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Outtakes 1/27/11

PENSACOLA IS TOO NICE That is something one doesn’t hear too often. When I read that Bill Young had been caught misrepresenting the support for his Aquarium for Pensacola project, that was my first thought.

Young wanted to build a world-class aquarium on the site of the recently closed Main Street Sewage Treatment Plant, using the old sewage tanks. The cost was about $15 million. Young had worked hard building support. He spoke at civic clubs and met with elected officials. Everyone was supportive, but few leaders really thought he would pull this project off. He had an idea, but no money.

When he went before Emerald Coast Utility Authority’s Citizen Advisory Committee to ask for a delay in the demolition of the plant, Young said he had the support of 14 politicians, including Congressman Jeff Miller and Gov. Rick Scott. They were supposedly going to help him find the money to build the aquarium. He said he had 70,000 signatures. The duly impressed committee voted 8-2 to recommend to the ECUA board to delay the demolition for two months.

PNJ reporter Jamie Page called the politicians. The majority said that their positions had been misrepresented by Young. They admired his passion, but they hadn’t said they would help him fund the aquarium. However, none of them told him that he was crazy, either, or that he didn’t have a chance in hell of ever building it. They smiled, shook his hand and sent him on to the next politician, secretly hoping that the next one would burst Young’s bubble. It never happened, and Young leveraged each non-commitment to get the next non-commitment.

In the end, Young could say he had on his side Pensacola Council members Sherri Myers and P.C. Wu; Escambia County Commissioners Gene Valentino, Kevin White and Grover C. Robinson IV; state Reps. Clay Ford, Clay Ingram and Doug Broxson; state Sens. Greg Evers and Don Gaetz; U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller; U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio; and Gov. Rick Scott. No one told him “no,” so that meant he had their support, right?

Not quite. Page couldn’t find any of them to say they supported the project. Young was at the end of the process with nothing.

Now we have George Hawthorne and his one-stop facility that he wants to create at the old Brownsville Middle School. The parallels with the aquarium project are numerous.

Like Young, Hawthorne is leveraging one meeting to get another meeting. By the time he makes his presentation he will be able to boast that he has met with over a dozen leaders in this community. Like Young, he will have few, if any, letters of commitment for his proposed facility. Like Young, Hawthorne doesn’t have the funds to make the deal happen. After he signed the sales agreement, Hawthorne began soliciting investors to raise the $1 million purchase price.

What Hawthorne has is an idea, just like Young. They both have nice presentations, but no experience in building or running such a project. They are long on broad concepts, but short on real details. Someone else is necessary to make either idea come to fruition and to operate it. Neither has any proof that his idea will be successful.

And Pensacola is too nice to tell them.

rick@inweekly.net