Pensacola, Florida
Sunday November 19th 2017

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The Buzz 5/18/17

Fant for AG State Rep. Jay Fant (R-Jacksonville) visited Pensacola last week to introduce himself to locals and raise funds for his Florida Attorney General campaign. On “Pensacola Speaks,” he talked about what the voters can expect from Attorney General Jay Fant.

“If and when elected in 2018, you’re going to see someone who is zealous for the Constitution and zealous for letting Floridians know that the Constitution is for us,” he said. “The First Amendment is for us. The Second Amendment is for us, normal, everyday people. That’s what makes us different, it is our Constitution and the Declaration before then.”

He said would be an Attorney General that is “friendly to small business and friendly to families.”

Fant was one of the few Republicans in the Florida House who spoke out against Speaker Richard Corcoran’s efforts to eliminate Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida during the 2017 session.

“It’s always right, and it’s always correct to scrutinize every element of government spending,” said Fant. “If we’re allocating taxpayer money to get programs like Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida because we want to make sure they’re doing it right, that’s our job to do it.”

He continued, “Where I depart from our Speaker is eliminating those programs because when you eliminate business development and tourist development programs, you don’t get new business or new tourists.”

Being from Jacksonville, Fanta understood the need for incentives to compete with other states for businesses and jobs.

“That’s one of the reasons why I like coming to Pensacola so much. I feel at home here…We are on the Georgia line and the Alabama line, and it’s competitive,” he said. “We can’t have our citizens driving across the line for work, and that’s what it’s gotten to.”

He added, “If you’re in other parts of the state and you don’t feel like you need tourist money and business development money, I wish those folks would come up here to see what we’re fighting for.”

DIB and Parking The Downtown Improvement Board is studying how to meet the future parking needs of the district, but building another parking garage is not the first option, according to DIB chair John Peacock.

“We’ve taken it upon ourselves to go ahead and do it because we are the management of parking,” said Peacock on “Pensacola Speaks” last week. “That’s our job to do that. We want to get ahead of the curve.”

As part of his 2016 goals, Mayor Hayward commissioned the West Florida Regional Planning Council (WFRPC) to do a downtown parking study for $30,000, which was presented to the city council in August 2016. The study identified the number of spaces needed, potential spots for parking garages, and several options for financing the projects.

WFRPC estimated that 1,989 more parking spaces were needed in the Palafox Commercial Core and 1,557 more in the West End Zones. Since then, projects have been presented to the city that would eliminate parking lots on South Palafox and Baylen streets and behind the T.T. Wentworth Museum.

The DIB chairman is reluctant to add more parking garages. He said, “Those things are dang expensive. If you look at some of the studies as far as in the future with ride sharing and walkable cities, a parking garage is going to be less and less utilized.”

Peacock added, “We wouldn’t want to build a parking garage that 10, 15, 20 years from now was a bad move. We’re going to want to build a parking garage as the last resort. Are there ways we can transport people, using ride share or trolleys, those kinds of things, from the assets we do have before we spend multiple, multiple millions of dollars building a garage structure?”

The DIB intends to do its own study to determine how to better utilize the current parking spaces.

“We’re going to put a RFQ (Request of Qualifications) out and pull in some experts, and say, ‘How do we make this system work better?’ Whether it’s in parking garages or use of different kinds of meters,” he said.

Parking is part of life in most downtowns, according to the DIB chairman.

“People are used to paying for parking,” said Peacock. “If we can monetize those spots, we can do a lot of other things with infrastructure needs that come downtown. I want to get away from that negative reinforcement of the ticket and get back to the positive; I’m contributing to the growth and infrastructure part of paying for parking. ”

White’s Report The 2017 Florida Legislation Session had its challenges, especially because of the fight over economic incentives, according to freshman lawmaker Frank White (R-Pensacola)

“As a Republican, I hated seeing the Speaker of the House, President of the Senate and the governor, especially the governor and the House leadership, kind of going at each other on some pretty significant policy debates,” Rep White told Inweekly.

“I think for us it was a unique challenge because we do have an exhibit on one of the issues, on the use of economic incentives as part of economic development,” he said. “We have ‘Exhibit A’ of success at Navy Federal Credit Union right in our backyard.”

The legislature put in the budget $16 million to maintain general operations at the business-recruitment agency Enterprise Florida, down from $23.5 million in the current year. For the second consecutive year, the budget does not include money for business incentives that Scott has relied on to help lure businesses to expand or relocate in Florida.

Scott asked for $85 million a year ago for incentives. House Speaker Richard Corcoran (R-Land `O Lakes) repeatedly called business incentives “corporate welfare,” and Corcoran got his way in the budget.

The state can still offer tax rebates to businesses through programs such as the Qualified Target Industries, which typically requires a local government match.

Meanwhile, the tourism-marketing agency Visit Florida is budgeted to receive $25 million for the fiscal year, which is short of Scott’s request for $100 million. Lawmakers also issued a new set of Visit Florida operational guidelines about travel and marketing contracts.

Rep. White continued, “In Visit Florida in the debate over that funding, obviously we have tourism being a key driver of our local economy. It was another issue that really hit us, that put us on the spot. Really right out of the gate, we have got to go right at two big issues, but we just stuck to our principles and stuck to the way we campaigned.”

He hoped the voters understood his votes. White said, “Hopefully, knock on wood, voters will support us next time around and recognize that.”

Rep. White also discussed his accomplishments during the past session on “Pensacola Speaks” on May 10. He credited the entire Northwest Florida delegation for delivering the Triumph Gulf Coast funds.

“Every legislator, in the House and Senate, worked together as a team to make that happen,” he sad. “That was the number one accomplishment I think for all of us.”

The freshman legislator said that he fought for policies that promoted growth.

“I know there are so many families in our community that either through generational poverty or through decline in manufacturing, there is kind of an erosion of the middle class in our area,” said White. “People are hurting, and the kitchen table economics today are very different than they were so I wanted to support policies that provide good economic growth, better jobs, more jobs for the area.”

White had eight bills this session that ended on Monday, May 8.

“Of those I had all eight, well seven passed the House,” he said. “One I ended up amending onto another bill that was a bigger priority bill and had better chance of making it the whole way.”

He continued, “I got all eight of those across the House. Four of them made it to the Senate. …The governor’s already signed one of them and he’s got I think a stack of others that I suspect he will like and will be hopefully signing soon.”

Tanyard Project Delay Pensacola City Administrator Eric Olson last week told the Pensacola City Council that the Government Street/Corrine Jones stormwater pond will not be completed on May 31 as he told them in January.

Olson said the contractor, Utility Services of Gulf Breeze, notified him of the delay on Friday, May 5.

“They had given us a schedule March 24, saying that they would be completed by May 31,” he told the council. “Unfortunately, that is not the case. The schedule has slid. I’m just going to be very conservative, and I think it slid by two months for the total completion of the project.”

Trying to put a positive spin on the situation, Olson said, “To mitigate some of that, what we are asking the contractor to do is to complete the recreational amenities that are planned for the West Side–that’s the playground equipment, the basketball court. Get the contractor to get that completed, we’ll fence off that section of the park, and we will open that.”

The city administrator did not explain what caused the delay. He said, “The public is going to see a nice new park with a sidewalk around it and lights, and they’re going to want to get in there. Unfortunately, they’re going to have to wait longer, but we will open up as much of the park as we can as soon as it’s completed.”

Olson also reassured the council that water remediation done from October 2016-December 2016 successfully reduced the contamination below EPA levels.

“After the cleanup work on the contamination was completed, we learned that there was a 97-percent reduction in lindane, he told the council. “This was the chief chemical that was found there from the levels that were there in September 2016.”

He added, “We will continue to monitor the ground water in the park, but that’s good news that we’ve cleaned up the ground water in the park.”

Hallmark Approval The Pensacola Planning Board reluctantly approved 76 lots at the 5.1-acre Hallmark School — the second largest redevelopment site in downtown Pensacola.

The Escambia County School Board closed the historic school in 2011, which was first constructed in 1936.

349 LLC, which bought the property for $1 million in April 2013, plans to line the city block with two-story townhomes with a common private park area in the center. South F Street, South E Street, West Romana Street and West Government Street surround the site.

Planning Board members and residents spoke out against the designed dwellings that have a driveway and garage located in the front of the dwelling, claiming it reduced the walkability and visual appeal of the area.

Project engineer Jason Rebol said parking will be in the garages, driveways or streets.

Christian Wagley, a local advocate, said “great” cities are embracing urban design that would require 349LLC to provide parking on the side or behind the home to make it more “pleasant.”

“Cars blocking sidewalks is an epidemic in our city,” Wagley said. “Maybe this case can be teachable.”

Alexis Bolin, a Pensacola area real estate agent, echoed Wagley and said she would take building codes a step further. New city regulations should require new developments to fit the character of the neighborhood where it’s being built.

“We need to have character to them, not something that sticks out like a sore thumb,” she said.

Planning Board members said they would push new building codes with the City Council to address future development in Pensacola. Areas of the city would have to be designated and urban design concepts spelled out in detail, which is something Wagley said he was putting together.

“In the near future, we should have a discussion on the aesthetic qualities of developments such as this one,” said Paul Ritz, planning board chairman.

The property appraiser lists the land value of the location at $386,840 and the overall value at $873,941.

Only the 19-acre ECUA property on Main Street is larger than the Hallmark property.