Malcolm Thomas blocks Brownsville deal

Brownsville Middle School has sat vacant for three years. One wing has been damaged by fire. The School District has let one its contractors use the former administrative offices. The school is in a depressed neighborhood four blocks west of W Street. There is a huge junkyard across the street.

Friendship Missionary Baptist Church wants to buy and convert into a church and full community center. It’s an ambitious plan for a part of Pensacola that needs such a project. Rev. LuTimothy May would like to have library branch, health clinic, after-school activities, computer lab and maybe even a sheriff substation there.

The School Board wants to help make it happen. Superintendent Thomas is the stumbling block. He says he has an appraisal for the property for $1.7 million—which may be pre-fire. The school system did collect on the insurance for the fire damage, but chose not to spend it on the school.

May and his church had offered $500,000 which would have given them $500,000 from their savings and loan commitments to renovate the facility. Thomas refused it. May has come back with $1.02 million – which I think hurts, or at least delays, their ability to fully develop the property. Still Thomas refused and would not even put it on the agenda for the board to discuss.

Now the school board has asked Thomas to please sit down with Rev. May and work this out. The church has a loan commitment that expires at the first of the year.

We have a blighted area that needs this type of center. We have the African-American community willing to put its own money and invest in Brownsville. We’ve seen the School District give property in much better neighborhoods to non-profits.

This property doesn’t need to be an expansion of the junkyard that is across the street – which is what I’ve heard is one option being considered by Thomas. And it doesn’t help to eat up all the capital of a church and its congregation.

Thomas needs to be more interested in the community and less concerned about the sales price. This is just dilapidated building to Thomas–an entry on ledger book. To Brownsville, this is a just to rebuild hope.

We and others will be watching how Thomas deals with this. He didn’t get elected by the African-American vote and may not be concerned about how he hurts his relationships in that part of the community. However, Brownsville impacts all of us–it’s crime, poverty, prostitution, gangs and drugs drag this county down. This project is the one way to stem the tide and begin to rebuild pride.

Thomas needs to lower his asking price to less than $500,000 and be more consistent with how other non-profits have been treated. It’s time to put your flowcharts, statistical reports and ledgers down and see how you can make a real difference in a part of the community that the school system has abandoned.

And where is Commissioner Marie Young on this issue?