Pensacola, Florida
Tuesday August 14th 2018

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The Bluffs Could Trigger Job Boom

By Rick Outzen

Last week, the FloridaWest Economic Development unveiled The Bluffs, an industrial campus to be developed in Cantonment that will create some 15,000 jobs, both direct and indirect, in its first 25 years.

“The Bluffs will be a ‘game-changer’ for Northwest Florida,” said FloridaWest CEO Scott Luth. “It will literally put Escambia County, Pensacola and Northwest Florida on the map as a center for manufacturing.”

What makes The Bluffs so exceptional?
Luth said, “What makes the site so unique is the existing infrastructure. There’s a billion plus dollars worth of infrastructure already on the ground up in that area when you look at the brand new waste treatment facility with ECUA, the Gulf Power generating facility and at the rail line—all in close proximity. Plus, we have access to the inter-coastal waterway with two barge terminals in that area.”

He said, “That is an extremely unique asset not only for our area, but also for the entire State of Florida.”

The Bluff is a public-private partnership in the truest sense.

“Florida West is the marketing and support arm of the Pensacola-Escambia Development Commission (PEDC), our development authority which is supported by our city and our county and the private sector,” said Luth. “The development of The Bluffs master plan has really been a joint effort between the public and the private sectors looking at what is our long-term strategy and how do we all work together.”

He further explained, “Our four primary partners on this are the Emerald Coast Utilities Authority and the University of West Florida on the public side and Ascend Performance Materials and Gulf Power Company on the private-sector side. They all came together to look at what is our long-term strategy to support our heavy industry and our heavy manufacturing opportunities.”

The Birth of FOIL
The master plan for The Bluffs didn’t happen overnight. The search began four years ago when economic development was still handled by the Greater Pensacola Chamber.  Fred Donovan, Jr. of Baskerville-Donovan chaired the effort to find potential sites in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties that would support the future growth of current industries as expanded and also attract new companies to the area.

His Commerce Sites and Buildings Committee held its first meeting in April 6, 2011; just months after the chamber announced its Vision 2015 plan that set out to create 3,000 jobs by 2015.

“Our charge was basically what kind of inventory do we have around Pensacola to support economic development activity?” Donovan told Inweekly.  “In order to create 3,000 (jobs), we had to have sites to put the companies. Our committee was all about where are we going to put these folks.”

Because of the pressure to deliver on Vision 2015, the committee chose to meet every three weeks. Donovan divided their efforts into two subcommittees.  Sonny Granger of Granger Development headed the Existing Sites subcommittee that developed an inventory of buildings and sites for businesses to purchase or lease.

“We needed to have some sort of formal program where commercial real estate brokers could submit sites and buildings that they thought were suitable for locating people when they came to Pensacola,” said Donovan. “That fell under Sonny’s group.”

Jim Cronley of Terhaar & Cronley General Contractors took charge of the New Sites subcommittee. Donovan explained, “His group sought to find sites if we wanted to be competitive with Biloxi, Charleston and other towns.”

Every meeting, groups made presentations on property that they had available. Jim Roberts of the Emerald Coast Utilities Authority told the committee about 25,000 acres off of Beck Lake Road, near the ECUA Central Water Reclamation Facility that had opened in December 2010.

“ECUA had so much property, because it thought the utility would have to spray the plant’s effluent out over a lot of area,” said Donovan. “But what happened was instead ECUA did advanced reuse and started piping it over to International Paper for process water and to the Gulf Power Crist Plant for its scrubbers on the plant. ECUA didn’t need the spray fields.”

Meanwhile, Don McMahon, the new chairman of the Greater Pensacola Chamber, was meeting with the Ascend Performance Materials, the successor to Monsanto. The company had a thousand acres of residual property and wanted to work with the Chamber to attract some of its suppliers to the area.

“Donny came back from that and told Sonny and me about it,” said Donovan. “ECUA and Ascend are practically their next-door neighbors. They both have got a bunch of property that doesn’t have anything on it, and they don’t have any plans for it.”

Gulf Power heard about it and had land available south of the site, as did the University of West Florida. Both were interested in being a part of the project.

“We formed a new subcommittee to focus entirely on determining the feasibility of the project,” said Donovan, “We named it ‘Project FOIL’ for Forward Operating Industrial Location.”

He said, “We chose that name because Pensacola is way out on the western panhandle. Florida is not as involved as a state in the northern Gulf Coast economic development marketplace as it is on the east coast. So picking up market share here has a lot more impact than picking up market share somewhere where we may have market saturation.”

Planned Approach
Gary Sammons, District General Manager for Gulf Power’s Western District, represented the utility on the Project Foil subcommittee. He currently serves on the board of FloridaWest.

“Escambia County recognized that it lacked a real product to pitch to industrial prospects,” said Sammons. “Freddie and Sonny’s group took a hard look at the corridor from the University of West Florida up just past ECUA to Becks Lake Road, and said, ‘You know what? This site is rich with opportunity. Let’s pursue it.’”

With the help of the PEDC and Luth, who was the Chamber’s vice president for economic development at the time, a request was made of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity to provide funds for an engineering study of the 6,300 acres to determine the viability of a manufacturing cluster and presenting a planned approach to their development.

The request was approved to examine the land owned by four entities, ECUA, Ascend, Gulf Power and UWF, and to determine if it could be combined into a cohesive, marketable project.

The engineers quickly identified the unique infrastructural assets on the area:

-Three industrial high-pressure natural gas pipelines,
-A 900-MW/HR. power generation plant,
-Excess process steam,
-A 22-MGD wastewater treatment plan producing high-quality reclaimed water,
-Inland well field potable water capabilities,
-Class I industrial waterway access via barge terminals,
-Access to Interstate 10, and
-Proximity to both the Port of Pensacola and Pensacola International Airport.

The land had minimal vulnerability to storm surge and other natural and man-made hazards. Project FOIL also provided sufficient buffering from the academic campus located to its south and from surrounding residences.

The engineers came back with a master plan to develop four industrial clusters under the identity—“The Bluffs: Northwest Florida’s Industrial Complex.”

Live Oak Bluff and Longleaf Bluff are planned for Becks Lake Road, north of the ECUA facility. Live Oak is designed to accommodate up to 13 individual parcels with 210 upland acres, and an estimated building square footage of over 1.76 million sq. ft.  Its existing wetlands are to be preserved and used for a nature trail.

Longleaf has the largest potential parcel sizes on its 340 acres. The conceptual plan accommodates 11 buildings, averaging about 213,000 sq. ft. each, and an environmental learning center.

Magnolia Bluff is sandwiched between ECUA and Ascend and has access to rail and two barge terminals. With three potential parcels ranging from 24-55 acres, the parcels could also be combined for one large industrial facility.

Cypress Bluff is situated between Ascend and the Gulf Power Crist Plant. Its 225 acres can be divided into as many as six parcels. The Conceptual Site Plan accommodates 13 buildings, averaging about 164,020 sq. ft.

The Florida West CEO believes the clustering of industries in each of the bluffs is important.

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