Pensacola, Florida
Monday September 16th 2019

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The Buzz 6/20/19

Bay Roundabout Designed with traffic flow and safety in mind, the planned roundabout at the foot of the Pensacola Bay Bridge will dramatically alter the existing landscape. No longer will drivers wait at a traffic signal at the intersection of 17th Avenue and Bayfront Parkway but instead will circle their way toward the preferred route via a roundabout.

The Florida Department of Transportation presented a peek at the planned roundabout project on Tuesday, June 11, at the Studer Community Institute. In addition to artist renderings placed around the lobby, there was also a short informational video explaining what to expect from the interchange project.

“This is part of the Pensacola Bridge Project as a whole,” explained Ian Satter, public information officer for FDOT, District 3.

Currently, drivers approaching the Pensacola Bay Bridge from Bayfront Parkway or 17th Avenue wait at a traffic signal to either get on the bridge or make a turn towards either downtown or the Graffiti Bridge. Drivers headed in from Gulf Breeze and exiting the bridge, meanwhile, continue straight on Bayfront, veer right towards Gregory Street or turn up 17th Avenue.

When the roundabout is completed, drivers on Bayfront and Gregory will have the option to either travel directly onto the bridge or engage the roundabout to make a turn onto 17th. Drivers exiting the bridge will either use a flyover to travel over the roundabout and onto Bayfront or Gregory, or they could also choose to exit the bridge before the flyover and either enter the roundabout or turn directly up 17th toward the Graffiti Bridge.

The bridge’s flyover will consist of three 11-foot lanes for westbound traffic. The roundabout underneath the flyover will have a single 15-foot-wide lane.

Satter said he thinks drivers will ultimately appreciate the addition of a roundabout, which he said should improve both safety and efficiency. He noted that the addition of the roundabout should have the added benefit of helping to reduce the number of large trucks choosing to traverse up 17th, where they sometimes run afoul of the low-clearance Graffiti Bridge. Truck drivers, he said, typically will choose another route to avoid using a roundabout. Trucks can, however, still head up 17th sans roundabout by using the bridge’s exit lane to the right.

The Bayfront-Gregory-17th interchange project is scheduled to begin this summer. Both the interchange and the bridge as a whole is expected to wrap up by the summer of 2021. The span itself is costing $398 million, while the roundabout interchange is running another $23 million.

During construction, FDOT is advising drivers to expect temporary lane shifts and detours. There will also be lane closures, but such closures should be confined to nighttime hours, from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m.

While this interchange project has been in the works for a while and is set to begin soon, FDOT is still taking public comment on the project for two more weeks. Comments can be emailed to jack.harrison@dot.state.fl.us.

Survey Says The city of Pensacola recently conducted an employee survey to get a read on how its workforce felt about working for the municipality. The results were released during the Monday, June 10, presser.

According to Mayor Robinson, the survey—which saw a 76 percent participation rate—revealed that two-thirds of city employees “appear to be satisfied and enjoy working for the city of Pensacola.” However, only 49 percent of those employees are “engaged.”

“Our job is to get our employees engaged and get them feeling good about what they do and coming to work every day and engaging and making this community better,” Robinson said.

The survey also reflected some challenges for the city beyond finding ways to engage employees better. Workers, perhaps not surprisingly, would also like better pay.

“We realize that,” the mayor said. “We’re already making moves with the budget that will be released very shortly, some things we’re doing for compensation.”

Robinson framed the overall findings of the survey as neutral and said they should be viewed as a roadmap of sorts.

“This necessarily isn’t saying bad or good; it’s just simply saying this is where we are, and here are the things that we actually can make a difference in,” he said.

Five of the 17 departments scored low on the majority of factors measured by the survey—Fleet Management, 12 low of 13 factors; and Airport, Human Resources, Pensacola Energy and Public Works, each with nine low of 13 factors.

Compensation was scored significantly below the norm by 12 of 17 divisions, while Job Security was scored significantly below the norm by nine of 17 divisions. Those were followed by Service (8), Communication (7) and Work Pressure (7).

Quint Studer, who has used employee engagement surveys for nearly two decades both with his clients and his own companies, told Inweekly that it’s not unusual for employees to be dissatisfied with compensation. He said that low scores often indicate poor communication from the HR department in explaining the value of benefit packages.

To deal with these below average scores, the consultant, Sperduto & Associates, recommended, “Investigate the issues that are impacting the departments that scored below average on more than half of the survey factors and determine what can be done to increase engagement in these departments. Often, there are overarching leadership issues that are impacting scores.”

Still Top Performer The Florida Board of Governors named the University of West Florida as a top-performing public university for the third consecutive year, securing a spot in the top two.

UWF earned 94 points out of the 100-point scale in the board’s performance-based funding model results from the 2018-19 academic year. UWF scored its highest point total in the six-year history of the metrics and finished one point behind the University of Florida.

“We are a top-ranked university in the best university system in the country,” said UWF President Martha D. Saunders. “Once again, UWF has distinguished itself as a leader in higher education. This ranking is a testament to our hard-working students, faculty and staff and our no-limits approach to education.”

UWF improved its results in each of the 10 performance metrics, highlighted by significant improvements in four-year graduation rates, academic progress rates and bachelor’s graduates employed or continuing their education.

The university boosted graduation rates and retention through continued enhancement of student support services including first-year advising, tutoring and student accessibility resources. UWF also implemented a comprehensive four-year graduation strategic plan that includes the Senior Countdown program, which provides priority for class registration and a $1,000 graduation grant for students in their final semester. A new graduation coordinator provides support and guidance for students toward timely graduation.

The university developed robust academic advising strategies and an enhanced system for first-year students to identify those at academic risk and provide them with appropriate assistance.

The newly-created experiential learning coordinator position offers individualized attention to graduates, presenting career and graduate school opportunities. The university provides students with internships and high-impact practices, not only to support academic success but also to build early professional experience and encourage networking. The institution also launched its iHire campaign, a strategic initiative that connects students with area employers.

Last year, UWF earned the third highest score with 86 points. In 2017, UWF ranked third with 82 points. In 2014, the inaugural year for the performance metrics, the university ranked last at No. 11, receiving 21 points out of the then-50-point scale.

Under the performance funding model, the Board of Governors scores Florida’s 11 public universities based on 10 metrics designed to incentivize university excellence and improvement. These metrics establish a minimum acceptable level of performance on issues, including graduation and retention rates.

For more information about UWF’s ranking in the Board of Governors performance-based funding model, visit uwf.edu/bogmetrics.

Y Deal Approved The city of Pensacola is moving ahead with a proposed soccer complex off of Langley Avenue, while the YMCA of Northeast Pensacola will be moving its operations to the city’s community center and athletic complex on Summit Boulevard, thanks to a vote by the Pensacola City Council at its June 13 meeting following hours of public discussion.

Referencing the recent 13-0 record-breaking game the U.S. women’s team just experienced in a 2019 Women’s World Cup match, Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson said players in the city’s growing youth league deserved quality fields to compete on.

“With what’s happing with women’s soccer, who knows if one of these ladies here might play and represent the United States at the highest level,” Robinson said.

This land-and-services swap with the YMCA has been one of the more contentious issues that Mayor Robinson has faced since coming into office last fall, at which point the deal was already in motion. For months, his administration has faced objection to the agreement from residents of the Scenic Heights neighborhood, who fear the new soccer complex will negatively impact the area, and more recently from people who felt the deal favored the Y too heavily.

Those concerns were voiced again during Thursday’s council meeting, with neighborhood residents requesting that council hold off—“just a pause”—on any decision. Council members, too, had some concerns, mainly with the timing of some late-in-the-game aspects of the deal which they had been made aware of earlier in the day.

“I think we’re getting a lot of things at the last minute,” said Councilwoman Ann Hill.

The last-minute details included an additional $750,000 ask the mayor will include in his forthcoming budget proposal. Council was told the extra money, coming out of the city’s LOST funds, would be needed, in part, to satisfy some concerns from the surrounding neighborhood on Langley, such as the construction of a sound-barrier berm between the soccer complex and houses backing up to the fields.

The city sold the Y the five acres on Langley in 1971, and Councilwoman Sherri Myers wanted to know if perhaps the sale included a clause that stipulated the property would revert to city ownership if the Y pulled up stakes.

Assistant City Attorney Rusty Wells said that the 1971 deal was clean—“The deed does say the conveyance is forever; there’s not a reverter in it.”

Ultimately, the council approved the deal with the Y on a 4-2 vote, with Myers and Hill voting against the measure.

The Name Game Tensions ran high among Escambia and Santa Rosa County citizens in the final public meeting over renaming the Pensacola Bay Bridge.

On Wednesday, June 12, the Pensacola Bay Bridge naming committee heard from nearly a dozen speakers with ideas for the bridge’s new name, most of whom were veterans speaking in support of naming the bridge after General Daniel “Chappie” James, Jr., a Pensacola native and the first African-American four-star general.

“We have a rare opportunity to honor this great American where he grew up,” said Pete Gandy, a retired Air Force Officer. “I urge this committee to join the city of Pensacola and Santa Rosa County in voting to name the new bridge in honor of General Daniel “Chappie” James, Jr. I cannot think of anyone, living or dead, who is more deserving.”

A show of hands at the end of Gandy’s speech revealed that the vast majority of citizens in attendance supported the bridge being named after the general.

In defense, Kirk Beall, the grandson of Philip D. Beall, Sr., after whom the bridge is currently named, spoke to support both his and the general’s family name by proposing the new bridge be called the James-Beall Bridge.

“There’s an opportunity not to bash one family to lift another family up, and that’s kind of what has happened here,” Beall said, holding back emotion. “What I foresee happening, if we don’t do some kind of dual designation or with some kind of compromise, my family’s name is gonna go down in Pensacola history very badly.”

The meeting was the final chance for public weigh-in on the bridge renaming, and the committee will gather again on July 9 to make a decision. However, the committee’s selection doesn’t necessarily mean the choice will become the bridge’s official moniker.

The Florida Legislature and Governor Ron DeSantis will have the final say on what the bridge will be named since the structure is being funded with state dollars.

Free Fourth of July Celebration This Fourth of July, celebrate our country, community and military with a free Symphony, Sparks and Stars concert performed by the Pensacola Symphony Orchestra at the Hunter Amphitheater behind the Blue Wahoos Stadium.

The fun starts at 7:30 p.m. with the United States Marine Corps presenting the colors, followed by the national anthem. After “The Star-Spangled Banner,” fighter jets will come screaming over the bay for a fantastic flyover. The Pensacola Symphony Orchestra will play a patriotic musical performance, among other classical favorites, and continue to play along with an additional fireworks show that will wrap up just before Pensacola Sertoma Fireworks show starts at 9 p.m.

Symphony, Sparks and Stars will also be broadcast live on Blab TV at 7:30 p.m. and will be hosted by Levin Papantonio’s Mollye Barrows and Josh Gay. The event will also be simulcast on Cat Country 98.7.

The Symphony, Sparks and Stars performance is brought to you by Levin Papantonio’s Peter J. Mougey, with securities & business litigation, and the Levin Papantonio Law Firm.

“This is the fourth year we’ve brought Symphony, Sparks and Stars to Downtown Pensacola. I am thrilled to help make this opportunity possible for families and others to enjoy the Pensacola Symphony Orchestra, a local treasure like our armed forces and Pensacola’s beautiful waterfront,” said Mougey.

Mark Your Calendars The Santa Rosa County Democratic Women’s Club will hold its monthly meeting 6:15 p.m. Monday, June 24 at Henderson Hall, St. Augustine Episcopal Church, 7810 Navarre Parkway, Navarre.

Downtown Improvement Board meets 7:30 a.m. Tuesday, June 25, at Bowden Building, Room 1, 120 Church St.

Continuum of Care Meeting will be 1-2 p.m. Tuesday, June 25, at Opening Doors Northwest Florida, 1020 N. New Warrington Road.

District 1 Commissioner Jeff Bergosh hosts the next Coffee with the Commissioner from 6:30-7:30 a.m. Wednesday, June 26, at Hardee’s, 2500 Wilde Lake Blvd.

The Florida SBDC at UWF offers the “Grow with Google: Using Data to Drive Growth” 9-10 a.m. Wednesday, June 26, at UWF Conference Facility, Bldg. 22. Please pre-register at sbdc.uwf.edu and click on “Training & Events.”