Pensacola, Florida
Friday September 22nd 2017

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The Buzz 7/6/17

A Knife in a Gunfight Dr. Rick Harper believes that Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran’s efforts to dismantle Gov. Rick Scott’s business incentives programs invited those involved in economic development to “bring a knife to a gunfight.”

“Speaker Corcoran felt comfortable in disarming you and saying that you no longer have that tool available,” Harper told Cissy Proctor, Executive Director of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, at the NAIOP Northwest Florida’s Annual Economic Summit, on June 28. “I mean, thank God, we got Triumph through with the provisions it does have in it because it’s substantially better than nothing.”

Harper is an associate professor of marketing and economics at the University of West Florida. He was the director of UWF’s Center for Research and Economic Opportunity, which helped the university play a more significant role in economic development and job growth in Northwest Florida. From 2012-2014, Harper served as Senior Policy Advisor for Economic Affairs to the Florida Senate.

He explained that businesses, particularly those in manufacturing, look for cash grants before locating to a new area. Alabama and Georgia have such incentive programs. Location consultants bring clients “to the table where they sit with government leaders who are saying, ‘Yes, we can give you this much money.’”

Harper said, “Florida now cannot play in that game. Governor Scott was entirely in the right on that argument.”

He compared the fight over incentive programs to gun control.

“Gun control might be okay if you could be sure that everybody didn’t have a gun. Then it would be okay for you not to have a gun,” Harper said.

“But what Speaker Corcoran did was say, ‘Okay, Florida, the other people are still gonna have their guns, but here’s your knife.”

He said that this wasn’t always the case.

“One of the good things that happened in the 2013-14 session was we attempted to put all of the incentive programs on a level footing in terms of calculating return on investment. And that was so that there could be a common yardstick to measure whether they were meeting the taxpayer objectives,” he told the crowd of commercial realtors, bankers, developers, and contractors.

“And the ones that weren’t, like enterprise zones, they could be gotten rid of with not a twinge of conscience because that would free up money to devote to the higher return programs,” said Harper. “And it’s enshrined in law that at least the closing fund has to have a five-to-one return measured in terms of tax dollars generated.”

He lamented the state was now handicapped when approaching businesses to relocate or invest in Escambia County and other places in Florida

Harper said, “Florida cannot come to the table because we no longer have the toolkit. It’s just a really unfortunate outcome of this legislative session.”

Beefing Up Patrols The Pensacola Police Department and Florida Highway Patrol are joining forces to crack down on reckless drivers and traffic crashes within city limits.

For the month of July, officers from both agencies will work overtime to enforce traffic laws to supplement officers on patrol to reduce the number of traffic accidents.

“We have identified that traffic crashes are one of the biggest threats to public safety for a city resident,” Pensacola Police Chief Tommi Lyter said. “This initiative will be a first attempt at reducing crash numbers. And this is the first time the Pensacola Police Department and Florida Highway Patrol are joining forces.”

Ninth Avenue between Langley Avenue and Bayou Boulevard, Bayfront Parkway from 17th Avenue to Spring Street and Cervantes, Garden and Main Street are the targeted areas during the crackdown.

“The focus of this imitative is to reduce traffic crashes, not necessarily write more traffic tickets,” Chief Lyter said. “The idea isn’t to trap anybody. We’re telling you where we are going to be and when we’re going to be there. The idea is to tell everybody to slow down, pay attention and hopefully reduce traffic accidents.”

He added, “One of the number one causes of crashes is speeding and distracted driving. But traffic crashes is one of the few incidents we can actually address with increased traffic enforcement.”

Florida Highway Patrol Major Warren K. Fast, commander of Troop A, added that traffic crashes have a significant impact on the lives of people in Pensacola and the number of crashes, fatalities, and injuries is alarmingly high.

“The agencies will work together to accomplish one primary goal, and that is to reduce traffic crashes and provide a safer driving environment for the community,” he said. “This mission will create a force multiplier for both agencies to reduce the number of lives affected by these incidents.”

Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward said there were about 200 car crashes within Pensacola city limits each month. These accidents result in property damage and usually personal injury.

“I am extremely proud of this forward thinking solution by our PPD and thankful for our partnership with the Florida Highway Patrol,” Hayward said.

He continued, “Public safety is one of my main priorities, and this is another initiative that will protect the citizens and visitors of Pensacola.”

UMA Coming The Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County (CAA) in partnership with the South Walton Artificial Reef Association (SWARA) and support from the National Endowment for the Arts will join two of South Walton, Florida’s most beloved attractions – the arts and the Gulf of Mexico – with the introduction of The Underwater Museum of Art (UMA), North America’s first underwater permanent sculpture exhibit.

The UMA is the first presentation of the CAA’s Art In Public Spaces Program and will augment SWARA’s mission of creating marine habitat and expanding fishery populations while providing enhanced creative, cultural, economic and educational opportunities for the benefit, education, and enjoyment of residents, students, and visitors in South Walton.

Currently, Gulf coastal waters off Walton County are 95 percent barren sand flats. Deployment of sculpture as artificial reefs will provide a source of biological replenishment and protective marine habitat where none exists. The UMA will be deployed with SWARA’s existing USACOA and FDEP permitted artificial reef project that includes nine near shore reefs located within one nautical mile of the shore in approximately 50-60 feet of water. A one-acre permit patch of seabed off Grayton Beach State Park has been dedicated to the CAA for the purpose of a permanent underwater sculpture exhibit.

The first phase of the UMA will include up to six pieces of sculpture. The CAA is calling for local, national and international artists to submit work for consideration for the first installment and permanent exhibition. Sculptures must be created above ground and delivered directly to the deployment area where each will be attached to a grouper box/reef. The sculptures will then be transported by ship to the Gulf and carefully sunk to the floor where they will become a base to which an artificial reef will form, attracting marine life and divers.

Visit CulturalArtsAlliance.com for more information on the UMA project and to apply online. Applications will be accepted through Aug. 11, and artwork must be received no later than Sept. 15.

Repealing Cross Ruling Last Friday afternoon, Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward announced in press release that he would appeal Federal Judge Roger Vinson’s ruling that the towering cross in the city’s Bayview Park was unconstitutional and needed to be removed in 30 days.

He said that the case presented important questions of the relationship between church and state, and he had retained the Washington, D.C.-based Becket law firm, a nationally recognized non-profit religious liberty firm, to handle the appeal for the city free of charge.

“The Bayview Cross has played an important role in the history of Pensacola for over 75 years,” said Mayor Hayward, in the press announcement. “We have a rich and diverse history that is worth celebrating. The Constitution doesn’t require us to erase our history just because part of that history is religious.”

Bayview Park consists of 28 acres overlooking the scenic Bayou Texar. In addition to a cross in the northeast corner of the park, there is a senior center, amphitheater, two dog parks, tennis courts, a bocce ball court, playground, multiple boat ramps and docks, and a memorial to a local citizen who died in a water skiing accident.

In the release, Mayor Hayward criticized the four plaintiffs who filed the lawsuit in May 2017 for not all of them living inside the city limits.

He wrote, “Two of the plaintiffs live in Canada. One has used the cross himself for his own self-described ‘satanic purposes.’ The fourth plaintiff lives outside Pensacola over seven miles from the cross but still says that seeing the cross would be offensive.”

Judge Vinson recognized that the cross was “part of the rich history of Pensacola,” but ruled that it had a “religious purpose” and must be removed. Becket’s attorneys disagreed.

“The Supreme Court has repeatedly said that the government can recognize the religious aspects of our history and culture without violating the Constitution,” said Luke Goodrich, deputy general counsel at Becket, also in the press release. “We expect the city will win this case.”

Becket, which is representing the city free of charge, also successfully defended a statue of Jesus in Montana memorializing soldiers who died during World War II. On June 30, the city filed a motion asking the court to allow the cross to remain in place while the City appeals. The city was represented in the trial court by J. Nixon Daniel, III, and Terrie L. Didier of Beggs & Lane.

Mayor Hayward has paid the Beggs & Lane law firm over $80,000, through April 30, to represent the city in the lawsuit.

On Monday, July 3, Judge Vinson suspended his order to remove the cross pending Pensacola’s appeal.

On the Bottom The Florida Department of Education released last week its 2016-2017 school year grades for districts and schools across the state.

Santa Rosa County School District earned an “A” and was ranked eighth in the state behind St. Johns, Okaloosa, Gilchrist, Wakulla, Collier, Sarasota and Nassau counties.

For the second consecutive year, Escambia County received a “C.” The district was ranked 50th out of Florida’s 67 school districts. However, the grade was an improvement over the 2015-16 school year when the district was ranked 55th.

The Escambia County School District had seven elementary schools earn A’s: Bratt, N. B. Cook, Cordova Park, R. C. Lipscomb, Blue Angels, Molino Park, and Pensacola Beach Elementary School, Inc.

It had six “D” elementary schools – Ensley, Montclair, Navy Point, O. J. Semmes, Reinhardt Holm and Global Learning Academy – and two “F” elementary schools – Myrtle Grove and Warrington.

Only one middle school, Brown Barge, and one high school, West Florida Tech, earned A’s.

Warrington Middle, Woodham Middle, and Pine Forest High received D grades. The last time Warrington Middle earned a grade higher than a D was in 2011. Woodham has received D’s over the same six-year period, except for a C in 2014.

Florida has 1,823 elementary schools. Escambia County has eight in the bottom 100. The state also has 558 middle schools. Of Escambia County’s nine public middle schools, four of them were ranked in the bottom 100: Woodham, Warrington, Bellview and the district’s International Baccalaureate (IB) Middle School, Workman. Woodham is the 12th lowest performing middle school in the state; Warrington 27th.

Pine Forest High is 17th lowest performing public high school in Florida.

Seeking Input With downtown Pensacola growing rapidly there has been a burning need to increase parking, the Downtown Improvement Board and Structured Parking Solutions held a public forum to kick-off the project.

“We need to start looking in the future as downtown develops, there is going to be a large impact on parking,” said Gregory Darden, business development director for Structured Parking Solutions.

Last year, Mayor Ashton Hayward and the Pensacola City Council commissioned the West Florida Regional Planning Council to study downtown parking needs. The report revealed that the Palafox commercial core corridor had an immediate deficit of 1,998 park spaces. However, areas on the edges of the downtown core had sufficient available spaces to meet those needs possibly.

The DIB is working to make sure the parking situation is addressed and tackled in years to come, Darden said.

The downtown project will be done in six phases. Phase one is underway, and Phase two is slowly being put into action, according to Darden.

“The first phase is a series of improvements and impacts to downtown parking and transportation,” he said. “This process would happen within the next four to five months. While phase two will take a little longer, 12 to 13 months, working to validate budgets and things of that sort.”

Business and property owners were in attendance on Tuesday and offered ideas about parking solutions.

Jay Dickson with Volkert Construction Services said the central idea people should take from these meetings and discussions is the importance of promoting downtown economic growth and developing a parking system that works.

“When you reinvest revenue in the proper parking technology and improvements, you inherently increase downtown’s viability,” he said.

Dickson added, “There are three main goals we have to promote this growth, improve customer experience, promote a vibrant downtown and create a financially sustainable parking system.”