Escambia County

News story #6: Into the Sunshine

December 26, 2013

The control over Escambia County‚Äôs tourism marketing and its $5.5 million was moved this fall out of the Greater Pensacola Chamber and into the hands of Visit Pensacola, Inc.–an independent non-profit formed by the hotel industry. What seemed like a simple process became complicated as groups vied for seats on the new board.

Despite intensive lobbying, the county commissioners stood firm and finally reached resolution in early December. Read “Into the Sunshine.”

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  • CJ Lewis December 26, 2013 at 12:37 pm

    At that September 16 meeting, May rightly emphasized, “There is nothing private about using public dollars.” Yet, he and the other Commissioners would not even consider the creation of a public body to oversee the expenditure of public (Tourism Development Tax) dollars and then they even refused to insist upon the authority to appoint and remove the Visit Pensacola, Inc. Board of Directors. What was the rush? There is not one shred of evidence that the Chamber could not have continued to be in charge of tourism promotion through at least the end of Fiscal Year 2014 (ending September 30, 2014) giving the Commission plenty of time to evaluate multiple options and pick the best one vice the most mostly strongly pressed in their face.

    As a newly related matter, on Christmas the PNJ reported, “Bay Center set to charge $5 parking fee.” The reason stated was to “…help decrease the annual $1 million-plus subsidy it receives from the Tourist Development Tax….” One obvious solution that a public body of taxpayers might consider would be to direct a reduction in the 23 person staff (perhaps most if not all of these full-time positions) that runs the Pensacola Bay Center, in addition to all of the part-time positions of people who actually do actual work. Perhaps many of the Pensacola Bay Center’s bureaucratic functions could be sub-contracted out to include the Pensacola Bay Center’s three person Marketing & Sales staff, its two person Finance staff, etc.

    On the downside, not reported in the PNJ perhaps because it was not reported in the Pensacola Bay Center’s December 23 press release, was: 1) if the Tourism Development Tax is going to be reduced by a corresponding amount; 2) if not, how does Visit Pensacola, Inc. intend to spend the money for another purpose; 3) how much money will Winterfest, Inc. get out of this deal and why was it hand-picked to benefit from this new parking charge vice another equally worthy not-for-profit group; why will people who attend Ice Pilots games and certain other events such as Pensacon (Feb 21-23) or Bridal Expo (Jan 5) will park for free; 5) who made this major decision to include or not include one or more of the members of the Escambia County Commission; 6) what was the role played by Visit Pensacola, Inc. in this decision; and 7) what parts of the decision-making process were conducted “in” or “out” of the Sunshine?

    Assuming the Escambia County Commission was kept in the dark and knows nothing about this new parking fee, the key practical effect of this policy change seems to be to shift more of the burden of maintaining the Pensacola Bay Center off the backs of tourists who pay the Tourism Development Tax and onto the backs of mostly Escambia County residents who attend events at the Pensacola Bay Center, with the parking fee presumably also in time going to next be applied to hockey games and graduations too once people realize that resistance is futile.