Pensacola, Florida
Sunday August 19th 2018

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Port Needs a Plan

By Rick Outzen and Duwayne Escobedo

The Port of Pensacola is dying. Its four major revenue sources dropped nearly 30 percent from FY 2012-FY 2016, according to the city’s budget documents.

Three of the primary revenue sources are a function of ship traffic at the port–wharfage, which dropped 19. 7 percent over the four years; storage down 32. 6 percent; and dockage down 37.7 percent. The top revenue source is property rental fees, which dropped 24.7 percent from FY 2012-FY 2016.

The financial outlook for the port isn’t any better for the fiscal year that started on Oct. 1. The Pensacola City Council in May terminated the lease agreement with Offshore Inland for Warehouse 9, which was supposed to house the DeepFlex joint venture that was to create 200 manufacturing jobs and revitalize the port operations.

Three years ago, Offshore Inland Marine & Oilfield Services announced a permanent relocation from Mobile to Pensacola. The company expected to add at least 35 administrative positions and up to 80 fabrication positions, averaging $80,000 a year. In July 2014, Mayor Ashton Hayward announced the DeepFlex deal and touted that it would create 200 jobs and generate $52 million in capital investment for the city.

The council vote in May signaled the official admission that those jobs weren’t coming to Pensacola. It also left the Port of Pensacola with only two tenants, CEMEX Ready Mix and Offshore Inland Marine.

The mayor’s office failed to mention the decline in tenants in the FY 2018 proposed budget. The budget documents showed the port claimed that it had retained four major customers but failed to mention that two of them, Sine Qua Non-Holdings and Siddiqi Investments, were merely renting the parking lot near Commendencia Slip.

The FY 2018 proposed budget estimates port revenues will drop 21.4 percent below the FY 2017 budget. If the City meets that FY 2018 budget estimate, the port revenues will have fallen $803,000 since FY 2012.

Research Facility
While he has not held a press conference to outline how he plans to turn around the port, Mayor Ashton Hayward has announced that he is seeking a $15-million Triumph Gulf Coast grant to renovate Warehouse 4 into a marine research, development and education facility.

The proposed project is a regional partnership that includes the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition, University of West Florida, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Naval Sea Systems Command-Panama City and the City of Pensacola. According to information sent to the Escambia Board of County Commissioners, the facility will provide research for military or commercial autonomous vessels, product development and commercialization to market; intelligent subsea structures, environmental and ecosystem assessment with classroom and laboratories supporting those activities.

The building, which has been unused for years, needs to be renovated to accommodate the research space, classrooms, laboratories, manufacturing areas, storage and offices in modern recycled containers for mobility, flexibility and reusable workspace.

The 45,000 sq. ft. warehouse may also support marine research vessels for both offshore and inshore operations.  The FWC Enforcement Division operations may relocate from the landing site of the new Pensacola Bay Bridge, according to the city’s website.

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