By Duwayne Escobedo…
County and City Have ‘Productive’ Talks
Escambia County Commissioners and Pensacola City Council members spoke respectfully, laughed and found common ground on many of the issues up for discussion in a three-and-a-half-hour meeting Monday at City Hall.
The rare meeting was conducted in front of a packed Hagler Auditorium and included all seven elected city council member and all five elected commissioners, plus the city’s mayor. They discussed nine of the 14 items on the ambitious agenda.
MIDTOWN COMMERCE PARK
The city and county discussed redeveloping the Agrico Superfund Site that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said is cleaned up enough for industrial or commercial redevelopment. The operation and maintenance of the site is between $50,000 and $120,000 a year, Florida Department of Environmental Protection officials said.
In the end, the county agreed to be in charge of the project on 85 acres near the corner of Palafox and Fairfield and buy another 15 acres on the west side of Palafox known as Clarinda Triangle that it may use for a Supervisor of Election office. The county and city agreed to split the costs and property tax revenues. And the city plans to annex the property that is in the county north of Hickory Street.
Mayor Ashton Hayward urged county officials to move quickly, pointing out the city had Gold Ring interested in the location five years ago. “Let’s make a decision and move on this quick. Let’s agree to push this quickly.”
The county and city agreed to support the Hollice T. Williams Park that will join the Cecil Hunter Pool, community garden and skate park underneath the Interstate-110 over pass near downtown.
They also agreed to support restoration of Carpenter’s Creek that runs from about Olive Road to Bayou Texar. Sherri Myers, District 2 city council woman, and Grover Robinson IV, District 4 county commissioner, back making the creek a greenway that would include clean up and public spaces on its banks.
The county is scheduled to discuss how to use Restore Funds from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill on Feb. 9.
TRIUMPH GULF COAST
Robinson said state lawmakers will ultimately decide how to use the $1.5 billion in BP funds designated primarily for eight gulf coast counties in Northwest Florida. Robinson encouraged his fellow elected officials and the audience to send letters to its local delegation as well as the House speaker and Senate president on county principals for doling out the money.
“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Robinson said. “It could be transformational in a major way for our great city and great county.”
TOURISM AND DEVELOPMENT
County and city officials also discussed using BP funds to help develop archaeological and historical sites and replace the Bay Center with an estimated $80 million facility that could accommodate both indoor sports activities and conventions. The goal is to give tourists a place to go other than the region’s beaches.
Doug Underhill said the current Bay Center loses about $2 million a year and said he supports a multi-purpose event center. Officials suggested it would be like the Fort Worth, Texas, or Long Beach, Calif., facilities.
VT MAE UPDATE
County commissioners, who approved $8 million of which the city will repay $3.2 million, to the $46 million construction of the VT Mobile Aerospace Engineering hangar on 18 acres at the Pensacola International Airport had felt the city wasn’t keeping them informed of progress. However, the city tapped David Penzone to give the county regular updates on the project that is underway and expected to be completed in early 2018 and eventually employ 400 people.
County commissioner Lumon May wants to make sure those jobs go to the poor who have the qualifications for the positions and the aviation maintenance facility.
CRIME IN PARKS
The county has 100 parks and city has 93 and some of those parks have become crime-ridden. Elected officials agreed to create volunteer park rangers to monitor the problem parks and to adopt ordinances based on ones in Hollywood, Fla.
Underhill invited city council members and officials to attend a Feb. 23 meeting the county plans to hold on the issues. The city has been dealing with the issues with little progress for more than three years.
The elected officials agreed to create a funding mechanism to address homelessness.
“We don’t put money where it’s needed,” said city councilman Gerald Wingate. City Council President Brian Spencer echoed Wingate, saying: “We must address the issue of homelessness with as much fervor as we do our capital projects.”
The county and city agreed to develop an ordinance that both entities would adopt. “This should not be an academic exercise,” Underhill said. “We should be getting to actions pretty quick.”
In the end, the elected officials agreed to meet again no later than eight weeks to finish the agenda. Contentious issues such as the Local Option Gas Tax and Pensacola Energy using plumbers for hook ups of appliances.
“I feel this has been a very productive meeting,” Spencer said. “Too much time elapsed between today and our previous meeting.”