Fishing with ‘Inspired’ bait at Maritime

by Jeremy Morrison

Two prime parcels of real estate at Maritime Park in downtown Pensacola are back up for grabs following the Pensacola City Council’s decision on April 22 to cast about for developers with suitable projects for the property. Council’s decision was unanimous, but it was hardly without contention.

“Councilwoman Hill called it bogus, and Councilwoman Brahier called it a set-up,” pointed out Councilwoman Teniadé Broughton, digging deeper into the move council was about to make. “Why is it problematic?”

The properties in question, dubbed parcels four and five at the park, have proven challenging for the city. Last month, a deal-on-the-brink with Silver Hills Development Inc. for a mixed-use project and multi-level parking garage fell apart, and now the city finds itself seeking a new developer. Sort of.

Council’s decision to put out another request for proposal, or RFP, is aimed at one specific and familiar target—Inspired Communities of Florida, LLC, a company already planning a project at the park and which originally sought parcels four and five.

“They are already ready,” Mayor Grover Robinson told council members. “They were ready before.”

Another Request for Proposals

Councilwoman Jennifer Brahier pointed out how transparent the city’s ambitions were early on in the discussion, citing the mayor’s initial recommendation to put the bid out for an abbreviated 30 day period and saying the move “makes me sick to my stomach.” A survey of local developers, she said, confirmed that the RFP would have been read as insincere and targeted.

“They know that was put out there for a person or as a feeler; it’s not a real thing,” Brahier said. “They said, hands down, that’s how they see this kind of thing.”

Robinson said that he wished the city could bypass the RFP process and go straight to Inspired.

“We would have gone immediately to him,” the mayor said, “but legal said, no, we’ve got to do advertising.”

Though some members expressed a certain level of discomfort with the move, they also seemed to understand Mayor Robinson’s rationale that going with Inspire represented the most efficient way to move forward on parcels four and five and spark further Maritime’s development and the city’s West Main Master Plan.

“I think it is kind of bogus, but I guess we have to do it to move forward with Inspire,” reasoned Hill, before again questioning the ethics of such a targeted RFP. “I don’t know; to me, it seems like if your intent isn’t pure, you shouldn’t do it.”

Council President Jared Moore also wondered if there was anything “ethically dubious” in the move before suggesting that maybe council members would be more comfortable putting the bid out for 60 days, which they ultimately decided to do.

The council placed a few conditions on RFP for parcels four and five. The winning proposal must:

• include the parking garage,
• observe the Covenant with the Community, and
• have an affordable housing element.

Or Punt

Before the city council decided to put out another RFP, Mayor Robinson had painted the development of the two parcels, especially with the parking garage component, as being essential to the overall West Main Sector Plan. He suggested that if the council did not move developing the parcels, then the plan should be scrapped.

“I’ll be the first to say, punt,” Robinson told the council. “I don’t care. Punt it, and start all over.”

Starting all over would mean ditching the work that has thus far been put into the West Main Sector Plan, including numerous public input sessions and planning work done by DPZ Co-Design and Jeff Speck.

Quint and Rishy Studer paid for the process and a short-term lease of the remaining Maritime parcels while the plan was developed. The only condition was the city would adopt the West Main Sector Plan upon its completion. The Pensacola City Council approved the plan in 2019.

Will the West Main Sector Plan become a relic and be added to the mountain of studies funded by taxpayers for decades?

-Rick Outzen contributed to their article.

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1 thought on “Fishing with ‘Inspired’ bait at Maritime

  1. This is a pretty simple issue. The parking structure should be built as a public works project using the $19.1 million the city is going to get as part of the American Rescue Plan. It can be finished by 2023. Priority should be given to hiring businesses located in the city and people who are city residents. The heck with Quint Studer’s so-called “Covenant for the Community” that gives preference to people and businesses in Santa Rosa County. The parking structure site would be on Parcel 4. At every prior opportunity, going back to 2006, Mr. Studer did not care about the parking structure and in 2013 he even came out against it in the News Journal so we should ignore what he thinks about it. That leaves Parcels 3, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9. They should be developed to benefit the public just as the late Councilwoman Rita Jones said in 2005, “Whatever final design emerges for the maritime park, it should be first and foremost for the residents.” I recently described part but not all of my vision in a letter published in the News Journal. I’m sure that others have ideas just as good or better. What does seem universal is that other than lame duck Mayor Robinson and his seven council members who just keep voting YES and YES and YES, no one I know actually thinks that it is a good idea to build a luxury hotel, a modern urbanism apartment complex and an upscale shopping mini-mall “in” the public’s Community Maritime Park. I have urged the council members to hold town hall meetings to ask their constituents what they want. Have they? Not yet. Rather shockingly, to date, not a single council member has had the moral courage to just once say NO to Mr. Studer. Instead, they all even very recently have very private meetings with him not known to the public to include even “in city hall” and he sends them very private letters and e-mails the public that is not allowed to see. Let us see what he wrote you! It is almost like a “government within a government” much like what Rick’s Blog wrote about in 2009 with respect to Commissioner Gene Valentino and a real estate developer Cy Keefer. New actors; same one-sided so-called “public-private” partnership where the private developer calls the shots, the public gets taken to the cleaners financially and the private developer reaps the windfall profits. In this case, we also have a bad track record with Studer Properties that broke multiple promises made to the city council with respect to the Southtowne project. I know of three broken promises. I told the council and documented them to include with quotes so they now know who they are dealing with. The city council should vote to end all thought of more private development in the Community Maritime Park. If they want it so bad, let the Studer’s build the hotel, apartments and shops on their 19-acre property across the street. Build it HIGH far above the storm surge level. That would be a lot better than the idea that Mr. Studer said in 2016 was his favorite idea – “a putt and pitch golf course.” Seriously? It was in the News Journal on the front page (January 23, 2016) above the fold so it must be true. It had his picture too. So how in the world did we ever get from “that” ridiculous vision to now in 2021 being told that the world is going to end if the
    the Community Maritime Park is not privatized to enrich private real estate developers?

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