Pensacola, Florida
Thursday July 20th 2017

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The Buzz 7/13/17

BRAC-Proofing NWFL With the military being more than half of his district’s economy, Congressman Matt Gaetz worked with the Department of Defense to shave off nearly $2 million of the cost of the land transfer involving OLF-8 in the Beulah. In June, the Escambia Board of County Commissioners voted to proceed with the swap.

“We saved between $1.5 and $2 million for taxpayers in Escambia County,” he told Inweekly. “Also, there was a unanimous vote for the County Commission to proceed on this swap that will be very important for the military mission at Whiting Field. We’ve seen so much growth in the northern parts of Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties and places where there can be a night training mission are more limited than they were a decade ago.”

According to Gaetz, the enhancement of night training has made the land deal vital to the mission of NAS Whiting Field and will protect the base in the upcoming Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process.

“With Whiting being 35 percent of Santa Rosa County’s economy, it’s critically important that we BRAC-proof that mission,” said Gaetz. He added that enhancements to the test range in Okaloosa County has “BRAC-proofed” Eglin AFB as the addition of two Coast Guard cutters helped protect to the future viability of NAS Pensacola.

“Across the district, we’re trying to take steps now to enhance investment in our assets to BRAC-proof us for the long term,” said Gaetz.

By meeting a key need of the Navy, Escambia County has improved the area’s chances of surviving a BRAC process, especially when other places may not have community support and an integrated effort on the part of the local and federal governments, according to Gaetz.

He called the OLF-8 land sway a “real testament” to the Escambia County Commission’s commitment to the military’s mission.

Borrowing Against the Future According to Councilwoman Sherri Myers, Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward plans to borrow $20 million and use future Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) collections to pay it back.

The borrowing would come after the mayor borrowed $15 million last year for a street paving that would complete almost 10-years worth of resurfacing before the 2018 mayoral election. Hayward also got the Pensacola City Council to approve borrowing an additional $15 million for gas line repair and replacement for the streets being paved.

On “Pensacola Speaks” last Thursday, Myers said she learned of the borrowing from the city’s Chief Financial Officer.

She said, “According to Dick Barker, our Chief Financial Officer, the Mayor plans to ask the City Council to borrow about $20 million against our LOST money.”

Myers pointed out that the mayor had already borrowed once against future LOST revenues for the new Bayview Community Center and the Fire Station No. 3.

She hopes that the mayor would also include in any borrowing sidewalks and drainage for Burgess Road. Myers had thought the funds were already available for the project but was told by Barker that the mayor had reallocated them for other projects outside of her district.

“(Hayward) definitely knows how dangerous Burgess Road is, not just for children, but for the public in general because I’ve had conversations with him,” she told Inweekly.  “I’ve now been told the mayor’s office wants those funds used elsewhere.”

Frustrated, Myers has asked the city council to fund the project for her district that she has repeatedly brought before it.

“I am going to ask the council to allocate $1.6 million to fix the drainage and put sidewalks on Burgess Road, running basically from Davis Highway to Sanders Street. I believe the county will again step up to the plate and offer to fix their one block of Burgess Road. As you know, Commissioner Robinson had set aside $350,000 to address the one block that’s in the county.”

If the council votes for her agenda item, she hopes the mayor would reconsider and add the project to his $20-million borrowing.

“I’m asking that the money for Burgess Road be included in any funds that they want to borrow against LOST,” said Myers.  “It’s really and truly unconscionable, and it breaks my heart daily as I drive up and down Burgess Road.”

Jumbotron on Garden Quint Studer told Inweekly that the Studer Properties would reveal its plans for the SunTrust building on the corner of Garden and Spring streets on July 23.

“It won’t be all of it. It’ll be conceptual, but it’ll show what the inside of the conference center’s going to look like—17,000 square feet,” he said. “It’s going to show what the lobby and the conference center will look like, what some workspaces are going to look it.”

He said the plan is to have the glass doors of the lobby area open up for events that will take place in the plaza, but that won’t be the feature that generates the most discussion, according to Studer.

“We’re going to try to put a video board on the side of the building because we think with today’s technology and where that building is, there’s just not a lot of vibrancy there,” he said. “People can come and watch movies; they can come watch events. Heck, we could’ve put the symphony playing at the park for the Fourth of July.”

The screen will require a variance, and Studer is prepared for some to oppose the idea. He said, “We hope that people will say that we have to get away from what things were like all these years. When you go into other cities, it’s very common on buildings to have video boards and use them for education and entertainment.”

Last week, the Rishy and Quint Studer announced their purchase of the 5 Eleven Palafox event space on South Palafox Street, in the location that once housed Trader Jon’s and the trendy women’s clothing store Sarah’s.

“Two doors down from us where we live is Sarah Brown,” Studer explained. “She called up Rishy about two, three weeks ago and reached out that they were interested in selling the property and they said they like what we do.”

David Penniman of Classic Catering also contacted him because 5 Eleven is one space that allowed a lot of people to cater there and the space has provided revenue for the catering companies and created several jobs.

“Rishy went in and bought it, and we think it really rounds out that corner,” said Studer. “You can stay in the new hotel when it opens, get flowers, you can get your hair done, and then you can have your rehearsal dinner at the shops, and then you can have your wedding reception or other events at 5 Eleven.”

Luring the Pelicans Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward didn’t come clean with the Escambia Board of County Commissioners when he told them, in a letter dated June 9, that he had only been invited to present to the New Orleans Pelicans on May 24, two weeks before he and his staff traveled to New Orleans to present his proposal to host an NBA developmental league team.

The invitation to present the proposal did come on May 24, but Hayward and his staff had known about the Pelicans’ Request for Proposal (RFP) for nearly two months.

Through public records released July 5, Inweekly received a copy of the March 31 email sent by the Pelicans’ Stephen Pate directly to Mayor Hayward and his executive aide, Ben Ouellette, regarding hosting a team. Including the mayor’s executive aide on the email indicated conversations between Hayward and the Pelicans probably took place earlier than March 31.

Mayor Hayward did not share the RFP with the Pensacola City Council or Escambia County Commission. He seemed to have taken a lackadaisical approach and almost missed the deadline to let the NBA team know of his intent to make a proposal.

On April 21, Pate sent the mayor a reminder that the intent to propose was due: “I hope you’re doing well! I wanted to follow up on my previous email regarding the New Orleans Pelicans G-League RFP. As a friendly reminder, today is the deadline for intent to respond. Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns.” Mayor sent his notification of his intent later that day.

The public would not have known that the City was responding to any RFP if the Pelicans hadn’t sent out a press release on April 25. Still, no official announcement of the details was sent by the mayor’s office to the commissioners or city council.

On May 5, Mayor Hayward sent the Pelicans a request for clarification. He wanted to know if a temporary facility could be proposed while a new one was being renovated or built and was there a minimum number of years for the agreement.  The mayor did not contact the county, the owner of the Pensacola Bay Center, about the availability of the Pensacola Bay Center or any concerns about any potential agreement.  Hayward did not mention the RFP to the City Council or County Commission at their May regular meetings.

On May 24, the Pelicans sent out a request for the city to present its RFP in New Orleans on June 8.  The mayor’s office and the Pelicans exchanged several emails about the actual date for the presentation because of the mayor’s travel schedule. As late as May 31, the date and time hadn’t been settled.

May 31 was the day Mayor Hayward called County Commission chair Doug Underhill to tell him about the developmental team and the Pelicans’ interest in the area. The call and subsequent letter happened only after county and Bay Center staff insisted some information be given to the commissioners.

The mayor’s office finally settled on June 7 to make the presentation. He took with him: Ben Ouellette, Executive Aide; Rebecca Ferguson, City of Pensacola Economic Planning Policy Coordinator; Brian Cooper, Director of Parks and Recreation; and Ray Palmer, President of Pensacola Sports Association. No one from the county or Pensacola Bay Center.

The public would not have known about the New Orleans meeting if Inweekly hadn’t reported that it was happening.  However, the county commissioners have said they are willing to listen to Mayor’s proposal and talk with the Pelicans’ management.

“I hadn’t seen anything more than what came through from when the mayor’s office was going to New Orleans without even knowing what we had,” Commissioner Grover Robinson told Inweekly. “We are happy to look at it. We had our partners there with SMG talking to us about some options (later in June), but we don’t have anything official, and we haven’t been engaged in any official capacity.”

In late June, Pate visited with some of the county commissioners. Pensacola appeared to be in the running, but what it will cost to get them here hasn’t been announced. At some point, the public will get the details.

According to the documents received by Inweekly, the mayor and his staff have done no analysis of the viability of the new developmental league, its potential economic impact on our area or what the actual costs would be —even though Hayward has had three months to do so.

At some point, someone is going to have to step in and work out the details – either the county commissioners, Visit Pensacola or Pensacola Sports. With Escambia County battling a possible budget shortfall and the city yet to release its proposed budget, citizens need to know the financial commitments required and from where Mayor Hayward believes the funds should come.

Robinson said, “If the city wants to say, ‘yes, we want this to happen’ and they want to help and find a way to help us, we are more than happy to work with them. That’s collaboration.”