Pensacola, Florida
Wednesday October 22nd 2014

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The Buzz 1/12/12

SICK FROM SPILL? Researchers from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) will be in Pensacola on Jan. 18 to speak with the community about the Gulf Long -Term Follow-up Study (GuLF STUDY). The GuLF STUDY’s purpose is to research potential health impacts of the 2010 oil spill on clean-up workers and coastal residents. For more information, visit nihgulfstudy.org.

PIT STOP PORT The Global 1200 is the latest gargantuan fixture up at Pensacola’s port. It’s a whopper of a vessel, with steel braids of cranes and infrastructure stretching to the clouds. The ship is used to service offshore oil rigs and its looming, industrial hulk of a presence—the skyline of a working port—may become a constant feature of Pensacola’s waterfront horizon.

On Jan. 5 the vessel served as a backdrop for an announcement by Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward. Lawn-chair fishermen and comfortable pelicans were taken by gradual surprise as the gaggle of media and local-government types assembled the scene at Plaza de Luna.

“Without further ado, I’m gonna get into a little speech,” Hayward kicked off the waterfront press conference.

The Mayor’s announcement pertained to the future of Pensacola’s port. The Port Advisory Committee had been studying the issue, attempting to find the best use for the city’s port.

“This is not an overnight solution, but this is a plan,” Hayward said.

The port has seen many different uses during its long history. At the turn of the century and before it was a shipping center. More recently, until demolished after sustaining hurricane damage, it was home to the Bayfront Auditorium.
Hayward said that the port has continued to “limp along over the past few decades.”

“Over the past several years, the Port of Pensacola has struggled under the weight of political infighting, financial funding, and increased competition from neighboring ports and their local or state port authorities,” he said.

The mayor said that future port uses will be guided by “not just dollars and cents, but overall community benefit, including economic impact, job creation, revenue spinoff and community aesthetics.”

Mostly, though, Hayward is looking to have the port serve as a docking destination for the offshore drilling industry.

“Domestic oil and natural gas exploration is on the rise, and we should position ourselves to be a player in this growing market,” Hayward said.

Toward this end, the Mayor plans to seek alternative measures of funding—possibly directing BP money to port needs—as well as working with the Pensacola City Council to “adopt policies to allow port staff to expedite decision-making,
including tariffs, contract, and lease agreement with mayoral approval.”

The city will also be looking to “re-examine” its lease with Monterey, Mexico-based Cemex, and other port tenants, so that the sites might be freed up. The Cemex lease goes until 2022.

Following the announcement, Mayor Hayward headed over to the Crowne Plaza Hotel for the Chamber of Commerce Legislative Luncheon. Various groups made pitches for their various causes to the state lawmakers. Clyde Mathis, director of the Port of Pensacola, talked a little about the port’s future use as an oil-field pit stop.

“This is kind of a ‘good news-bad news’ thing,” he said.

If the port is used to service offshore vessels working in the Gulf oil fields, many jobs will be created. They’ll be laborers and welders and engineers and “real high tech people.” Unfortunately, Mathis told the lunch crowd of business leaders, many of those jobs will go to out of town contractors— “especially from Louisiana and Texas.”

FOR SALE: ONE USED CIVIC CENTER Escambia County commissioners are looking to unload the Pensacola Civic Center. But Commission Chairman Wilson Robertson isn’t getting his hopes up.

“Personally, I don’t think we’re gonna get a sale-offer for $10 million,” Robertson said.

Recently, Commissioner Gene Valentino had a realtor contact him with an interest in the civic center. They wouldn’t name their client.

The facility has long been a financial drain on the county—sucking up $2 million in tourism funds each year—and no-go attempts have been made to sell before. During their meeting Thursday, commissioners eyed putting out a Request for

Letters of Interest, with a stipulation that the unnamed potential buyer put down a $500,000 non-refundable deposit.

George Hawthorne, president of the Gulf Coast African American Chamber of Commerce had another idea. He requested the commissioners consider partnering with a collective of groups in turning the facility into a convention center. He urged the board to make room for both “plan A and plan B.”

Commissioner Kevin White said the county had no interest in retaining ownership in the facility.

“It’s never going to be a viable project to make money,” White said.

The commission agreed to accept letters of interest, with deposits, on the civic center, and also to take a look at Hawthorne’s proposal. White, who resisted the notion of maintaining stakes in the civic center, didn’t sound enthused.

“I’m hoping somebody buys it because one in the hand is better than three in the bush,” he told Robertson and Commissioner Marie Young—commissioners Valentino and Grover Robinson were absent.

Interested parties must have their letters to the county by Jan. 27. In February, county officials must address the contract with the center’s current management company.