C.C. Elebash keeps anti-park on life support

Here is the latest viewpoint from Save Our City sage C.C. Elebash:

2006 CMP referendum overtaken by events

The people of Pensacola support the Community Maritime Park (CMP). However, many citizens strongly object to the baseball stadium..[RMO: How many is many? 12?, 120?, 1200? – we know it wasn’t enough to keep Marty Donovan on the City Council (1,058) or get 2009 Donovan petition submitted (5,700 – we heard they had less than 1,000 verified signatures).] City Council should proceed with the CMP but abandon the unpopular ballpark.[City Council has a contractual obligation to build the stadium. The City gets a $12 million office building – which it all and its contents will be added to property tax rolls.]

Council is no longer obligated to build a stadium. [What? The Bond documents specifically say a stadium will be built and the Pelicans have a use agreement. Here is the memo from City Manager Al Coby that clearly states the CMPA & City are obligated to build the stadium – CobyStadiumMemo. His recommendations passed 9-0.] The project has changed substantially. The maritime museum is postponed indefinitely, and a UWF branch campus building will probably never be built. This leaves the public area and the baseball field to be paid for by the City, plus a privately funded amphitheater. [Of course, the plans clearly show the stadium is much more than a ballpark – see the latest plans. With a little digging, I can find the layouts for all the different possible configurations of the stadium for soccer, football and concerts….however the drawing don’t really matter to Mr. Elebash’s opinions. He has seen the configurations numerous times].

The present severe recession makes it imprudent to continue with the ballpark. All state and local governments are in dire financial straits. This includes Florida and Pensacola. New baseball parks have no place in tight municipal budgets. The ballpark extravagance could affect future funding for vital City services.[The Community Maritime Park is paid with CRA funds, not funds that will “affect future funding for vital City service”. Not the use of the word “could”…not very strong verb.]

The stadium is a great deal for the Pelican team owners. Their payments to the City would be $3 million spread over 10 years. The City’s debt service to pay off the ballpark bonds is about $30 million. A ten to one ratio: City taxpayers pay thirty million dollars and the Pelicans pay three million. That is a lousy deal for Pensacola. [Mr. Elebash wants you to believe the lease fees on the stadium paid by the Pelicans are intended to pay the bonds. They are not. They have never have been. It has always been the intent of the City to use CRA fund to pay the debt. He also ignores the $12 million office building, its land lease fees and property taxes…as well as the other private development that will occur on this waterfront property. He tells only half the story….really only about a tenth.]

Calling the ballpark a “multi-use stadium” is a real “stretch”. The Pelicans are the only prospective tenant. [Not true, music promoters have expressed interest in the stadium. The Pensacola Sports Association is anxious to bring events to the stadium. Mr. Elebash has no facts to support his statement.] Universities and professional sports found out decades ago that multi-use sports stadiums are unsatisfactory. [Please cite sources] Who would use the stadium other than the Pelicans? Every high school in Escambia County has its own stadium. It would be costly for them to play at the CMP.[Again what is his source?] The prospects for a UWF football team playing downtown are extremely remote. [Source?] As for non-athletic events, the amphitheater will be the preferred venue. [Source?]

Predictions that the ballpark will help revive Pensacola’s economy are far-fetched. Minor league sports have no real economic impact. They do not attract out-of-town people or out-of-town money. Almost all independent expert analyses conclude that ballparks do not create economic benefits. [We have interviewed more than half dozen mayors who have built minor league parks. They all disagree with Mr. Elebash over the impact of the parks…and with his spelling of analysis]

The sensible course of action is to proceed with the CMP – but without the stadium. With less money, the City can still complete the environmental clean-up and provide a spectacular public area with amenities (including the amphitheater). This setting would attract private investment when the economy improves.

Mr. Elebash’s opinions on the park haven’t really changed for five years – no matter what was happening with our economy or in our city (Please note how he increases the cost of the stadium and how many of his dire predictions never occurred):

July 4, 2005
“The Pensacola City Council should say “no” to a $12 million minor league baseball park proposed for the Trillium site. The $12 million would be better spent helping to relocate the Main Street sewer plant or on public libraries.”

July 26, 2005
“The City of Pensacola cannot afford the entire Community Maritime Park project at this time. There will have to be deletions, changes and delays. The $12 million minor-league baseball park is the prime candidate for deletion.”

Sept. 27, 2005
“The devastating impact of Hurricane Katrina should prompt the City Council to re-evaluate the maritime park in the light of the crucial need to move the Main Street Wastewater Treatment Plant…Which is more important to Pensacola? A minor-league baseball park or relocation of the wastewater treatment plant?”

Dec. 5, 2005
“The Pensacola City Council should: Proceed with utilities, streets, public park areas and maritime museum; cancel the $16 million baseball stadium; and postpone the $8 million conference center.”

Jan. 9, 2006
“Imagine a modern library on waterfront…Or would you rather imagine a baseball park?”

Feb.19, 2006
“The ballpark alone will cost almost $40 million ($16 million for construction, $16 million for interest, plus valuable real estate). The promoters say the ballpark will be a multi-use stadium, but most of the other uses they talk about are unrealistic or just plain silly — like tailgate parties.”

Apr. 26, 2006
“Relocation of the Main Street Wastewater Treatment Plant is the highest priority for Pensacola and Escambia County…
However, the Pensacola City Council is pledging a substantial portion of the CRA’s income for the next 30 years. They are spending it on the Trillium project, which features a baseball park as it centerpiece.”

July 9, 2006
“Pensacola can do a lot better than the contract the city signed with Community Maritime Park Associates, and we have ample time to do so. There will be little economic progress along West Main Street until relocation of the sewer plant is assured. Realistically, it will be five to seven years before the plant is finally relocated. Meanwhile, the Pensacola City Council has plenty of time to reopen the Trillium process and issue a national “request for proposals.” Pensacola should look at more than just one option for this valuable waterfront property.”

Aug. 7, 2006
“Pensacola would be foolish to spend $16 million to $20 million on a baseball stadium that would produce little or no economic benefit. Pensacola has a poor history with professional sports, and we have needs much more important than a waterfront ballpark.”

Dec. 13, 2008
“Unexpected events have overtaken the Community Maritime Park plan. Uncertainty surrounds the project. The original 2006 plan could cost as much as $70 million instead of the $40 million approved by the City Council and referendum. The city may not be able to borrow $40 million.

Preparation and infrastructure will cost about $25 million. A baseball park would cost about another $15 million. That would exhaust the $40 million the city hopes to borrow.

There would be no city money left for public amenities such as the great lawn, formal gardens, wharfs, piers, lighthouse and the promenade.

There would not be enough money to build a University of West Florida classroom building. Without UWF classrooms, Maritime Park trustees would lose their principal source of operating income – rent from UWF.

Financing for the UWF Maritime Museum is at a standstill. State matching funds are not available.

There apparently is no navigable water access to the park.

Every person, business and government in the world is affected by the economic crisis. The park is not exempt.

(For those familiar with the fables of Hans Christian Andersen, the present Maritime Park situation is a case of “The Emperor is wearing no clothes.”)”

Jan. 19, 2009
“Proceeding with the ballpark would be extravagant and risky. This is especially true in a time of historic economic turmoil. The City of Pensacola already has nearly $200 million in debt and pension liabilities. New borrowing could damage the city’s credit standing. Canceling the stadium would ease the need for borrowing and improve the chances of receiving federal grants.”

April 7, 2009
“It would not be prudent for the Pensacola City Council to proceed with the original Maritime Park proposal. Plans made three or four years ago — or even two years ago — have to be revised. Staying with the original plan may very well lead to ignominious consequences.”