News Pensacola Politics

MURAC’s Final Plan

October 31, 2012

The Mayor’s Urban Redevelopment Advisory Committee has been at work since February. Today it approved its final report, a document chock-full of recommendations concerning downtown Pensacola.

“People are going to criticize this report and that’s ok,” said committee Chairman Brian Hooper. “If we do nothing more than spur debate about this whole thing that’s a step forward.”

Mayor Ashton Hayward created the advisory committee in an effort to assist him in growing downtown. The group’s final report serves as a collection of recommendations for the mayor. It addresses the areas of new development, tourism, housing and neighborhoods, the central Palafox commercial core, mobility, creating new jobs, organization and funding.

The report breaks downtown into neighborhoods, analyzing the needs and potentials, the strengths and weaknesses, of each. The committee makes neighborhood-specific recommendations, as well as recommendations that pertain to the whole of downtown.

Key elements of the report deal with economic development and maximizing existing potential, such as vacant parcels of public land. The committee advises that an influx of private capital is integral to downtown’s future, and that public funds —“aggressive incentives and tax breaks”—will be needed in order to create a more inviting environment for businesses.

The report also focuses on creating a connected—pedestrian friendly—downtown. It stresses the coexistence of work, play and residential, of fostering a mixed-use environment. MURAC members also suggest hiring a full-time grant writer, soliciting the county for RESTORE funds, selling public lands and encouraging philanthropic funding.

Another recommendation from the advisory committee deals with the Downtown Improvement Board. The committee recommends that the entity “voluntarily downsize the DIB staff to one coordinating clerical position, a primary liaison organizationally housed within the mayor’s office.” It summarizes that “the DIB board can be an excellent conduit for communicating the needs of the DIB district to the mayor without wasting scant resources on an attendant bureaucracy that has caused such controversy.”

“The DIB board’s primary responsibility would then be to make recommendations to the mayor for the disbursement of DIB revenues,” the report states. “Since the mayor appoints the board, he can work with the DIB board to strategically achieve the very best results for those residents and business owners within the DIB district—and he will do so within the context of greater city development goals.”

Members of the committee appeared pleased with the final report and passed it without too much discussion. John Myslak, who chaired the mayor’s port advisory committee, said he would have liked to see the recommendations prioritized to some degree (he suggested going for the grant writer first) and Teresa Dos Santos compared the report to a work of art.

“When you look at it, you are struck by emotions, you either love it or hate it,” she said. “I feel the same way about our report.”

Chairman Hooper said that he doubted anyone could disagree wholesale with the report, even if they took issue with certain aspects. He also addressed murmurs in the community that MURAC advisor Chuck Tessier was forwarding a specific agenda— “Who’s Chuck? Who’s this Chuck guy? He’s just a puppet for Studer,” he joked—and said that the development consultant was instrumental in Asheville, N.C.’s revitalization.

Tiffany Washington, a candidate for the Escambia County Commission, District 3 seat, spoke during the public input period. She questioned the committee’s vision for the Belmont-DeVilliers neighborhood.

“Some people are concerned that gentrification would mean the residents that are there would be further disenfranchised or displaced,” Washington said, later adding that she had spoked with residents who were scared the city would “basically jackhammer them out of their homes. Some people have even mentioned eminent domain. It’s not something people are taking lightly, people have a real fear in that area.”

Hooper, as well as MURAC member Christian Wagley, assured Washington that the committee has considered and addressed such concerns in the report. Wagley noted that while eminent domain had been used in other areas of the country for economic development purposes, he didn’t think such a move would garner support at the local level.

“What you just described would be absolutely opposed to the spirit of our report,” Hooper told her.

Following its approval of the final report, the Mayor’s Urban Redevelopment Advisory Committee ended its run. Hooper, who described the group’s duration in terms of committee members’ personal lives—“nine months and two babies”—appeared ready to wrap up the advisory board, which was already a few months beyond its original end date.

“As of now we are officially disbanded,” he said at the end of the meeting. “Done, finished.”

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  • Chris Ritchie November 1, 2012 at 4:51 pm

    For those who were unable to attend, copies of the draft were made available at the meeting. Following the unanimous vote of approval, it is now being finalized.

  • Travis Peterson November 1, 2012 at 3:26 pm

    Nice work, Brian and the committee. You did a fantastic job and produced a very comprehensive report. Now, let’s hope it gets implemented!

  • Day One November 1, 2012 at 2:22 pm

    S/B don’t speak in tongues

  • Full disclosure November 1, 2012 at 1:02 pm

    response to Hooper’s comment “Who’s Chuck? Who’s this Chuck guy? ”

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kfdpcrOgUp4

  • Jimmy November 1, 2012 at 12:54 pm

    why is it not posted on the city’s website?

  • dot November 1, 2012 at 10:42 am

    Sounds like the media has a copy of the draft. Where is it posted for the rest of the public?

    GH, I concur. the 2 year old CRA plan (and all the professional and public input) seems to have been shelved already too (or so it seems not having a publicly available copy of the current draft report). seems to just go with the territory.

  • Mark Taylor October 31, 2012 at 9:21 pm

    Great job URAC! Looking forward to seeing a copy of the final report. I’m sure, as the article addresses, we’ll like some of it and dislike some of it, but at least it’s action! Now lets get some forward momentum behind some of the projects and not let this report just gather dust on a shelf somewhere. Thanks to the committee for their hard work!

  • Day one October 31, 2012 at 8:02 pm

    “An attendant bureaucracy that has caused so much controversy”

    I kind of like the old good ole boys, at least they speak in tongues like this new crowd

  • George Hawthorne October 31, 2012 at 5:32 pm

    Great Job, Brian, Chuck and all of the other members of the MURAC in delivering this report that you all worked so diligently and openly in identifying a roadmap for the future development of the CBD.

    I only hope that there is some real ACTION on some of your recommendations and projects instead of political posturing and public naysaying.

    It would be a waste for this report to sit on the shelf after the comprehensive and inclusive work this committee executed. I sincerely hope that this report is utilized as a blueprint for progress and revitalization.

  • I shaved my legs for this? October 31, 2012 at 5:15 pm

    Yawn.