Pensacola, Florida
Monday November 12th 2018

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Visioning for the Port

By Sammi Sontag

The City invited residents to participate in a conversation about its “Portside Vision and Reinvestment Strategy” in a press release issued on June 11. Pensacola’s 50-acre Port has been a significant contributor to our economy for centuries, but the city enterprise has hit hard times over the past three years.

In 2016, Port operating expenses exceeded revenues by $109,500. Last year, the net operating loss was $721,400. According to the most recent unaudited quarterly financial report, it is estimated that the Port will be short by $330,000 after depleting its reserves by Sept. 30.

Two years ago, Councilwoman Sherri Myers convinced the council to approve $100,000 for an economic feasibility study of the Port of Pensacola.

After little action from the mayor’s office, Myers proposed in June 2017 that the council appoint an Economic Feasibility Study Committee to jump-start the effort. City Administrator Eric Olson told the council that the mayor’s office would hire a real estate and industrial professional to conduct a study and provide recommendations on the entire 50 acres. The firm would analyze the low performing assets, draft a series for requests for proposal and help market them. Myers amended her motion to support Olson’s plan and dropped the study committee.

Myers was pleased to see last week’s announcement about the Port.

“(The mayor’s office) dragged their feet, and then decided they were interested,” Myers told Inweekly. “During the 2017 council budget workshops, I suggested the mayor’s office take the money and get the study done. I am glad he is moving forward with this.”

Councilman Brian Spencer is also pleased.

“I think the mayor and administration is doing exactly what they were instructed to do,” Spencer said. “They have really pushed forward with the first phase of this project, which is the fact-finding. And they will continue to do just that as the Portside vision continues.”

The decision has been made to partner with the global infrastructure advisory firm Moffatt & Nichol. The company specializes in structural, coastal and civil engineering as well as environmental sciences and economic analysis.

“We don’t have any reports yet from Moffatt & Nichol, but I’m sure they’re doing data research about Pensacola’s demographics to figure out what the next phase of the project is,” Spencer said. “But I’m very pleased with the caliber and the depth of experience of this firm.”

Over the next four months, Moffatt & Nichol will explore the different ways in which the Port could evolve, according to the press release. Pensacola residents, port users and other stakeholders are encouraged to engage in the preliminary parts of this study by offering feedback and attending open houses, according to the press release.

However, the City and its consultant had no interest in giving any more background on the visioning effort other than what was in the press release when Inweekly contacted them.

The Director of Waterfront Planning with Moffatt & Nichol, Scott Lagueux, has been unreachable, while the senior project manager with Moffatt & Nichol, Jeff Helms, refused to answer questions regarding the project.

“I am not authorized to say anything right now, and it would be inappropriate for me to comment on the project,” Helms said. “So, if you have any further questions, direct them to the City.”

Pensacola has a proud maritime history. The Port of Pensacola has conducted trade and transportation dating back to the 1500s. In the beginning, goods shipped through Pensacola included regionally harvested lumber, locally made bricks and sailing ship masts. But as Pensacola evolved, the Port’s cargoes did, too.

Manufactured paper, wind turbines, power plant components and services supporting offshore industries became part of the Port’s specialization within the broader network of Florida and Gulf ports.

Currently, the port faces economic “headwinds” in its efforts to remain self-sustaining, according to the press release. The Port’s facilities and infrastructure require constant maintenance and upgrade to continue in its areas of specialization at a time when local, state and federal resources are harder to rely upon.

The mayor’s office warned the “headwinds” have gained strength and could affect the current “renaissance” along Pensacola’s waterfront, throughout the downtown and even in surrounding neighborhoods. The city staff began working on the “Portside Vision and Reinvestment Strategy” earlier this year.

Maintaining and upgrading the Port to strengthen trade and commerce is paramount, Spencer said. Encouraging discussion around the Port is the natural next step as Pensacola’s waterfront and downtown area undergo revitalization.

“I have been in public meetings encouraging colleagues and all citizens to think more broadly and think of this idea as how can we best use these 50 acres on Pensacola’s front porch,” Spencer said. “And as the first stages of this project continue, we need to make sure we’re engaging the public.”

A community open house has been scheduled for June 26-27 at City Hall’s Hagler-Mason Conference Room, 222 W. Main St.  This meeting will include a series of interactive work sessions and surveys to help collect and channel community feedback for the long-term evolution of the Port.  The times have yet to be announced.

The Port’s planning team has created a website, portsidepensacola.com, to encourage the public to engage in the project. The website will have two online survey initiatives designed to grasp what Pensacola residents desire for the waterfront and Port. It will be updated regularly with vision plan materials and news.

The DIB, Gulf Power, city staff and council members, as well as the Greater Pensacola Chamber, are also assisting the Portside vision and reinvestment strategy, according to City PIO Vernon Stewart.

A final draft of the reinvestment strategy will be assembled in September, which will include case study research, concepts, illustrations and strategies, Stewart said.

Portside Vision and Reinvestment Strategy

Timetable
Community Work Session One: “Your Waterfront and Port
June 26-27, Times TBA
Pensacola City Hall, Hagler-Mason Conference Room, 222 W. Main St.

Community Work Session Two: “Future Visions for the Port of Pensacola”
Late July-Early August, Times TBA
Pensacola City Hall, Hagler-Mason Conference Room, 222 W. Main St

Final Vision Plan and Reinvestment Strategy
Sept. 17

Council Meeting
Oct. 11