Council Approves Pen Air, Blows Off Steam

While it eventually green-lighted the Pen Air deal, the Pensacola City Council let it be known that it was not pleased about the circumstances.

“Delighted to support the deal tonight,” said Council President Sam Hall. “I’m just not happy about how it came to us.”

After lengthy discussion on the matter, council members chose to forgive a loan to the Downtown Improvement Board as part of a deal that involved Pen Air Federal Credit Union moving into the Thiesen Building downtown and bringing 108 jobs to the area.

Downtown Improvement Board Kim Kimbrough estimated that the company’s move to the area would generate about $800,000 annually for downtown businesses.

While all members of the city council appeared eager to usher Pen Air into downtown, a few had expressed concern earlier about the lack of information they were being given. Those sentiments were voiced again last night.

Councilwoman Maren DeWeese said that the lack of background information provided to city council was part of a pattern.

“If it was a one-time instance, I wouldn’t be so frustrated,” she said, accusing the mayor’s chief of staff of routinely disrespecting the council.

DeWeese, as well as other council members, had gone to see Kimbrough  independently to be briefed on the deal’s particulars. While some still had reservations about using taxpayer money to ofter a roundabout subsidy to Pen Air, all council members but DeWeese would eventually ok the the deal.

The Pensacola City Council was being asked to forgive a nearly $80,000 loan to the DIB. The DIB was requesting such so that it could see its way to offer Pen Air free parking for their employees, which would end up costing it event-parking dollars. City officials were keen on the more because it brought jobs to the area, realized the renovation of a historic building and Pen Air agreed to forgo any EDATE property tax exemptions, thus making it an essential, eventual wash, or better.

Council members appeared to want more information than Chief of Staff John Asmar or City Administrator Bill Reynolds had been able to offer them during Monday’s Committee of the Whole meeting. Since then, President Hall claimed members of Mayor Ashton Hayward’s staff had pressured him—or “threatened” him—while he was on Hayward’s seventh floor city hall haunts, warning that he risked a bad portrayal in the press.

“We’d be the whipping boy over this issue and we’d be painted in the worst possible light,” Hall said. “And I did not appreciate that.”

Asmar told the council that the administration had informed the board as soon as possible, having only found out about it last week themselves.

“The mayor’s office certainly apologizes for any misunderstandings,” he said.