Pensacola, Florida
Saturday December 16th 2017

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The Buzz 6/15/17

New Life for Land Swap Escambia County Commissioner Jeff Bergosh says the county was ready to pull the plug on the proposed commerce park for Outlying Field 8 (OLF-8) until it received a letter from the U.S. Navy last week.

To obtain OLF-8, the Escambia Board of County Commissioners has been working on a land swap with the Navy. The plan was for the county to develop a 640-acre site in Santa Rosa County into a helicopter-training field nearly identical to OLF-8. Once complete, the site would be traded for OLF-8.

However, the development costs have escalated, putting the swap in jeopardy.

“It got to a point, Rick, where we were losing patience,” Bergosh said last week on “Pensacola Speaks.” “Frankly, it looked like the project could die. We could not keep up with the cost overruns.”

The commissioners asked Congressman Matt Gaetz to intervene and explain to the Navy that Escambia County could not afford to build such an elaborate field.

“So, he went, to his credit, to D.C., and we got a nice letter from the Navy saying okay we’re willing to make the following concessions,” Bergosh said. “In speaking with Administrator Jack Brown, it could be as much as between one and two million dollars, which will really help us out.”

The possible development of OLF-8 was a campaign issue when Bergosh won the District 1 seat last year. Voters were concerned about the construction in the Beulah area and the stress on area’s infrastructure. Bergosh said he assured the residents of two things.

“Number one, I told them, people have seen the value of this project. It was ranked number one with the Restore Act Committee. People who are experts in various fields looked through all the different projects, and they ranked it number one as the next economic development project,” he said.

“Number two, I tried to reassure them that we’re looking to get high-tech manufacturing, light manufacturing, and assembly jobs. There’s not going to be smokestacks, no grinding and crushing machines, no foul odors,” said Bergosh.

“And we’re going to put a very strict master plan in place, so there will be some enhancements that will benefit the community, perhaps a walking track all the way around it. You know, perhaps some retail facilities that might benefit the community as well as the commerce park.”

He added, “But, more importantly, the construction is going to be strict, strictly based upon this master plan, which is going to say look, no metal buildings, no temporary PEDs, no loading docks visible.”

Try Transit Day In efforts to further awareness about the economic and environmental benefits of using public transit, “Try Transit” events are held across the country to encourage community members to experience public transportation.

Locally, rideOn is participating in the Escambia County Area Transit (ECAT) Try Transit Day 2017. The Escambia County event will begin with entertainment, raffles, and the announcement of the winners of the Explore ECAT 2017 Youth Art Contest. Winners will have their art featured on various transit stop shelters for an entire year.

The ECAT Try Transit Day 2017 begins at 9 a.m. on Thursday, June 15, at the Rosa L. Parks Transit Complex, 1515 West Fairfield Drive. rideOn is a program of the West Florida Regional Planning Council and is funded by the Florida Department of Transportation.

Blount Project Nitpicked By a 5-1 vote on June 8, the Pensacola City Council granted local developer ParsCo LLC the opportunity to redevelop the former Blount School property into residential housing.

But there is a caveat. Council members also voted to review and finalize the project’s details before the build process begins.

“I’m excited about this project,” Councilwoman Jewel Cannada-Wynn said. “However, I would like after the negotiations with the mayor that it come back to the council.”

She continued, “Because I do have some questions that concern me with the project.”

The council felt comfortable with ParsCo taking on the job. However, some members worried the project was not economically sound for people in the workforce.

“The city was looking to develop the Blount School property into workforce housing and affordable housing,” Councilman Gerald Wingate said. “And looking through this RFP, the houses that are to be developed on this property will not be workforce housing or affordable housing.”

He added, “Those houses are $199,000 and no school teacher, fireman or policeman would be able to get one of these houses at that particular price.”

Councilwoman Sherri Myers was concerned with the proposed green space and its purpose, upkeep, and size.

“Is this park going to be a city maintained park? Because if it is, I have a real problem with that,” she said. “It just looks like we’re building an awful lot of parks, and I can’t find a justification for this one especially because it’s only three blocks from Legion Field.”

ParsCo CEO Amir Fooladi assured the council his plans were not set in stone, and he would work to iron out the wrinkles.

“The company worked really hard on putting together a clear and concise response for the project,” Fooladi said. “A lot of these designs are conceptual right now. We still need to do community forums, but we really want to be a partner with the city.”

After the ParsCo vote, the council continued to nitpick the plans. Councilman P.C. Wu objected to the discussion.

“I feel the need to say this,” said Wu. “If you go back and examine this tape tonight we have cherry picked every project that has come before us.”

He added, “We’ve done this to properties that have sat vacant for years and that produce zero income for this city. And now we have people stepping forward to fix these properties, and we are doing everything we can to discourage them. And then we wonder why people will not come and do business with us.”

Buffett’s Favorites Garden and Gun magazine got singer Jimmy Buffett to list his favorite Gulf Coast bars for its June/July issue.

“The one thing about talking to Jimmy, was this wasn’t PR,” said Dave Dibenedetto, the editor-in-chief of Garden and Gun. “He knew every one of these bars, he had been to these bars, and he felt strongly about them. This just wasn’t someone citing a press release.”

Dibenedetto said his associate editor, Elizabeth Hutchison, was impressed with Buffett. He said, “He’s the real deal. (Hutchison) hung up the phone and said, ‘He’s everything you’d hope he would be.’”

Buffet’s list included Blue Gill of Spanish Fort, Ala., Island Hotel of Cedar Key, Fla., Lucy’s Retired Surfers Bar of New Orleans, La., Scranton’s of Pascagoula, Miss., Trapani’s Eatery of Bay St. Louis, Miss. and his sister’s Gulf Shores, Ala. bar, LuLu’s at Homeport Marina.

The editor-in-chief explained how the Charleston, S.C.-based magazine got its name.

“There was a club in town called The Garden and Gun Club. The way I understand it, it was the Studio 54 of Charleston,” he told Inweekly. “And when all the bars would close in town, the Garden and Gun Club, because it was a club, could stay open a little later. That’s where everybody went.”

Dibenedetto added, “When you mention that club to folks who were there back in the day, they have a knowing smile that comes across their face that makes you wish you were around when it was open for sure.”

Panhandling Ordinance Repealed At its June 8 regular meeting, the Pensacola City Council voted, 4-2, to repeal an ordinance passed a month earlier to ban panhandling in downtown Pensacola. Several council members believed the law was unconstitutional and economically flawed.

“Well, there are a lot of problems with this ordinance,” Councilwoman Sherri Myers said. “I realize we have a problem and that the downtown area is becoming more and more residential.”

She continued, “I want to make sure certain behavior doesn’t adversely affect the residents, but this ordinance isn’t the way to do that.”

The law made it illegal for anyone, including panhandlers, street performers, and charities, to ask for a donation within the newly-created Downtown Visitors District, which stretches from Palafox Street to Wright Street and all the way to Pensacola Bay. All violators were to be given civil citations and fined.

The council also discussed how much the ordinance would cost the city to defend. The American Civil Liberties Union had already filed a suit in federal court.

“This ordinance has a negative economic impact,” Myers said. “And it is asking us to spend a lot of money defending cases that are highly questionable on constitutional grounds. I think there are other ways we can address the issues that you are concerned with.”

Councilman Larry Johnson favored repealing the ordinance and working with the city and community members to create a new one.

“Sometimes you can only feel 51 percent on an issue and 49 percent against it, and you still must vote for it,” he said. “So I had very mixed feelings about voting for this in the first place.”

He added, “I don’t know if this is dependable, but I hope we can get together and all agree on something as far as an ordinance so we can do something about the excessive panhandling in our downtown.”

The director of Satoshi Forest Sanctuary, Michael Kimberl, told the council he would work with the city to fix the problem.

“Incarceration and fines are problematic and counter-productive really,” he said. “We need to come up with a solution that is proactive, which is something we can definitely do.”

New Ronald McDonald Family Room Trey Barefield remembers getting a call at 4:45 a.m. to come to the Children’s Hospital immediately to check on the condition of his severely injured son, Drew.

They were staying at the Ronald McDonald House just down the hill from the hospital, and he said the 10 minutes to get to his son’s bedside seemed like an eternity. Doctors had his son’s legs in the air to keep him from bleeding out.

Now families like the Barefields will be able to stay in a three-room Ronald McDonald space located on the second floor, seconds away from the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit of The Studer Family Children’s Hospital at Sacred Heart, which is expected to open in 2019.

“These are excellent new facilities,” Trey said. “It’s an awesome service. You’re just 50 steps away.”

The Barefields, who live in Crestview, stayed at the Ronald McDonald House for 75 days, while Drew underwent 13 surgeries. The 12-year-old boy was snorkeling in Pensacola Bay when another boat injured him in a hit-and-run accident. He had to fight off three different bacteria, had a ruptured spleen, punctured a lung, and his kidneys looked “like eggs smashed on a counter.”

Trey, who was fishing for mullet, said he arrived at the Ronald McDonald House with his clothes covered in blood and sand. Ronald McDonald House had everything he needed to clean up and even allowed his wife, a dental hygienist, to brush her teeth.

“They cry with you, they pray with you, they support you,” Trey said, holding back tears. “They became like a family to us. The care we received here was second to none. You can’t put a price tag on the service they gave.”

Today, Drew looks like any normal high school sophomore. He’s wearing a red T-shirt, cut-up jeans, and sneakers. However, the now 15-year-old raised $1 million toward the new Ronald McDonald Family Room. What does he remember about the traumatic time in the hospital?

“I remember the funny times in the hospital like when Superman came to visit me,” he said.

The space is 3,000-square-feet and has a beach-theme. In the future, families will be able to take advantage of staying in one of the three rooms that each have a bathroom. Parents can use the laundry facilities and shower room. They can also escape to the Quiet Room for privacy, the large open living and dining room, a computer area and playroom for the young patient’s brothers or sisters.

Dr. Rob Patterson, the Children’s Hospital medical director, hugged Drew when he spotted him. He said Drew was the sickest of the sick then. Patterson recalled at a Denver hospital where he worked previously parents sleeping in hallways to be near their children.

“This is what we would want for ourselves,” Patterson said of the new Ronald McDonald space. “It’s a little embarrassing when his dad said what a blessing we were in his families’ lives. From my perspective, we felt loved and blessed in ways I can’t describe.”

Henry Stovall, the Children’s Hospital President, said the new Ronald McDonald Family Room “was truly and effort of love.”

Judy Burns, Ronald McDonald House Charities of Northwest Florida Executive Director, said the organization has served more than 14,000 children and their families since 1984. She said many had to be turned away because of a lack of space.

“Need a rest? Need to recharge? That’s what the Family Room is about,” Burns said. “We’re so excited about the room. It should feel like you’re walking into a friend’s house.”