Jeremy's Notebook

The How of the Y – video added

March 15, 2013

The Pensacola City Council formalized their approval last night of locating a new YMCA at the Maritime Park—in concept, with lease details to be worked out—but not before a conversation about how the deal came before them.

“I agree, I think, with almost everyone up here,” Councilwoman Megan Pratt said, “we had a really flawed process.”

Council was particularly interested in how the YMCA lease came before them prior to being present to the Community Maritime Park Associates board. It was a continuation—albeit, a deeper dive—of the three-hour conversation council had earlier in the week during its Committee of the Whole.

“I just had a question about how the lease was developed,” Councilman Charles Wingate said.

“I’ll chime in briefly,” said City Attorney Jim Messer. “I’m not aware of the process of how it got to my office, maybe someone else has some information on that, I don’t.”

“Does that do it for you, councilman?” asked Council President P.C. Wu.

Wingate wan’t satisfied.

“Councilman Wingate,” Mayor Ashton Hayward said, “the process is the city council approves leases or the sale of real property, that’s why we’re discussing it.”

Wingate still wasn’t satisfied. He said the process, in this instance, had been “backwards.”

“Maybe I’ll take a shot at straightening this out, Councilman Wingate, because I think I understand what you’re driving at,” Messer said. “I don’t believe anyone is taking the position that the CMPA doesn’t have the right to negotiate terms and conditions of the lease and bring it to us, don’t misunderstand me, I think they do have that right, my point is, in this particular case, for whatever reason I have no knowledge about, and probably wouldn’t understand if I did, they didn’t, and so it was brought to the city … no one on the CMPA held up their hand and said, ‘hey, here we are, we want to do this’ … now, how it got to my office I can’t help you out with, but no one’s saying they don’t play a role. My position is they didn’t choose or weren’t able or didn’t want or whatever to play a role, so somebody had to do it. Is that a little clearer?”

“No, it’s not any clearer,” Wingate said, asking the attorney to “name somebody that was responsible for doing this.”

“Councilman, I’m gonna continue trying to answer your question because you deserve an answer,” Messer said. “I don’t want to throw Mr. Reynolds under the bus because honestly there’s probably seven or eight leases every two weeks that come through my office, but I suppose if you were going to put me under oath to testify I’d say probably Mr. Reynolds said, you know, ‘we’ve got a lease coming up at the CMPA, go take a look at it and I did, but I honestly can’t, it just doesn’t work that way, it just, I can’t identify a specific person, I’m guessing he probably did, we talk about leases and contracts every day and —”

Following Messer’s explanation, the council heard from Ann Hill, a member of the CMPA board. She relayed how the YMCA had made a presentation at a committee meeting, but that CMPA Chairman Collier Merrill had told the board there would be no action taken at that time.

Hill said she had expected to see the issue come back to the CMPA, but that she then read in the newspaper that the matter was on the council’s COW agenda.

“That was the first I heard that we had been taken out of the equation,” Hill told the council.

John Daniels, the YMCA’s attorney, also addressed the council last night. He said the organization thought it was following the correct process as per the city.

“We made inquiry—‘what’s the process, who do we start with?’” the attorney said.

Daniels also mapped out a timeline for the council. He said the YMCA conferred with Mayor Hayward and Chairman Merrill in early December.

“We discussed how to bring this lease to both boards, the council and the CMPA, and the conclusion was, we were told, bring it to the city, work through Mr. Messer …”

Daniels said that he had worked through “seven or eight drafts” of the lease with Messer, before requesting that the matter be placed on the COW agenda. The attorney disputed earlier characterizations that the lease was “flawed or incomplete.”

“It was a complete, well-drafted, well-thought out proposal to the city council,” Daniels said.

Councilman Charles Bare later clarified the bottom line with the YMCA attorney.

“Who exactly told you to take this to the city first?” he asked.

“Chairman Merrill and the mayor,” Daniels said.

Process aside, the council again approved the concept of a Maritime Y, this time by a 6-3 vote, with councilpersons Bare, Myers and Vice President Jewell Cannada-Wynn dissenting.

The Messer part of the discussion begins about the 25:45 mark:

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  • Betty McAlpin March 15, 2013 at 11:44 pm

    My God. When will this city stop shooting itself in the foot? The original plan for the park is gone, it’s history, let’s get over it. At least we salvaged the stadium. In case you detractors have not noticed, we are the envy of AA baseball cities nationwide, we literally hit a home run. Let’s move forward with the next best logical component, a modern, state-of-the-art YMCA.

    My take from the city council/CMPA back and forth is that it is nothing more than a backwater power struggle between angry cousins. The park is a success as is, let’s not kill it with ridiculous popularity contests between puffed up politicians who think they need to leave their scent on anything smelling of success.

    As to the commercial viability of the acerage the YMCA would consume, the Trillium property sat vacant and weed infested for DECADES. If it were commercially viable, someone would have bought it from the city, developed it and made a ton of money.

  • C. C. Elebash March 15, 2013 at 9:40 pm

    In response to Ames’ two questions: 1) At the Council meeting on March 11, Councilman Bare said he asked the “Y” for membership numbers (and other info) three times. He said the “Y” did not respond. 2) The “Y” receives financial assistance from United Way.

  • Ez stuff March 15, 2013 at 9:33 pm

    There you go Ames – has the Y presented a pro forma which evidences the ability of the Y to cover all operating expenses associated with the new building? Where is the money going to come from to repair the decrepit NE Y building on Langley where most your programs are delivered?

  • Ames March 15, 2013 at 7:50 pm

    How many members does the Downtown YMCA claim?
    Does the Downtown YMCA receive any money from any charitable organization?

  • Dale Parker March 15, 2013 at 4:09 pm

    Woops I noticed I wrote this originally under the wrong story. But I am convinced that this is what happened!

    It totally amazes me that these people do not know why this ended up in front of the Council. Either they are the most stupid group of people to walk on 2 feet or just ignoring the reason and acting dumb..

    The reason this ended up at the Council and the Mayor’s office was that the first time it was discussed at the CMPA only Collier Merrill (no surprise there) was really pushing for the Y on Parcel 8. The rest of the CMPA ranged from outright rejecting the idea to cool to the idea.

    After that meeting, the principles in this bad idea decided to take their Marbles to Mayor Zoolander, who does not have a single ounce of integrity in him, then to the Council where they felt and got a more receptive audience.

    Basically, the YMCA Crew did an End Around on the CMPA and got away with it.

  • CJ Lewis March 15, 2013 at 3:43 pm

    Once upon a time the City of Pensacola put out a request for proposals seeking a developer to lease the polluted Trillium property across the street from City Hall in order to develop it using a private-public partnership into what I like to imagine as an “urban resort.” The private Community Maritime Park Associates, Inc. (CMPA) – formed in 2005 by Quint Studer, Jack Fetterman and John Cavanaugh – put together the winning proposal with the CMPA getting a 60-year lease. Using mostly public and some private monies, the CMPA built what you see today to include the Blue Wahoos Stadium, the Hunter Amphitheater, the bulkheads, the streets, sidewalks, a water garden (drainage pond), utilities, etc., etc.

    The City of Pensacola borrowed $45.6 million it gave to the CMPA to build what you see today. The total amount required by the City to pay back the $45.6 million with interest through 2040 is $103 million. Federal taxpayers are sucking up $20 million of that debt in the form of tax credits. The City of Pensacola’s Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) owes the remaining $83 million. The good news is that Escambia County taxpayers are being forced by the City of Pensacola to pay for most of the debt. The bad news is that City of Pensacola taxpayers are Escambia County taxpayers too. We pay twice first as City taxpayers and again as County taxpayers.

    Contrary to rumor, there is no special taxing district downtown paying for the Community Maritime Park economic development project. The money is not “free” as Mayor Wiggins used to say. If Wiggins was ever told the details of this project, they went in one ear and quickly out the other. Every dollar of the $83 million is diverted from the Escambia County and City of Pensacola General Funds no longer available for other communitywide needs ranging from putting more law enforcement officers on patrol duty to trimming trees in parks, etc. As the City Council’s CRA Executive Director Thaddeus Cohen used to say, before Mayor Hayward fired him without cause or the knowledge or consent of the submissive City Council in its passive role as the Governing Body of the CRA, “It is what it is.”

    So here we are in March 2013. The CMPA is now the master developer for the Community Maritime Park economic development project. The CMPA’s Board of Trustees stands in the weak shoes of the dysfunctional, bloated (nine-member) City Council, the second largest City Council in Florida. Some of the CMPA Board of Trustee’s actions, though not all, require the final approval of the City of Pensacola, the City Council its Governing Body. Four legal documents prescribe the relationship between the CMPA, the CRA and the City of Pensacola: Master Development Agreement, Master Lease Amendment, Omnibus Amendment and Interlocal Agreement (between the CRA, CMPA and City listed in that order). The Mayor’s role is whatever the City Council says it is or is not. The Mayor has no legal or illegal authority to approve or reject anything done by the CMPA, CRA or City Council.

    Going back to 2005, the CMPA has been a tax-exempt corporation “organized for charitable purposes…and in furtherance of such charitable purposes, the corporation will operate for the benefit of and carry out the public purposes of the City of Pensacola, Florida, and for such exclusively public purposes will undertake the development, improvement and operation of public amenities, public spaces and coordinating private economic development strategies on real property….” The CMPA’s progress has been uneven but everyone agrees that the current Board of Trustees is the most capable to date.

    The City’s role is to assist and cooperate with the CMPA that develops, operates and maintains this project. Section 10.02.(c) of the Master Development Agreement reads: “The City shall assist and cooperate with CMPA to accomplish the development of the Project in accordance with this Agreement and the Plans and Specifications, will carry out its duties and and responsibilities contemplated by this Agreement, and will not violate any laws, ordinances, rules, regulations, orders, contracts, or agreements that are or will be applicable thereto, and, to the greatest extent permitted by law, the City will not enact or adopt or urge or encourage the adoption of any ordinances, resolutions, regulations or orders or approve or enter into any contracts or agreements, including issuing any bonds, notes or other forms of indebtedness, that will result in any provision of this Agreement to be in violation thereof.”

    Mayor Ashton Hayward inserts himself into the equation and everything falls apart. Last night we learned that, as far back as mid-December, Hayward began meeting in secret with CMPA Chairman Collier Merrill and the YMCA’s attorney John Daniel to hammer out a deal that Hayward once said was bad for the City. During last night’s meeting, Hayward was heard to turn to City Attorney Jim Messer and ask if the CMPA did or did not need to approve the ground sub-lease agreement. He did not know. Messer told Hayward, “No.” That seems a very strange answer given that it is the CMPA that is leasing the land to the YMCA, i.e. this is why the YMCA is seeking a ground “sublease” and not a “lease” agreement.

    Councilwoman Megan Pratt – whom no one could ever successfully accuse of casting well-informed votes on the City Council, CRA or CMPA – claims that the Parcel 8 ground sublease is totally different from all the others because, claiming so without presenting any facts, the people of Pensacola want the City to use Parcel 8 for “a civic use” – in this case a membership-only health club/day care center (YMCA). We do? A majority of us? Pratt claims we do not want a hotel, retail shops and/or restaurants on Parcel 8. Must other parcels once intended for the Conference Center, Education Center, Multi-Cultural Center and Pensacola Sports Hall of Fame be used for “a civic use” too? Pratt may not know. Her orders were just to get Parcel 8 for the YMCA.

  • jeeperman March 15, 2013 at 3:38 pm

    That’s funny.
    Think about why.

  • oh no March 15, 2013 at 2:33 pm

    Messer to Wingate – I think I know what you are driving at but I am going to give you an answer that is clear as mud.
    Wingate to Messer – give me a better answer please
    Messer – Reynolds did it

    Hats off to Wingate for holding Messer’s feet to the fire

  • Leroy Carter March 15, 2013 at 12:12 pm

    The Y is open long hours. What are the members going to do for parking when a ball game or some other activity is going on? Just how happy when members are unable to find a parking place? The Y is not a good fit for the park.

  • C. C. Elebash March 15, 2013 at 11:40 am

    The YMCA Board has intimidated Pensacola City Council and pretty much gotten away with it. YMCA directors told Council that the “Y” would withdraw from their maritime park project if Council did not promptly approve a proposed lease. All parties agreed the lease was flawed and incomplete. Further fact gathering and negotiation are required.

    Council should be wary of people who make a sketchy offer and demand immediate acceptance. This negotiating tactic is “suspect”. In this case, it suggests the YMCA may be hiding something. The “Y” is running a “hurry up”, very well-financed campaign to lease a valuable parcel of park property. The YMCA advertises unrealistic benefits and demands hasty action.

    Council has backed off – sort of. They approved the project “in concept” and referred the “half-baked” lease to the Community Maritime Park Associates. A desirable by-product of this action would be a genuine public discussion.

    Pensacola YMCA’s good name is tarnished, whatever the outcome of this issue. The “Y” is not acting like a responsible citizen. Intimidation is a distasteful course of action.

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