for the Texas Rangers and Kansas City Royals, but a facility that only had 26 such games a year.

Youve got to do a lot of things with the stadium when you only have 26 games a year, Oliver said.

The consultant said hes already dug up about $100,000by streamlining staffand is aiming to set the CMPA on more respectable financial ground by the time hes done.

The goal being to make it so the operation portion of the site is totally self sufficient, Oliver explained. It wasnt intended to cover the debt service, but it was intended to cover operations.

About a week after the CRA rejected the CMPAs forgiveness request, Merrill said the move came as no surprise to the park board.

I dont think they really expected the council to forgive it, the chairman said.

He sounded cautiously optimistic about the CMPAs financial future. The board is looking at a deal entailing digital billboards at the stadium that could net a couple hundred thousand dollars up front in addition to annual revenue. And, of course, theres renaming rights for both the stadium and the fieldwhich Merrill expects to fetch a higher price after the Wahoos winning first season.

I think it increases the stock a lot as far as what thats gonna go for, he said.

When discussing the issue with the CRA, Merrill noted the success of the parks recent grand opening celebration the city hosted. Originally rained out during last Junes storms, the event was rescheduled for November and featured the Charlie Daniels Band.

That showed what we can do with bands and fireworks and a lot of good things out there, Merrill told the CRA.

Undistracted by half of city halls gorgeous view of the Community Maritime Park, Oliver has plenty to look at. For starters, theres the stack of thick binders on his desk.

Its a good processIm sure theyll be some bumps and bruisesbut its a necessary one, he said, promising an applicable blueprint for the CMPA. It will not be a vision, it will be a plan to be executed.