Commissioner responds to NAIOP

December 15, 2015

Over the weekend, NAIOP, the association of developers and commercial real estate brokers, sent a white paper to the Escambia Board of County Commissioners asking that the board reconsider its decision to build a new jail and new central booking facility on their current sites.

NAIOP urged the commissioners to use the EPA Superfund site on North Palafox instead.

Commissioner Doug Underhill responded yesterday to NAIOP’s legislative chair, attorney Raymond Palmer:

Mr. Palmer,

Thank you very much for taking an interest in this very important issue in our community. The NAIOP, representing the lion’s share of the County’s Commercial Real Estate Wisdom, is an important voice in the discussion. However, in order for that voice to add value to the discussion, it is important that it be well informed. Therefore, let me address a couple inaccuracies in your letter that are, in my opinion, material to the discussion.

1. Your discussion of the superfund site says, “No purchase is required”. While this is a true fact,it omits the fact that the property comes with an extended period of financial liability for monitoring. Added to this is the risk of additional cost if further remediation is required. Should these liabilities not be applied against the value of the land relative to other options?

2. Your discussion of the funding options states that FEMA “has indicated that the new facility needs to be built on a site outside of the 500 year floor plan.” Have you seen any documentation to support this claim? I have been trying to run that data artifact to ground and I can find nothing from FEMA which actually ties the availability of their funding to this limitation. If you can get that from the source that informed your opinion I would very much appreciate a copy.

3. Your position goes on to refer to the “most cost-effective campus style design” a number of times. While I recognize that the subject matter experts who design and build these things state that, you have to look back at what we articulated as our requirements. We gave requirements that had a foregone conclusion: a massive jail complex. We initiated a massive real-estate shopping spree before the waters had even receded from the jail that night. We saw it as an opportunity to resurrect the “Emerald City” plans which were unable to garner public support despite the advocacy of powerful people.

What we failed to do as a community is to take this opportunity to take a serious look at the business of incarceration in Escambia County. We have failed to address issues of homelessness, petty drug use, bail/bond, and career crime. We have failed to take a hard look at what technologies are available to minimize the jail population, and we have failed to take a serious look at how we could address the flooding issues around the current jail facility to not only make it safe for housing inmates, but also safe from future flooding for the rest of the community.

We have been on this hunt for land for 19 months while our citizens were asking us why the other core issues were not being addressed. We continued on this path despite the fact we have no idea what the cost of the jail explosion will ultimately be, while the county hemorrhages tax dollars to our neighbors for taking care of one of the principle duties of a County government.

The question is not “what is the most cost-effective design” in general, but “What is the most cost effective decision for this County to meet its obligation to house criminals?” That question certainly has a real estate elemement, but it is not a real estate question. It is a civic question, and one which the citizens are demanding we ask…and answer.

I welcome any opportunity to visit the NAIOP and discuss this matter with your membership.

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