Pensacola, Florida
Thursday December 14th 2017

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Hayward Sidesteps Studer Leases

By Rick Outzen

For the past month, the hottest topic in downtown Pensacola has been the Studers’ proposal to investment $20 million to build the UWF Center for Entrepreneurship, a conference center and other facilities on three parcels at the Community Maritime Park.

Mayor Ashton Hayward praised the proposal before the editorial board of the daily newspaper. The Pensacola City Council reviewed the concepts at its June 18 workshop and asked the leases be returned for discussion before its July 16 regular meeting.

However, the leases were not included on the council agenda for its July meeting. The mayor’s office had done little to work out the contracts. Instead Mayor Hayward, Chief Operations Officer Tamara Fountain and Council President Andy Terhaar drafted a resolution that took the parcels off the market for 60 days and instructed the city’s attorneys to comeback with leases during that timeframe.

Because the resolution had not been included on the July 16 agenda, Terhaar had to call a special meeting, which was held before the regular meeting, to discuss it.

Meanwhile, the Community Maritime Park Associates Board of Trustees held a meeting on July 15. Tired of waiting for the mayor’s office to act, the board approved leases for parcels 3, 6 and 9 and delivered the contracts to the mayor’s office the next day.

Despite having the leases and the Studers asking them not to take the parcels off the market, the Pensacola City Council approved the resolution.

Mayor Ashton Hayward spoke at the meeting, praising the CMPA board for its efforts and reaffirming his support for the Studers’ projects. He believed the attorneys could work out the leases in less than 60 days.

He said, “We have good attorneys that can move us down the road … There are just tweaks we need to do to the lease, and we are ready to go.”

At the meeting, Quint Studer stood before the council and told them that he and his wife didn’t want the city council to take the parcels off the market while the city’s attorneys “tweaked” the leases.

“This week after months of meetings, your agent for leasing–the CMPA, overwhelmingly took the position that this proposal needed to move forward immediately and took steps to make that happen,” Studer said. “They did not need to approve anything ‘in concept’ or take their property off the market for 60 days; rather, they took action and approved the sub-leases for these parcels.”

He said, “Please know we have never asked you to stop marketing these parcels. While we believe our proposal is the highest and best development in existence right now, if there is something better, we will gladly step aside.”

The Studers wanted the city council and mayor’s office to give a firm deadline for when the leases would be brought back to the council for discussion and a vote.

After all, the CMPA had given the city approved leases for the parcels. Lisa Minshew, attorney for the CMPA, told the daily newspaper that she thought the mayor’s office could complete its review of the leases and make its minor changes in 48 hours.

“If there are tweaks or adjustments required to finalize these leases, we are happy to sit down and talk about it, but with all due respect we do not need 60 days to come to a decision,” Studer said. “We feel like we’ve carried this project about as far as we can carry it. It is now up to you and the Mayor to decide how urgent this project is to you.”

In the “Alice and Wonderland” world of Pensacola city government, the Studers got what they didn’t want and walked away with a vague deadline that the leases will be brought back sometime in the next 60 days.

Mayor Hayward, COO Fountain and Council President Terhaar may have felt they accomplished something. However, the “conceptual approval” and instruction to the city’s attorneys to come back to the council in 60 days with leases were completely unnecessary.

Instead, the mayor could have passed out the leases approved by the CMPA to the council members and told them he was calling a special meeting for Thursday, July 23 to approve them. Meanwhile, he would have Beggs & Lane attorneys meet with the Studers’ attorney to “tweak” the wording.

Studer took his time at the podium yesterday to talk about the mayor’s office and council’s lack of a defined process on how it handles leases at the Maritime Park.

“Five years ago, I wrote you a letter about the need for the city to come to grips with how property at the Maritime Park was going to be handled,” he said. “I asked you and the mayor to come up with a clear process so that future projects wouldn’t be so difficult—so people with good ideas and the means to implement their ideas could move with urgency.”

Studer said he had hoped the mayor hiring CBRE as the city’s real estate broker would have streamlined the process. However, the opposite occurred—confusion over deadlines, success fees and favoritism given to some developers. (Note: CBRE will be paid a commission on the Studers’ lease payments, but they were not present at the special meeting or the prior day’s CMPA meeting to talk about the leases.)

He talked about the numerous meetings his people have had to attend over the past nine months–CMPA, CMPA Audit & Operations, Individual Meetings with CMPA board members, Council members and Mayor, City Council Workshops and Meetings.

Studer said, “The ambiguity in the process is troubling and the antithesis of urgency.”

He pointed out that two years ago the Pensacola City Council and mayor’s office told the Studers and YMCA they had to negotiate a lease for a proposed downtown Y at the park with the CMPA board. The YMCA dropped the proposal when the CMPA canned their proposal. Now the mayor’s office and council appear to want to do the negotiating.

“Whether we started with the Mayor, the Council or the CMPA, for some reason our projects just get bogged down in this process, or indecision or dysfunction,” Studer said. “It is time to move the city’s development processes from endless activity to a constant state of urgency.”