Council approves airport deal anyway

By IN Reporter Sean Boone

Airport deal lives after city hiccup

After a week long fiasco described by Councilwoman Jewel Cannada-Wynn as “The clash of the hotel titans,” Sandspur Development was ultimately awarded an 11.44-acre airport property lease at Thursday night’s City Council meeting.

The deal gives Sandspur an 80-year property lease on six parcels of land and guarantees the city $24 million worth of development on it–possibly including a Hyatt Place hotel.

But the deal didn’t come easy.

The Enterprise Committee item had already been under sharp criticism from local developers since its induction to the agenda last week due to a seemingly low appraisal of $6.4 million for the property. But the disdain was further inflamed on Wednesday after a public records request uncovered two additional appraisals–one for $7.1 million and a review appraisal for $7 million–that were lost by airport officials.

When the new information was uncovered, city officials asked Sandspur to pay $400,000 more to match the appraisal review amount, which they obliged.

In addition to the appraisal change, the property agreement was also modified to include an architectural and landscaping review, storm water criteria and removes exclusive rights to the property after 25 years into the contract.

Airport Director Frank Miller and City Manager Al Coby both owned up to the appraisal mistake that was made, but the majority of the 15 or so citizens that spoke during the meeting on Thursday were more concerned with the future of city property procedures.

“What is your policy for dispersing property?” Pensacola resident Gary Watson asked Council. “Why not have open bidding?”

Developer Jim Cronley went as far as telling Council he would put $250,000 towards a new appraisal evaluation for the airport property–which he further stated he would pay up to $10 million for.

Councilman Jack Nobles defended the initial appraisal that the city gave to Sandspur, stating the market value of the time warranted a lower amount than in years past.

“We’re doing it at today’s snapshot picture,” he said. “We can’t sit and wait on the market to improve. We are living in uncertain times and I think we’ve dealt fairly with everyone.”