In the wake of the YMCA’s walkaway amidst a procedural nosedive, city of Pensacola Attorney Jim Messer has issued a memorandum outlining the legal relationship between the city and the Community Maritime Park Associates. The attorney describes the CMPA as an “alter ego” of the city, and indicates that the entity “has no right to deviate from whatever basic concepts are transmitted to it for negotiation.”
With the intention of building a new YMCA on parcel 8 at the Community Maritime Park, Y representatives approached Mayor Ashton Hayward late last year. When he brought the organization before the Pensacola City Council for consideration—with a lease hammered out with Messer in hand—questions arose about process. Council members wondered why the Y had not come through the CMPA board.
After approving the Y lease—in “concept”—the city council left it to the CMPA board to work out the lease. The park board then decided to direct the YMCA away from the waterfront parcel, which resulted in the organization leaving the negotiating table.
As a result, the city council requested that Messer provide an opinion on how the city and CMPA were to function when dealing with the park. He informed them they could remove all of the CMPA trustees and replace them with members of council or their designees.
In addition, the city recently commissioned an assessment of park finances and operations from former Escambia County Administrator Randy Oliver. The city has also brought aboard a firm to market the park, a job that has been left to the Parks and Recreation Department.
CMPA Treasurer Jim Reeves took a few moments recently to enjoy some sun at the park’s Hunter Amphitheater and talk about the recent issues surrounding the Community Maritime Park.
IN: Let’s dive into the middle of it. What’s your opinion on Messer’s most recent opinion?
REEVES: Well, Messer’s most recent opinion is absolutely wrong.
REEVES: Because there’s four documents that control the Community Maritime Park Board’s involvement in this particular park and, and he really asked, in my opinion, the wrong kind of questions to the New York firm, but when you’re a lawyer and you want a specific answer, and you’re paying for it, you usually can get whatever answer you want.
IN: What do you think we will have learned on the other side of the YMCA issue?
REEVES: What I think we have to work together in the spirit of unity, harmony and cooperation. And the problem is, you have the executive branch, you have the legislative branch, and then you have this group that was set up primarily in order to get the New Market Tax Credits, and so we just all have to work together. I mean, nobody can dominate necessarily.
IN: What are your thoughts on the paths Messer laid out going forward?
REEVES: First of all, I’ve asked for public records, I’ve made a public records request concerning the writing of the opinion from the exterior lawyers. Those lawyers do not represent the Community Maritime Park Board. Those lawyers represent either the mayor or the city. And so I kind of want to see the background of how that got generated and what the instructions were prior to that opinion being written. Haven’t gotten that request other than an acknowledgement that I asked for it.
IN: In your view, how does it work?
REEVES: Well, how it works, is simply we’re the landlord of the park, meaning the Community Maritime Park board is the landlord. Nobody, no lawyer—I’m a real estate lawyer—no lawyer would be happy without having a joinder of the landlord. And we are the landlord, it’s just that simple. All you have to do is look at the title evidence for the Studer piece and you will see that it requires a joinder of the Community Maritime Park Board. So, he’s just wrong.
IN: In this Y deal, where in the process do you think it went wrong?
REEVES: In the process. And that’s not to be a smart answer. It would have been so much easier if we had all worked together and kind of not have excluded anybody. Don’t exclude council, don’t exclude the mayor and don’t exclude the Community Maritime Park board.
IN: What do you think of Randy Oliver’s report?
REEVES: [Laughter] He works for the city. He was instructed by the chief of staff that he was not to make negotiate any deals or what-have-you. That report was to go through the mayor. Period.
IN: Do you like any of his recommendations?
REEVES: Oh sure I do, sure I do, but we’re all in this together and, look, if the Community Maritime Park board was broke, who do you think is gonna pick up the tab? The city. So, we just gotta work together and work this situation out, both for the city’s sake and for the park’s sake. And it can be done.
IN: Isn’t the Community Maritime Park broke?
REEVES: Sure, yeah sure. But, understand, our biggest bill comes from the city of Pensacola. For police, for Parks and Recreation, cutting the grass, it all comes from the city of Pensacola. So, it’s one of those things, they can’t collect the rent from everything that goes down here, and we have all the expenses. It’s that simple.
IN: Do you see any of these issues being resolved anytime soon?
REEVES: I hope so.
IN: How do you think this park should be marketed?
REEVES: I’m going to keep from being presumptive. You know, the mayor’s hired a marketing firm, and so I’m gonna kind of wait and see what they say. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were other people looking to locate here, but they know a better way to do it than the last try with the Y. That’s a rhyme.
IN: What do think of the Park and Rec’s job so far?
REEVES: Well, let me put it this way. It’s hard for, in my opinion, government to do what the private sector could probably do better. I don’t want to be critical. I think they’ve done the best they can with what they’ve had to do with. Is that tender enough?
IN: That is tender enough.