“I walk into this building and I never know what to expect,” Pensacola City Councilman Larry B. Johnson told his fellow Community Maritime Park Associates board members. “I’m waiting for the Twilight Zone music to come on when I walk into this building.”
Greg Beck, who along with his son Justin presented the property company’s intent to the CMPA board, tended to agree. It wasn’t exactly the discussion he was expecting.
“I’m on the edge of my chair right now,” Beck told the CMPA board, describing the preceding back-and-forth as the “most outrageous thing I think I’ve ever been exposed to.”
The Becks had laid out their plan to the CMPA’s Audit and Operations Committee on Monday. They want to build a three-story, 18,000-square foot development that features retail, office space and residential. They plan to provide on-site parking, and are making an offer based on the only other development planned for the park, Quint Studer’s office complex.
The proposal received a generally warm reception in the committee. The lone hesitation on moving forward was Fred Gunther, who raised concerns about the lease fee being offered—$20 per square foot—and the fact that a portion of the site in question—parcel one—had been carved out, allowing for the public’s access to the waterfront.
Today, Gunther, who also sits on the CMPA board recused himself from the discussion, saying he would be presenting an alternative proposal from “his client.”
Gunther would later explain to the board that his client had read about the Becks’ offer in the Pensacola News Journal. The client agreed with Gunther about the lease amount.
“The next morning we get a call from one of our clients who said, ‘we agree with you, the price is too low, we’d buy it for more than that,’” Gunther explained. “I said, well, make an offer.”
Gunther said the alternative proposal would generate an additional $10,000 in lease fees, bringing the total up to about $50,000. He suggested that CBRE, a firm being brought on to work with the city’s stock of properties, be given a chance to review both proposals.
“Are you representing this firm?” CMPA member Juanita Scott asked Gunther. “Wouldn’t that be a conflict of interest?”
“Not if I don’t vote on it,” Gunther replied. “I don’t see a conflict of interest whatsoever.”
Scott wasn’t convinced— “I guess I really need somebody to explain to me why this is not a conflict of interest”—and neither were other CMPA board members.
“It is a conflict of interest,” said CMPA Treasurer Jim Reeves.
Greg Beck would later tell the board that he didn’t expect to present a proposal and then have the parcel “shopped around by a board member.” Gunther disputed such notions, maintaining he had the CMPA’s best interest in mind.
“At the straw vote there was only one person against it and it was Fred Gunther,” Beck said. “It looks like a duck and it quacks like a duck.”
There was also some confusion about the city’s current relationship with CBRE, whether the firm was the city’s consultant or agent. When asked by CMPA Chairman Collier Merrill, Mayor Ashton Hayward—having taken a seat in the back of the room—said the city was still in negotiations with the company.
“Just to be clear on the CBRE,” City Administrator Bill Reynolds clarified a few minutes later, “we are still in negotiations at this point. We do not have a signed contract at this point. We are looking at consulting.”
While a motion was made by CMPA board member Mark Taylor to send both proposals to CBRE, that effort failed. The board then voted to move ahead with the proposal from Beck.
Representatives from the CMPA, the city council and the mayor’s office will negotiate the lease. Again, using the Studer-template.
Recently, a proposal to build a new waterfront YMCA went sour, in part, because there was confusion about the leasing process. Justin Beck had similar questions when he floated his proposal to Merrill a few weeks ago.
“He said, ‘what’s the next step?’” Merrill recalled. “I said, ‘that’s a great question.’”
Beck ended up covering all the bases. He approached the CMPA, the mayor’s office and Council President P.C. Wu.
“I kind of shotgunned it,” Beck told the CMPA board.