Maritime albatross

In the lava hot real estate market, the city of Pensacola has prime shovel-ready land on the bay of which only two parcels have b been leased since the multi-use stadium opened in May 2012. A maritime museum, two conference centers, a downtown YMCA, a Center for Entrepreneurship, resort hotel, grocery store, daycare center, restaurants, condominiums and high-rise apartment buildings have been proposed, only to get mired in city politics.

The two parcels that have been lease are the parcel next to the Blue Wahoos Stadium that Quint Studer leased for a four-story office building and the parcel at the eastern entrance to the park that Beck Partners built for a mixed-use three-story building that has offices, retail and condos.

The most recent developer, Carson Lovell, won a narrow city council vote to enter into negotiations for parcels 4 and 5. Its proposal is to build a large parking garage, conference center, indoor entertainment center and some workforce housing. The final contract and design will come back to the city council for approval.

Inweekly asked those familiar with the Community Maritime Park why they thought it has taken so long for the city to lease the other parcels.

Lack of Consistency

Scott Remington and his firm Clark Partington have represented Quint and Rishy Studer for over a decade believes one problem is so much change as occurred in city government since city voters approved the maritime park referendum in September 2006.

“There’s a complete lack of consistency when these parcels have been managed by a city council with a city manager, a CMPA (Community Maritime Park Associates, a city council that was reformulated after a charter change that shifted to a strong mayoral form of government,” Remington told Inweekly last week. “So I think that there’s a fundamental complication with doing anything out there because the players who make the decisions have been continually changing over the last decade.”

Another big factor that the attorney said has been understated is the University of West Florida’s pulling out of its commitment to build a facility with classrooms and a conference center and operate a maritime museum.

“There’s been a failure to recognize that the loss of UWF from the project fundamentally changed what the project would be,” he said. “With UWF gone, there wasn’t going to be a museum project, classrooms or a significant conference center down there because UWF was the driver for those elements.”

UWF President Dr. John Cavanaugh was an early supporter of the Community Maritime Park and wanted to expand UWF’s downtown presence. Unfortunately, he left the university in 2008. His successor, Dr. Judy Bense, faced budget constraints and made the decision to pull out of the park in 2010.

New Standard Deal

Attorney and developer Jim Reeves served as CMPA chairman. He believes the issue has been the mayor and city council haven’t agreed on a standard format for lease deals.

“The Beck deal was an arms-length agreement,” said Reeves. “If they just took that as the pattern, then the developer would know exactly what it is that he has to do. The frustration started when Quint come to us with a deal for three parcels and it got shot down. I think that’s the frustration with the mayor right now is he negotiates a deal and the council screws with it.”

In July 2015, the CMPA agreed to lease three parcels to Quint and Rishy Studer after six months of negotiations. The Studers had agreed to donate $20 million to UWF to build the Center for Entrepreneurship. They also planned to build a conference center and daycare facility on two other parcels. The Studer lease was model after one approved for Beck Partners.

The deal failed apart when Mayor Ashton Hayward and Council President Andy Terhaar demanded the Studers renegotiated the agreement before the mayor and council president would place it on the city council agenda. Blindsided, the Studers withdrew their offer.

The Pensacola City Council spent the rest of the year working a template for future maritime park leases that has never been used.

Reeves said, “It is not that maritime isn’t great property. It’s reaching a deal that is so difficult. I might as well build something somewhere where I know what’s happening. It’s the unknown that stretches you out.”

He explained, “The other thing is you put a lot of time and effort into a proposal, and you get turned down and somebody else can come up with the same idea later. It’s all done in the public with no standards to be met. I’d love that little piece, right on the edge of your right field, but I don’t want to go through the drill. There’s no thrill to the drill.”

Everybody An Expert

Commercial real estate broker Dee Dee Davis tried to help the city lease the remaining parcels at the maritime park and saw too my deals fall apart before even making it to the city council.

“There are multiple reasons why it has taken so long to lease the Maritime Park parcels, but dealing with government in real estate has always been a challenge,” Davis told Inweekly. “In a a traditional real estate deal, you’ve got a seller and a buyer. You’ve got basically one decision maker here with the seller and they can say yes or no and make a decision fairly quickly.”

She continued, “But you look at something like the Hawkshaw property and the Maritime Park and can see how long it’s taken because everybody all of a sudden thinks that they’re an expert in real estate.”

The Hawkshaw property is on South Ninth Avenue near Gulf Power’s headquarters. Since 2009, the city repeatedly tried to sell the land while the city council struggled to reach agreement with what it wanted on the site. Finally developer Bob Montgomery won the bid but later found undisclosed issues and had to redo his plans.

Davis talked about difficulties in dealing with city.  “A buyer or a tenant is having to deal with a city council, a group of advisers, the mayor, and you have all these different opinions and they’re rarely on the same page. So it goes on and on and on. And usually a frustrated tenant or buyer would just walk away.”

Council President Jared Moore will be on with me on Real News on NewTalk 1370 WCOA today at 7:15 a.m.