Palmer explains NAIOP position and responds to Underhill

December 15, 2015

Yesterday, attorney Raymond Palmer, the legislative affairs chair for the Northwest Florida chapter of NAIOP, came on News Talk 1370 WCOA’s “Pensacola Speaks” to talk about his group’s recommendation that the Escambia Board of County Commissioners vote to build the new county jail at the EPA Superfund site on North Palafox.

“This is probably the largest construction project that the county is going to ever undertake,” said Palmer. “We have no vested interest in the site selection other than keeping taxes down by helping provide input for intelligent decision making.”

He said NAOIP felt compelled to speak out after the BCC rejected the its consultant’s recommendation and chose to keep the jail and central booking facility at their present sites.

“What we looked at was, Escambia County intelligently hired outside consultants (The DLR Group) to help make the site selection,” he said. “They narrowed the site selection down to three different sites. They analyzed the three sites- Palafox and Airport Boulevard, Brent Lane, and the Midtown Commerce site (Superfund site). They came up with their analysis, and it showed that the Midtown Commerce site was the best selected site.”

Palmer added, “Our position is that first of all, to provide public input and for everyone to participate, there is a workshop this Thursday, December 17th, 9 a.m. The Board of County Commissioners is having a workshop on this issue. It’s the first item on the agenda. The location is the 221 Palafox Place site. I encourage everybody to attend and participate in this very important decision-making process.”

The attorney said why NAIOP became concerned about the jail site decision after the Nov. 12 meeting

“We were concerned that we were moving away from a process whereby we analyze each site and let an outside consultant who’s an expert in that tell the county this is the best site,” said Palmer. “At the last meeting, the consultant’s report was rejected, and the McDonald site (the corner of Pace Boulevard and Fairfield Drive behind the main jail), that was initially removed, has been added as a potential site.”

He said, “The main gist of our publicizing the white paper is to let people know that we want an in-depth analysis done of the site selection.”

He cited several possible problems with using the McDonald property.

“One of the problems with the McDonald site is that it was flooded,” he said. “That’s why they removed it from the site selection list. One of the key things we have to look at, and we don’t have final information from FEMA on this, but there’s $55 million at stake from FEMA. We have to make sure that whatever decision is made, that FEMA is on board with it.”

He added, “The problem with picking a site that’s subject to being flooded is that you have to build up, and that’s going to add to our construction cost. When you’re talking about a $90-million/$100-million construction job, 10% is $10 million.

NAIOP believes the citizens that spoke out against the Superfund site at the Nov. 12 were not representative of the entire community.

“What we don’t want to see happen in NAIOP is that a few special interests that are affected by site selection … some of these parties wanted to keep where the current jail is, that flooded and had the resultant deaths,” said the attorney. “We want the decision that is going to have the best impact for the entire county. Due to the dollars involved, this is just a huge issue.”

Palmer also responded in writing to Commissioner Underhill’s email:

We would look forward to the opportunity to meet with you. Perhaps at your office. What is your schedule like on Wednesday afternoon? Please note that the process went from hiring a professional consultant to provide an independent analysis to letting the interest of a few vocal special interests sway the decision.

1. Costs: Palmer replied: ” It is good that you reference costs. This is probably the most expensive construction venture ever taken on by Escambia County. My understanding is that there is a $43,000 per year monitoring cost most likely with a CPI factor. The cost of an estimated $3,000,000 purchase and maybe $10,000,000 increase due to location and height issues would be $13,000,000. At a 5% cost of capital $13,000,000 would cost $650,000 per year.”

2. FEMA Concerns: “As to the McDonald site I offer the following: HDR Engineering is working on a study of that area, they identified a number of factors causing flooding issues. The existing CBD basement flooded, and there is a low point along there as part of the Long Hollow Basin – it is a flood-prone area, the issue is getting FEMA to define the parameters they will require. Nobody can get that answer as yet. The McDonald site can be mitigated against flooding if the other drainage improvements in the area are done concurrently.”

3. Design: “Campus Style as opposed to a Tower which results in a premium in construction costs. The point is competent consultants were hired to provide professional advice and the County has have reverted to a position advocated by a few special interests to the detriment of County taxpayers.”

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