Jeremy's Notebook

The YMCA, the CMPA and the ‘Big Mistake’

March 21, 2013

After hours of debate yesterday, the Community Maritime Park Associates board decided to redirect a proposed YMCA away from  a waterfront space at the park.

“I think we have made a big mistake doing what we did here,” CMPA Chairman Collier Merrill said.

Proponents of a new downtown Y had hoped to relocate to parcel 8 at the Community Maritime Park, which fronts Pensacola Bay. The CMPA board voted 6-4 to instead offer up parcels five or six—neither of which are waterfront—to the Y.

“We have made a counter offer to them, is what we’ve done,” said Fred Gunther, who made the motion. “They’ve made an offer to us, we’ve made a counter offer.”

Representatives of the YMCA were not pleased with the decision.

“I guarantee you, somebody from out of town wouldn’t be sitting at the table still,” said YMCA attorney John Daniel.

The CMPA’s YMCA decision comes after weeks of debate over the proposed project, which has substantial financial support from the community, most notably from Blue Wahoos owner Quint Studer. Last week, the Pensacola City Council—after much discussion—approved the Y’s proposed lease, in concept, and left the details to the CMPA.

Yesterday’s decision also follows a debate over process. Throughout city council discussions, questions were raised over how the YMCA lease came to be. Some members maintained that the lease should have first traversed the CMPA board before being brought before council.

Merrill told his board last night that he thought the CMPA’s role was to make property in the park available, and that the city council was charged with approving or disapproving a proposed lease. Others have maintained that the CMPA is to negotiate leases prior to council weighing in.

“I was hoping you had to usurp this board, personally,” Merrill said at the opening of yesterday’s meeting. “But, we are where we are right now.”

The YMCA team began private discussions in December with Merrill and Mayor Ashton Hayward. They then worked through several lease drafts with City Attorney Jim Messer before bringing the matter to the city council.

Some council members took issue with the private meetings and redirected the issue to the CMPA board. Prior to sending the lease to the CMPA, council approved the proposal  “in concept,” and requested that the park board work out the lease details.

YMCA representatives have maintained that they were following the path suggested by city officials. On that front, YMCA Board President Steve Williams opened the CMPA meeting with an apology.

“I ask for your forgiveness for any missteps we have taken and I offer you our sincerest apology,” he told the CMPA board.

Prior to discussing the YMCA prospects, Merrill cautioned his board. He reminded them that city council had already approved the lease, in concept.

“Anybody can ask any questions they want to ask and we can talk about whatever we want to talk about,” the chairman said, “but let’s keep in mind what we’ve been tasked to by the city.”

After Gunther made his motion, Merrill again stressed the city directive. He read from the city council’s motion, which requested the CMPA to tend to lease details.

“As chairman, this is what I’ve been sent, this is what I’ve got,” Merrill said.

Gunther argued that his motion—offering up parcels 5 and 6, instead of 8—was within the bounds of council’s directive, and also contended that the CMPA board was not beholden to the council. He said he made his motion to reflect concerns raised by the CMPA’s Audit and Operations Committee, of which he is a member.

“My particular reason is that the parcel was bigger than they needed and they didn’t need the prime piece of waterfront property,” Gunther said, also requesting that parking concerns, as well as other issues, be addressed in any lease negotiations.

Following the 6-4 vote, there was some confusion about the chances of parcel 8 being placed back on the table during lease negotiations. It is unclear if the YMCA is interested in pursuing the project at the park if the waterfront parcel is not on the table.

“Yes, we’ll negotiate any of’em—5, 6, 7—but not if 8’s not in the mix, too,” said Daniel. “We’re happy to negotiate, but you can’t cherry pick and choose what you want to negotiate about.”

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  • joe March 22, 2013 at 12:53 pm

    Thanks for all the comments here, especially from the ones who attended meetings. The daily appears to print a slanted side of this issue. I don’t know if the YMCA on that parcel is a good idea or not. I suspect it is not, economically, a positive move. The pressure of having to make a decision immediately, without all the facts and figures, would have generated a “no” vote from me.
    As much as Studer has done for the community I think he bungled this one and Merrill acted like the “spoiled child” who didn’t get his way, a label that has previously belonged to Hayward.
    From early reading on this issue I was suspect when the Y director Williams was quoted as saying the Y in that location is necessary for economic development, paraphrasing. I understand the role of the YMCA and it is far from economic development.
    I do hope the grown ups sit down at the table and work out some way to get Studer to release the 5 million and the treatment property site should be a consideration, if anywhere in that general area.

  • Grant Browning March 22, 2013 at 11:19 am

    So it appears to me that Collier and Ashton got busted.

    Rick I am not being a smart arse but two questions for you.

    Will you pursue Collier into the gates of hell to uncover any wrongdoing he may have committed- like you do with others? I know he is not your boss but as I recall a pretty big shareholder at your paper.

    Did he and the mayor operate out of the sunshine and if so what now???

    • Rick Outzen March 22, 2013 at 11:36 am

      Don’t know how Merrill and Hayward meeting violates the Sunshine Law. You need to explain that.

  • Diana March 21, 2013 at 11:53 pm

    Sad

  • Dale Parker March 21, 2013 at 11:57 am

    This is rich I tell you!!! First of all, Collier Merrill orchestrated a little “End Around” on his OWN CMPA board that blew up in his face. I cannot believe his audacity to go to that meeting and demand “The Council has tasked us”…well that should have never happened in the first place. And for the puppet Messer answering the Mayor can the CMPA not do this, and his answer is NO! Well, I disagree there too.

    It would take a Stevie Wonder Blind Person not to see, well maybe deaf too not to realize that once Collier saw that his Board was cool to the idea, that he, Mayor Zoolander and group privately met (probably at Jackson’s since that is where most of their Shenanigans go on)and hammered out a lease (flawed) then took it straight to the Council. All to get around the CMPA board.

    And, can SOMEONE explain to me what this statement from Collier means “I was hoping you had to usurp this board, personally,” Merrill said at the opening of yesterday’s meeting. “But, we are where we are right now.” What ever the context is, YOU DID UPSURP YOUR BOARD PAL! WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT.

    I guess ole Collier did not see this coming!

    Then Steve Williams, “please forgive me” now that is classic. That is the ole, let’s do it and ask forgiveness later! Well, the truth is he DID exactly what he wanted in their little End Around and standing there lying about it is more of an insult to the Citizens of Pensacola who are on the hook for this failure.

    I have not heard from anyone I know that says that the “Y” at the Maritime, Baseball Park is a good idea on any level at all. NO ONE seems to want to have an intelligent conversion regarding taxes, most notably parking. I read where the Y attorney said that once they have a signed lease they would address parking. Well, this is the same group that brought you the statement above “I ask for your forgiveness for any missteps we have taken and I offer you our sincerest apology,” … what’s next “I ask your forgiveness that we could not fix the parking problem will you build us a parking garage”.

    One thing for sure, Collier Merrill needs to resign immediately. He has lost the confidence of his board members, he tried to pull an end around and basically, he is the architect of this mess. Well, along with Mayor Zoolander and bungling attorneys involved.

  • CJ Lewis March 21, 2013 at 11:06 am

    Yesterday, Fred Gunther – whom I have never met – earned “Hero of the City” honors. It is rare to see anyone, let alone an elected or appointed official, stand up so passionately for what is right and in the best interests of the people of Pensacola. By design, the CMPA Board of Trustees is not a mere handmaiden of the City Council let alone this or any future Mayor who does not serve on the City Council, CRA or CMPA. Just like the City Manager he replaced, the Mayor’s role in any aspect of the Community Maritime Park project is only as directed by the Governing Body of the City of Pensacola (City Council) and only as authorized under the “voter-approved” Master Development Agreement and Master Lease Agreement. The CMPA is supposed to be insulated from political pressures to include innocent Montessori children dressed in matching blue YMCA t-shirts and armed with animal balloons on their heads. There is nothing prescribed in law – “the executive powers of the City” – that allows actively practicing realtor Ashton J. Hayward III to secretly anoint himself as the master developer of the Community Maritime Park. I have no idea where Gunther lives or what he does or if he as any aspirations beyond public service on the CMPA Board but there can be no dispute that he is a natural leader. If you know Gunther, or see him in Publix, or at the YMCA, or at Palafox Market, tip your ball cap to a rare person with real backbone. Gunther would be a welcome addition to this or any City Council.

  • Moose March 21, 2013 at 10:33 am

    I wonder why this has to be pushed through so quickly? We don’t need to take 6 months to a year or more to kick it around, but we can’t even have the people who were duly elected and nominated to research and carefully vet out these types of decisions review it, discuss it at their meeting in Sunshine (the only opportunity they would have to talk about it with one another) and maybe offer suggestions that still honor the original intent, but ensure the development’s viability. Harvey McKay gave some great advice in one of his books about situations like this. He said if someone ever tries to sell you something at a high-priced dinner with chandeliers and puts you in a position of having to say “yes”…say “no.”

  • Keith March 21, 2013 at 10:02 am

    Isn’t the old Treatment property available? Wouldn’t that be a little better than having it on the waterfront?

  • SAM March 21, 2013 at 9:13 am

    John Daniel said, “We’re happy to negotiate, but you can’t cherry pick and choose what you want to negotiate about.”

    Why not?