“Do y’all like it when I sit down or stand up?” Hayward asked, settling in to last night’s public powwow.
The mayor periodically meets with residents of the city’s different districts, providing an accessible setting for some back and forth. The District 7 meeting—also attended by various members of city staff, as well as retiring Pensacola City Councilman Ronald Townsend—was held at the Sander Beach-Corinne Jones Neighborhood Resource Center. About 40 people attended the event.
“One question that’s on my mind,” Hayward opened the meeting, “is what would you like to see with the 19 acres of ECUA property?”
Those in attendance were also interested in the ECUA property, located on Main Street, a short distance from the community center. They were also interested in sidewalks, stormwater, playgrounds, an aquarium, botanical gardens, mosquitoes and the city’s plans for various pieces of abandoned properties.
One woman told the mayor about overgrown bushes, which blocked drivers’ views and once concealed her from the bus she was hoping to catch.
“Someone’s going to get seriously injured,” she said.
“It is an issue,” Hayward agreed, adding that the city was working to address the overgrowth in the right of ways and noted that he regularly gets calls pertaining to such. “People that know me [call], ‘Ashton, what the hell are you doing on this corner right here? I almost got killed.’”
Another woman wondered what the plans were for the Blount school property. Hayward said the plan was to “increase the value over there,” but that a decision had not been made yet.
“You have a charrette,” the mayor said. “You have three or four charrettes with the community and say, ‘what would you like to see done?’”
Bill Young, a biologist, asked the mayor about the possibility of an aquarium at the ECUA property. He has pushed for the project for some time, with the mayor noting that the man had “put his heart and soul” into the concept.
“That is a huge opportunity for an aquarium developer,” Young said, noting the 60-inch pipe that runs from the site out into the bay for a mile. “They would salivate to build an aquarium on that property.”
Hayward called the notion a “great idea,” but said there was no money behind it. He told the room that “everyone gets delusional sometimes” and that such a project would need to be funded with private dollars.
The mayor also briefly addressed the city’s new marketing campaign—“Every city in Florida is the city of five flags, just so you know that.”—as well as the city’s new strong-mayor form of government—“Your voice is heard more than ever now.”—and recent discontent with his administration in certain camps.
“I didn’t run for office so I could be called the mayor, I got a lot of attention growing up,” Hayward said, denouncing the “sniping” of his critics. “I’m not looking for friends, I’m looking for results.”
Outgoing Councilman Ronald Townsend—who Hayward referred to as “an epitome of a gentleman”—also took the opportunity to address his District 7 constituents. The official is wrapping up 11 years on the council.
“It has really been a tremendous satisfaction for me to do this,” Townsend told the room.