Pensacola, Florida
Monday August 20th 2018

Archives

Cover Story: United We Fail

The struggles to agree on regional vision
By Sean Boone

Buried within manila folders inside the University of West Florida library’s basement lies the blueprints for Pensacola’s most successful plan.

It was 1976, the nation’s bicentennial year, and Mayor Warren Briggs had just helped steer a long-term initiative to progress the community. Action ‘76, as it was called, used the input of more than 1,300 citizens to create a document that outlined goals on such things as bettering education, bringing in new businesses to the area and planning for future growth of the waterfront.

Although more than 60 percent of the plan’s initial goals were reached in five years, it was largely seen as a failure by the community—subsequently pushing leaders to create several other plans of action to generate population growth.

It would be another 20 years before another large-scale community plan was devised.

Using chamber of commerce backing from both Escambia and Santa Rosa counties, Envision Escarosa was created in 1997 as an initiative to improve the area’s 10 largest problems by 2020. Like Action ’76, the plan was based upon community input and a steering committee.

Envision’s goals were to create a more regional approach to tackling the problems in the area by using a $60,000 outline from the Jacksonville-based LukeVision consultant group.

But unlike its predecessor, Envision wasn’t marked as a reference for community involvement or stored away as a dusty archive. Despite being steered by many leaders who are still prominent in the Pensacola community, the 13-year-old project has been largely forgotten.

THE FALLOUT

Initially Envision looked to be successful. More than 600 people showed up for a citizen stakeholders meeting in January 1998 to select the top 10 issues to be considered for the project. In March, a final draft for the community vision was finished, with environment, education and economic development finishing as the top three problems to address in the two counties.

The six-month goal setting process that included 170 task force members and representatives from Pensacola Area and Santa Rosa Chambers had never been done before. Nor had any plan given the community such awareness on so many issues.

But what, more than anything else, broke the plan was lack of substance—or specific ways to tackle each goal.

Although Action ’76 might have been defunct, it established itself with instructions on creating a new governmental center, restoring/buying the Saenger Theatre and improving the port—all of which were eventually done. It is also credited with the addition of the Civic Center in the mid ‘80s.

Instead of using a consultant plan from a specific group, the Action plan brought in the Executive Director of Goals for Dallas to brief the steering committee as well as assistance from the Baton Rouge Goals Congress. It also held “background” briefings by selected city, county and regional officials.

E.W. Hopkins, who worked on the plan as a representative of the Pensacola Chamber, says people during that time had more personal stakes involved, which likely made it more important for them to see a plan formulate.

“The community was a lot closer at that time and the Chamber was really involved (with Action ’76),” he says. “We had a very strong business community …banks were owned locally, where as now, most are branches.”

Envision may have also had trouble due to its timing. Back in the 70s, Pensacola lost roughly 14 percent of its population. But the 80s and early 90s saw double-digit growth and a better economic climate.

Local leaders such as Escambia County Commissioner Grover Robinson, Emerald Coast Utility Authority Board member Lois Benson and Olive Road Baptist Church Pastor Ted Traylor who were part of the Envision steering committee all tell IN they have not talked about the plan in years.

Robinson believes that if a significant community-oriented plan was pushed by local leaders in the current economic climate, there would be much more traction.

“I think when things are going well, people dig in their heels…when things are going bad, they say lets circle the wagons,” says Robinson.  “That’s a natural psychology.

“I feel we are less divisive now then we were then as a community. I think tragedy and challenge brings you together,” he adds. Even though we had (Hurricanes) Opal and Erin, it was nothing compared to Ivan and the economy.”

ENVISION BREAKUP

Between March 2008 and the finished product’s release in June 2008, tensions arose among Envision committee members—particularly over economic development and environmental issues—that eventually weakened support for the project.

Dr. Enid Siskin, an environmental advocate and UWF professor of Public Health who served on the project’s steering committee and helped write the final document, says Henry Luke (CEO of LukeVision) often got involved in the discussions and created unnecessary problems.

“(Luke) would say stuff like, ‘You know, I don’t think that was a good idea.’ After several meetings, one of the environmental people had a meltdown and walked out.

“Unfortunately, the arguments became the focus instead of the process.”

John Tice, who served as committee co-chair, says once it was evident that the project was falling apart, he felt the only solution was to bring in a facilitator.

“I wanted to use the remaining funding for this and try to make some resolutions,” he says. “That’s when they said, ‘Let’s put it to rest.’ It was evident that the people pushing this were not getting what they wanted.”

Luke, who has implemented vision plans in 65 cities (including Mobile and Panama City) since 1983, recalls the meetings being far from disruptive.

“I don’t know if ‘hostility’ is the right word,” he says. “My meetings were very transparent…set up to let everyone talk and give opinions. Between March 30 and May 7 there were at least 2,800 people in attendance (at the meetings). This thing really went out to the public.

Pages: 1 2