City Council Recap

During its Thursday night meeting, the Pensacola City Council tackled Quint Studer’s Maritime Park lease, stormwater assessments and East Government Street. The council also addressed the eventual arrival of RESTORE Act money.

Studer, owner of the Blue Wahoos minor league baseball team, has been working towards a lease deal with the city and Community Maritime Park Associates for a parcel neighboring the ballpark. He’s wanting to construct a $12 million office building, which will house his medical consulting firm.

While much of the lease specifics have been hammered out—in public, due to Sunshine issues—the deal recently became hung up on parking issues and the CMPA’s budgetary realities. The proposal currently on the table requests that 75 percent of the lease fees flow to the CMPA instead of the city of Pensacola.

City Attorney Jim Messer advised the council to remove the provision in the lease that diverts the 75 percent to the CMPA. He said that the same objective could be reached, but that the proposed language would endanger $10 million worth of New Market tax credits. He advised the council to approve the agreement without that provision because the issue was “too complex to solve in 48 hours and negotiate in public.”

“The objective is going to be accomplished, but it’s going to take time,” Messer said. “It’s not as simple as turning happy to glad, you’re dealing with a tax code.”

City Administrator Bill Reynolds and Chief Financial Officer Dick Barker also advised the council to remove the provision. Barker said he would advise the mayor not to sign off on an agreement that dedicated 75 percent of Studer’s lease fee to the CMPA. He said he could arrive at the same ends through different means.

“I commit to work on that without committing to calling it anything other than a certain sum of money that the city wants to get to the CMPA,” Barker said, also adding that the CMPA did not have a deficit. “There’s a shortfall in their budget, but there is not a deficit at this time.”

While officials appeared to agree that the issue was between the city and the CMPA, Scott Remington, Studer’s attorney, disagreed with that notion. He told the council that the agreement was a three-way deal and that he didn’t know of “a silver bullet that takes us out of that conversation completely.” The attorney suggested the council leave the provision in, possibly tweaking the language after the fact.

“If the goal is to make rabbit stew, I hate to take the rabbit out of the pot,” Remington told the board. “You’ve got the rabbit, grab it.”

The council eventually voted to remove the provision, stipulating that the city would find a way to provide the CMPA with the equivalent of 75 percent of Studer’s lease fee (which is about 8 percent of the property’s value annually).

“It might just be easier to pull it with the supreme promise that we find that language somewhere else,” suggested Councilwoman Megan Pratt, before the vote.

The council also adopted a stormwater assessment resolution last night. The board must do this annually in order to collect stormwater assessment fees.

Since its inception in 2001, the stormwater fees have generated more than $25 million dollars. The money is designated for stormwater management purposes.

During last night’s public forum, resident Dolores Curry requested that the city provide her with a list of projects the money had been used for.

“I would like to see a breakdown of where all this money is going,” Curry said.

Several council persons requested the list as well. Councilwoman Sherri Myers said her constituents would appreciate the information.

“Especially in light of the situation of Burgess Road,” she said. “That hardly has a stormwater system.”

Council also discussed the reconnecting of East Government Street last night. After a series of public workshops indicated little public appetite for the reconnect, Myers suggested the council officially take the vehicular option off the city’s table.

The council was evenly divided on this issue—with Myers’ motion failing on a 4-4 tie—with some members preferring to continue their exploration of the reconnect. As Councilman Brian Spencer said, he preferred “vetting an issue to the end.”

Councilman Larry Johnson also raised the issue of RESTORE Act money. He noted that Escambia County would soon form an advisory board to handle allocation of funds derived from Clean Water Act fines imposed on BP.

Johnson suggested the council select Councilwoman Maren DeWeese to be the city’s representative on the county’s RESTORE committee. The council approved the selection unanimously.

Councilman Johnson also brought up a point he had mention earlier in the week during the council’s Committee of the Whole meeting. During the Community Redevelopment Agency portion of the meeting, each council member is required to divulge any possible conflicts of interests, or business relationships they might have within the CRA boundaries; council members routinely divulge such during regular council meetings as well (example, Spencer owns property and DeWeese rents property near East Government Street).

Mayor Ashton Hayward’s Chief of Staff John Asmar was listed as the city’s point-person for the CRA. Johnson had requested that the chief of staff—who is also a private attorney—be required to disclose his business relationships as well.

“I’d like to make a motion as we move forward, that he disclose who he deals with in his private law practice that he also deals with publicly,” Johnson reiterated.

“From this point forward, I’ve been appointed to deal with the CRA,” Reynolds replied, adding that he had no business relationships of concern.

“Boy, isn’t that convenient,” Johnson said.