Mayor Ashton Hayward held his “Taking City Hall to the Citizens” town hall meeting on Monday at the Gull Point Neighborhood Resource Center to address issues from residents in District 1.
The neighborhoods of Cordova Place, Eastgate and Scenic Heights, as well as the Pensacola International Airport are all in District 1.
Pensacola Police Chief Chip Simmons, Pensacola International Airport director Melinda Crawford, Chief of Neighborhoods Helen Gibson and city administrator Bill Reynolds were all in attendance and assisted Mayor Hayward in addressing residents’ concerns.
With not an empty seat in the room, Mayor Hayward heard a number of concerns ranging from traffic issues to the newly rebranded airport, to maintenance and crime.
A Scenic Heights resident addressed her concerns about the dangers of her child walking to school without a sidewalk.
I’ve got a 10-year-old that walks to Scenic Heights Elementary School,” she said. “All the traffic is directed on the same street where the children walk with no sidewalk. It’s like walking the plank.”
“We’ve got issues all over the city with traffic,” Hayward said. “It’s a serious concern.”
Baywoods neighborhood resident Mary Nelson voiced her concerns about the lack of insect-spray trucks in her neighborhood as well as the lack of maintenance and overabundance of weeds on nearby roads.
“Spanish Trail is pitiful,” Nelson said. “You are not taking care of mowing the roads. Pensacola is a beautiful community but it is not well-maintained.”
“You’re exactly right,” Hayward said. “It needs to look attractive. We need to pay attention to the details.”
Pensacola resident David Wallace raised a question about the rebranding of the airport and asked if a customs office would be put in for international flights.
“The name could be intergalactic airport, the name doesn’t matter,” Crawford said. “We will consider putting in a customs office when we have the service that requires it. This brings us one step closer that when we do go in for a customs office we are at a level playing field.”
Crawford also said that they just wrapped up an $80 million expansion project for the airport. A new hotel will be built, runways will be extended and 465 additional parking spots will be added to be completed by March 26 of next year.
“When we changed the name, there was a public perception that we were inferior, but we are the 98th largest airport in the country out of 431,” Crawford said.
Hayward reiterated what Crawford said about expanding. “We serve 1.5 million passengers a year,” Hayward said. “I got to do what’s right for us to compete with other airports.”
Pensacola resident Gail Leroy gave praise to Mayor Hayward on his branding efforts.
“As a 72-year-old Pensacolian I say hooray for Mayor Hayward on the branding,” Leroy said. You have done a great job. Thank you for all your devotion to our city.”
Bill Reynolds said that the most important effect of branding is to get funding for the city through new business.
“It’s more important than just the unity of the city,” Reynolds said. “Our revenues of the city continue to fall every year. If we don’t try to encourage businesses to come to the city, all of these services that you care so much about will continue to dwindle. It is more than just the image. What we are now going to do under Mayor Hayward and working with the Zimmerman Agency is to encourage those companies to come to our city.”
Pensacola resident John Leroy made a comment about the unexpected support of budget by the City Council.
“I was astonished recently about the kind of support you folks got at the City Council meeting in respect to budget,” John Leroy said. “How in the world do we get the rest of the city council to be proactive and into the 21st century and support this kind of energetic growth and operations that you’ve got going?”
Mayor Hayward said that Pensacola is going through a culture change. “This is a culture shock for Council members, but the majority of them have stepped up and they want to move the city,” Hayward said. “This isn’t about different opinions; this is about us succeeding as a community. You’re never going to get away from politics or people who don’t like the brand. That’s not what it is about. This is about growing our city so we can build this community. Hopefully we can get over our differences.”