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Wednesday April 16th 2014

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IN Interview: Studer Talks

BLUE WAHOOS OWNER TALKS ABOUT PLEDGE
BY RICK OUTZEN

Quint and Rishy Studer have been under fire over their pledge, or pledges if you believe the Community Maritime Park Associates attorney and executive director, to the public improvements at the maritime park. To date, the couple, who owns the city’s minor league baseball team, have paid out nearly $2 million to help pass the park referendum, fend off petition drives and hire consultants to help with design.

Ed Fleming, the CMPA attorney, and Ed Spears, CMPA executive director, have tried to get the Studers to fork out an additional $2 million on top of the $2.25 million that they have committed towards the stadium since the maritime museum isn’t being built.

Fleming and Spears base their position on a statement read by Bob Hart, a partner with Clark, Partington and Hart, that said the Studers were giving an additional $2.05 million towards stadium enhancements. For the Studers, the money was to come from the $2.25 million being refunded by the University of West Florida, who was to build the maritime museum, and “additional” meant in addition to the funds the CMPA was providing towards the enhancements.

Quint Studer sat down with the IN on Sunday afternoon to discuss this issue.

IN: What is the history behind the stadium enhancements that were proposed last January?
STUDER: I was in Dallas getting ready to speak. I got Eddie Todd and Ed Spears on a speaker phone and informed them that if I’m going to go Double A, I have to sign the letter in front of me. But I don’t want to sign it unless I get an assurance that this stadium would be ready for Double A. Should I sign this? And Ed Spears said yes, and I was encouraged to go forward.

If somebody would have told me that this would cost me more with the stadium, I wouldn’t have bought the team. It would have been better for me to have stayed independent.

IN: When did the need for additional money come up?
STUDER: We were looking at how to get this stadium up to Double A. It was always Bruce Baldwin (Blue Wahoos president) and Chuck Tessier (Studer consultant) representing us.

At the time, we weren’t thinking that additional money was going to be needed, based on Mr. Spears’ assurance. We were surprised that there were any money issues.

IN: Why did you give the needed money?
STUDER: I knew I had the UWF contribution coming back. Our intention was always to use that $2.25 million for things at the stadium that the master developer had cut out–like the suites. That is what I originally thought–if Spears did what he said he could do (pay for the stadium upgrade), I have the $2.25 million for those types of enhancements.

They came to us and said they need an additional $2 million for the additional seating. We knew that for Double A the biggest thing was getting the additional seating, so Rishy and I agreed to apply $2.05 million of the UWF money to the seating.

IN: Could you have been clearer about where the funds were coming from?
STUDER: Absolutely. I don’t even remember telling Bob to say “additional”, but we were thinking of our $2 million being in addition to the funds Spears had come up with.

I wasn’t at the meeting, but had someone asked me, I would have clarified it. We didn’t know there was an issue. We weren’t asked to sign a commitment letter. When I pledge $10,000 to any local non-profit, I am asked to sign some document. Had the CMPA asked for such an agreement, we might have been able to clear up any misunderstanding.

We thought everyone understood the money was from the $2.25 million we were getting back from UWF, and we had no indication anyone thought otherwise.

IN: You got the $2.25 million back in May. Why didn’t you write a check for the $2.05 million right then?
STUDER: Because I had lost confidence. They had already told us that it wasn’t going to take any more money for the stadium upgrade to Double A, then they said they needed $2.05 million.

The soft costs appeared out of control. Every bid was higher than what was budgeted. There didn’t appear to be any value engineering. We got to the point that everybody was spending money like it is from an unlimited pot of money. We didn’t want to give the $2 million and see it spent on something other than the stadium, and they come back to us saying they needed more money from us to complete the stadium.

I was worried that they would come to me near the end and say gosh we thought we would have money for concessions or the party deck, but we don’t. Then I have no choice but to come up with more money.

IN: Why didn’t you just hand over the full $2.25 million?
STUDER: Our intent was always for the $2.25 million to go towards the stadium if the maritime museum wasn’t built. We sent a letter to Al Coby when he was city manager to confirm that. However, we wanted to control how it was used, because we feared the master developer would apply it somewhere else.

The additional $200,000 I hoped to save back for additional extras at the stadium. And they already started coming back to me. The other day I was at the park with Mark White (who works for Magi Construction, the master developer), and he told me that it was really bad that the stadium was going to have a canvas top on one side and a steel roof on the other. I asked him how much it would cost to upgrade. He said about $200,000.

IN: Does this latest dispute sour you on the project?
STUDER: I wish someone had just talked to us. This is what is ironic–Rishy and I have followed through on every commitment we have made. Others haven’t for various reasons, but they aren’t getting demand letters.

We love this community, and I believe we can resolve this and move forward with the completion of this maritime park that will be a true catalyst for revitalizing our city.