Quint Studer is hoping to construct a $12 million dollar office complex on a parcel at the Community Maritime Park. And while officials with the city of Pensacola seem to desire the same, hammering out an acceptable deal is taking some effort.
Yesterday, Studer—owner of the Blue Wahoos baseball team—told the Community Maritime Park Associates he wanted to exercise an option in his 2009 agreement and lease a parcel at the park. He plans to move his health care consulting firm into a new office building on the property.
Studer described talks with the city as a “learning process.” Collier Merrill, chairman of the Community Maritime Park Associates, chalked the process up to being “as clear as mud.”
Merrill explained that he had met with Studer and Mayor Ashton Hayward on Tuesday regarding the issue. From what he gathered, the CMPA was now to act as an “agent of the city”—“I didn’t think we were involved”—in putting together acceptable lease terms, which would then need to be approved by the mayor and the Pensacola City Council.
“That’s where I think we are,” Merrill said.
Studer noted that the multi-year process had been long and seen various changes. He said he was alright with “being in the barrel” throughout the process.
“I’m used to being in the barrel,” Studer told the CMPA board. “I’ve got a bit of vertigo, so I’m the right guy to be in the barrel.”
The team owner told the board that he and the city disagreed over a couple of lease specifics: how much and how long. While Studer would like to pay around 7 percent of the property’s value in annual lease fees and get the property for 60 years, the city has pushed for 40 years and between eight and 10 percent.
Studer said he could also walk away from the property and the CMPA could put out an RFP. Merrill seemed to shy away from that option.
“We do not have a lot of people knocking our door down, obviously,” he said. “That’s why I think it’s important Mr. Studer is here.”
During a city council meeting earlier in the week, Councilwoman Maren Deweese had brought the issue up for discussion. She had received a letter from Studer—whom she referred to as “the last man standing in economic development”—and wanted to know why the city had yet to reach a deal with him.
“We have $12 million staring us in the face,” Deweese told the council.
During yesterday’s CMPA meeting, Councilman Larry Johnson—who also sits on the CMPA board—echoed that sentiment. He also noted that he had requested to be involved in the negotiating process and was “disappointed” that the mayor had denied his request.
“I thought it was just very unfortunate that we didn’t have a council person involved,” Johnson said.
A few minutes later, the mayor would enter the meeting room. Taking a seat behind Studer, he would go on to tell the CMPA board that the city hoped to make the negotiating process “painless” and encouraged all parties involved to “move it along.”
“Everyone can’t be anymore excited,” Hayward said.
The mayor left the meeting shortly after someone on the CMPA board suggested negotiating the terms with Studer on the spot.
“We can negotiate it on TV as far as I’m concerned,” Studer said. “You’re only as sick as your secrets, I’ve heard. The more out in the open, the better.”
The Wahoos owner went on to say that he would not be interested in building on or leasing the property if Hayward was not on board.
“We would not move forward if it were not a unified front,” Studer said. “We think that his support is important. And, also, if he doesn’t want it, that’s important.”
Earlier in the day, during the city’s rebranding event at the Saenger Theater, Mayor Hayward had been asked by a reporter for a local radio station if the negotiations with Studer were progressing.
“Of course,” Hayward replied. “I had a meeting with Quint yesterday. It’s a big win for us.”