As a lifelong resident of Pensacola and Pensacola Beach, I have always been a proponent of improving the quality of life in our beautiful city. We have sat by and watched our neighboring states put together sweetheart deal after deal luring business into their cities by aggressively going after the business. While Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, and the other states offer tax incentive packages for businesses to relocate to their area. We continue to have a governmental structure that remains asleep at the wheel, drunk with ego driven policy decisions and the “good ole boy” business as usual network. Every time there is a chance to enhance the “quality of life” in Pensacola, our leaders forget about the people that elected them and vote their own personal agendas. Most of the time this is to our disadvantage because it does absolutely nothing to attract jobs or a lifestyle that big business wants for their employees. ex: voting down-The Community Maritime Park, consolidation of government expenses, strong elected mayor, etc. etc. etc.
The latest “Pie In The Sky” self serving proposition we have on the table is the Pensacola Beach Master Plan being driven very successfully by a handful of big name developers and various behind the scene people. The spend and then tax mentality is not only alive in Washington but, having a rebirth right here in our beautiful city. The smokescreen that is being sold to beach property owners, Gulf Breeze residents, and businesses, that this will beautify our beach and solve all our congestion / parking problems is the “bait on the old proverbial hook”. Who do you think is going to pay for it? Escambia County and our already fragile economy will certainly get the bill on the Pensacola Beach vision probably soon to be named “Portofino Island”.
The proponents of this $ 47 million dollar beautification plan (see the details @ www.sria-fla.com) had successfully pushed this spending spree thru steering committee, and almost thru SRIA board members approval. The citizens woke up just in time and started asking question. The Friday, March 5th meeting produced a crowd of about 200 people from all walks of life and points of view. It was great to see the government process work as it was originally intended. There were many points brought up in reference to areas of concern about funding, construction impact on beach business, and costs that were not included in the $ 47 million figures, but included in the Master Plan. Other cost factors that were not included in the $ 47million plan cost breakdown include the demolition and rebuilding of the, sheriffs station, SRIA office, Tourist visitor center, ferry service facilities and many more.
The developers and other vested interest individuals have even tried to direct the focus away from the real issue by portraying our concerns as a “Sandshaker Lounge vs. Beach Beautification” sales tactic. The citizens that spoke for the plan obviously had real interest about the perceived increase in property values, easing of traffic congestion, and increasing their business bottom-lines on the belief that this Master Plan is going to solve all their problems. They don’t quite understand who is going to be paying for this monumental plan. We , the citizens of Escambia County, are going to pay
The hot buttons such as parking, traffic congestion, bringing more local residents out to the beach, and increased profits are certainly being used by the media and backers of this plan very effectively to sell a “PIG IN THE POKE”.
The facts are:
1) The plan does not increase the parking on the beach, it only redirects employee parking to satellite lots. Every beach I have visited has a parking problem. Our parking problems are only major problems 4-5 times a year. ex: Blue Angel, Mardi Gras, and holiday weekends. They also point out that people just do not want to walk, they want convenient parking. Some of the most popular beaches in our country have parking garages. Most are even revenue producing, imagine that! They are designed to blend in with the beach and make it possible to have more landscaped walking areas etc. Some of you probably don’t even realize that there is a parking structure in front of the Gulf Front Hilton.
2) It puts an elevated vehicle expressway complete with 3 round-a-bouts (remember the movie-European Vacation, there’s Big Ben) in place of the existing roads so that pedestrians can walk from the Gulf over to Portofino Boardwalk safely. They already do walk over there safely by way of pedestrian walkways that can certainly be widened, enhanced, beautified, and made safer with pedestrian signals just like every other beach in America does. Why not consider a 20′ wide elevated pedestrian walkway with about a 5% handicap accessible incline starting at the gulf and providing a panoramic view of our beautiful island as the people walk over to the sound side Portofino Boardwalk area.
3) It will not move traffic along any faster because there are inherent problems with any traffic right of way that has bottle necks built into the bridges. We paid $50,000 for a traffic study that was completed in October 2009. It has at least 4 very sound suggestions that SRIA and the backers of the spending extravaganza have chosen to ignore because it is not the Portofino vision Master Plan. It also has plenty of room for beautification and an enhanced 20′ wide walkway over to Portofino Boardwalk. PEOPLE DO NOT COME TO THE BEACH TO BE IN A HURRY, THEY COME TO SLOW DOWN AND RELAX. Slow moving traffic is even good for business.
4) This Master Plan will not be the magic pill that increases our property sales values back up to the Pre-bubble bursting levels. The combinations of increased insurance costs, hurricane reconstruction cost, SRIA lease fees, SRIA sales tax fees, Bed Taxes and now Property Taxes on top of our lease fees, are what is affecting our Real Estate market on the beach most of all.
5) The $1 dollar increase in bridge toll is certainly not going to increase the number of people coming across the bridge significantly. One SRIA board member stated at the board meeting that we could be looking at other increases of $1 dollar in a couple years and then another 50 cents later. This will not increase traffic to the beach it will hurt it. Look at Garcon Bridge. It’s usually deserted.
In closing, the Pensacola Beach Master Plan only benefits a few developers and Portofino Boardwalk at tremendous cost to us and our children in the future. We have refinanced our bridge in the past. Let’s not mortgage our future based on the grandiose vision of a few vested people. We have the most beautiful beach in the country and it certainly can be made even more user friendly but, it does not need major “Plastic Surgery”. I would urge everyone to come to the March 10th SRIA board meeting at 5:00PM and make sure that you have a say in the beautification plan because, we will all certainly be getting the bill. There are no free rides. If you cannot be there, email your opinions to the commissioners and Board Members included in the CC.. line of this email.