Pensacola, Florida
Wednesday October 18th 2017

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The Buzz 10/12/17

A Failure to Communicate On the eve of the final hearing for Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward’s FY 2018, City Administrator Eric Olson emailed the City Council the master plan for Bayview Park that showed the construction cost of the new Bayview Community Center had risen from $6 million to $8.25 million. The council approved the increase at the hearing.

However, a recent survey reveals that city leaders may have acted too quickly. Only 53.1 percent of the city’s most likely voters knew the $8.25 million capital project had been approved. A larger percentage, 57.1 percent, either don’t support, are undecided or not sure about spending $8.25million on the Bayview Center now that they know the cost. Only 19.5 percent of the respondents said the public was given enough input and information about the final plans.

A positive for Mayor Hayward is that all the respondents said they had visited Bayview Park at least once in the past six months – 30.8 percent visited more than three times.

The 19,000 sq. ft. proposed Bayview center is approximately two-thirds the size of Sanders Beach Community Center and includes three meeting rooms, an exercise room, and two event spaces that can be combined to accommodate 278 people. It also has a 5,000 sq. ft. boathouse for kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, and rowing shells.

The Sanders Beach Community Center’s ballroom has a stage, a seating capacity to handle up to 350 and a full kitchen. The large event space at the proposed Bayview Center is 3,432 sq. ft., while the Sanders Beach ballroom is nearly double the size – 6,110 sq. ft.

This study was conducted by The Political Matrix between Sept. 29 and Oct. 1 using Interactive Voice Response (IVR) technology. Only households who voted at least four out of the last four elections were called. The numbers were randomized and 448 completed studies were collected. The margin of error was 4.5 percent.

Do or Die For Arena Pensacola businessman Jay Patel last week pitched his plan to the Escambia County Commission to create a public-private partnership for $65 million to build a 6,500-seat arena and field house.

“I’m as ready as I can be,” said Patel contacted by Inweekly the day before the meeting. “Tomorrow is probably do or die. If we move forward, we intend to move forward aggressively.”

The multi-purpose facility, which would also host conventions, meetings, entertainment and other large events, is proposed to be built on the former 19-acre ECUA Mainstreet Wastewater site owned by Pensacola entrepreneur Quint Studer, Port of Pensacola or on the existing Pensacola Bay Center location.

Patel, who formed the Pensacola Arena Development Partners LLC for the project, said Hunt Development Group, a Texas-based investment company, would provide the money up front to build the sports complex. Hunt would be repaid by the county under a 30-year lease agreement.

Patel also told Inweekly that his group of eight companies would look at securing Triumph Gulf Coast funding, tourism development tax money, sales tax money and other government sources. He said private companies would cover any annual losses and, would split profits with the county, if the facility makes money. Additionally, Patel said private backers would put $200,000 a year into reserves to help replace items in the facility in the future.

Patel said the group does not have any projections on how much income the facility would generate or what the economic impact might be. A 2012 study by Tampa-based firm Crossroads Consulting Services and Convergence Design reported an indoor youth-sports facility could result in an economic impact of $25 million to the county.

About 450 to 525 jobs would be created, Patel said.

The plan for the sports complex includes a 100,000-square-foot field house that can handle 12 volleyball courts or 10 basketball courts. The plan also calls for a hotel, two 800-space parking garages and 450-spaces for surface parking, as well as retail space on the northeast and northwest corners.

Another Offer for ECUA Site While Jay Patel prepared to go before the Escambia Board of County Commissioners, Quint Studer told Inweekly publisher Rick Outzen on “Pensacola Speaks”  that Studer Properties has an offer on the former ECUA Main Street Sewage Plant site.

“We’ve got a serious person right now looking at it,” he said. “In fact, we have an initial offer on it, and we’re countering ‘em, which I think would be wonderful for the community.”

He added, “We don’t have that from Jay. We do have it from another person, who’s very interested in making something special on that property.”

Studer said that Andrew Rothfeder of Studer Properties did talk with Patel, but no commitment or offer came out of those discussions. Patel wanted to know if the Studers would be willing to sell the land.

He said, “And, of course, we said yes. But I think that’s far as it’d gotten.”

Studer added, “The main thing we’re always interested in is that whoever purchased that property do something that’s really right for the long-term…And, as you know, you’re committed, I’m committed, to that west side of Pensacola.”

Who Else is Interested? The Escambia Board of County Commissioners voted 4-0, with Commissioner Lumon May absent, to solicit letters of interest from other development companies to build a field house and possibly an arena. The companies have three weeks to submit their letters.

Purchasing Coordinator Paul Nobles told the commissioners, “If we don’t have any additional interest, then we can move forward. If we do have interest, then the commission can say at this point ‘let’s give them more time to produce a product that we will then be able to review.’”

Commission Chairman Doug Underhill made it clear in the motion that the board would not entertain any proposal that requires use of General Fund dollars. If the proposal does not have an arena, it must have plans for dealing with the Bay Center.

The board is also looking to see the City of Pensacola participate in the final project, since all the proposed sites–Bay Center, former ECUA site and Port of Pensacola–are inside city limits.

Commissioner Steven Barry said, “The Port has no debt. It’s certainly owned by a municipal partner. They have a better chance of being that real property partner.”

How many letters do the commissioners expect to receive? Underhill said he expected to receive zero interest in the deal. Others appeared to be more optimistic.

If no letters are submitted, then the board will ask for more details from Jay Patel and his group, Pensacola Arena Development Partners LLC.

Then as Commissioners Jeff Bergosh and Underhill said, “The devil will be in the details.”

AppRiver Finds a Suitor The California-based investment firm Marlin Equity Partners has acquired a majority interest in one of the Pensacola area’s most well-known technology companies.

AppRiver CEO Mike Murdoch told Inweekly the company will keep its headquarters in Gulf Breeze and its management team.

“This lets us compete on a global scale with the largest tech companies in the world,” said Murdoch. “Up to now we’ve been self-funded and have held our own, but technology is constantly changing. This allows us to stay relevant and secure the company’s future.”

Marlin Equity Partners is a global investment firm with over $6.7 billion of capital under management. The company has been acquiring tech companies at a rapid pace.

In August, Marlin announced that it had signed a definitive agreement to acquire Medius AB, a provider of cloud-based accounts payable automation software. In July, the company acquired ABIT Europe Group, a provider of claims and credit management and risk and impairment software and services; Zetta, Inc., a leading provider of cloud-based backup and disaster recovery solutions; and Experior Group Limited, a leading provider of software testing and quality assurance services.

AppRiver was founded in 2002 by Michael Murdoch and Joel Smith. It protects 10 million email accounts for over 53,000 customers worldwide. The company has over 250 employees spread over offices in Gulf Breeze, Atlanta, Austin and Barcelona, Spain.

Murdoch is very excited about the acquisition because AppRiver is seen as a platform company that can be expanded further.

“We will be able to add more products and services and improve on our current ones,” he said.

Grover’s Beach Town Hall Escambia County Commissioner Grover Robinson did something that Mayor Ashton Hayward would never do. He held a town hall and faced citizens who disagreed with one of his initiatives, and by the end of the meeting, the audience applauded him.

About a dozen local citizens upset with his stance on the Fee Simple bill serenaded Robinson at by singing “move over Grover” at his Pensacola Beach town hall on Oct. 3.

The protesters believed that Robinson is trying to give away Pensacola Beach property that the federal government deeded to the county in 1947 to make decisions for the good of the public.

He explained the language he provided in the bill spearheaded by Congressman Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, offered solutions to taxation and to preservation. The bill provides a more equitable payment method for Pensacola Beach leaseholders. It allows them to choose to pay lease fees or pay property taxes but not both as many do now. Escambia County set up the lease system when the federal government initially conveyed the property. The county began assessing taxes on improvements on beach property in 2004.

Additionally, Robinson pointed out the bill, if it becomes law, would permanently protect undeveloped public areas from development. That means both national lawmakers and the five-member Escambia County Commission—instead of just commissioners—would have to approve development of those lands.

Robinson, who once owned a Pensacola Beach condo, pointed out zero high-rise condominiums have gone up since he took office in 2006.

“Pensacola Beach means an awful lot to me,” Robinson told the crowd. “Pensacola Beach is the single biggest asset we have.”

He admonished Santa Rosa County Commissioners for failing to put restrictions on Navarre Beach Development and continuing to pursue a pass through the barrier island. Robinson said their action caused Sen. Bill Nelson to drop his support for the bill.

“I see a lot of ‘save our beach’ signs,” Robinson said. “(Milton) is where all the noise needs to be made. We did it. Why can’t they do it?”

The standing-room-only crowd that packed the SRIA boardroom applauded Robinson at the end of the meeting.

Vanishing Trajectory On Aug. 31, Crystal Yasurk, Vice President of Finance and Administration for Offshore Inland, notified the City of Pensacola that the company could not make the final balloon payment required to pay its past due debts, $199,200.

Offshore Inland instead paid $15,000 and asked Miller for an extension that would pay off the balance in monthly increments of $10,000. The issue is on the council’s agenda for its Oct. 12 meeting.

City Administrator Eric Olson gave an update on the Pensacola International Airport at the Sept. 11 Agenda Review but ignored the lease issue at the Port of Pensacola during his report to the council. City CFO Dick Barker also did not mention the default in his monthly financial report to the council.

Last year, Port Director Amy Miller convinced the council to terminate Offshore Inland’s lease for Warehouse #9, which was intended for the new defunct DeepFlex project, and accept a payment plan for the past due charges. She said that the deferral would give the city time to see if the offshore industry turns around. It apparently hasn’t.