Presser notes: Another Hire, Too Many Overlays and the Y-Deal

By Jeremy Morrison

In addition to announcing the hiring of the city’s new assistant administrator, Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson also spoke about a forthcoming land-and-services deal with the YMCA of Northeast Pensacola, as well as the possibility of dissolving downtown’s Governmental Center District during his weekly press conference Tuesday morning.

An Easy-Going Individual

When Mayor Robinson came into office fall, he had a number of high-level positions he was looking to fill. After bringing on City Administrator Chris Holley, a search began for an assistant administrator.

The mayor announced that Kerrith Fiddler would be stepping into that assistant administrator position July 1. Fiddler will be coming from Kissimmee, where he has served as public works director since 2014.

“He brings a wealth of experience from city government,” Robinson noted.

The mayor said that with the addition of Fiddler, the city will see “a little swap” within administration. Holley will be overseeing the police and fire departments, as well as the public information office, while Deputy Administrator Keith Wilkins will be over the city’s enterprise divisions, including the airport, port and Pensacola Energy. Fiddler’s position will oversee community development related departments, such as Parks and Recreation and Public Works.

Robinson said that the city had numerous good applicants for the position — 173 applied, eventually whittled to a final eight — but that Fiddler rose to the top among the selection committee.

“I think he was the number one individual on all their lists,” Robinson said, explaining that Holley, Wilkins and City Council Executive Don Kraher were all pleased with the selection.

Wilkins noted Fiddler’s education — architecture and construction management — as well as his in-state, governmental experience were among his strong suites.

“He came on top because of that, because of his breadth of local government, Florida experience, his education and how well a fit that was for us,” Wilkins said. “And also his demeanor is — he’s very personable, he’s an easy-going individual, I think he’ll be able to work collaboratively across the board with the community and with the departments he’ll be charged with.”

Also, Mayor Robinson said, Fiddler will help diversify the city’s administration, something the mayor has said he’s interested in doing.

“Additionally, Mr. Fiddler is an African American,” the mayor said, “which we’ve indicated also we are going to be more representative in who we are, with all the individuals we represent here.”

Now that the assistant administrator position has been filled, the mayor said he will next concentrate on filling the city’s Complete Streets and HR positions.

YMCA Deal Coming Soon

In June, the Pensacola City Council will likely be looking over a potential deal between the city and YMCA, which will allow for the city to have a soccer complex off of Langley Avenue and for the Y to build a new facility off Summit Boulevard. Mayor Robinson said he expects a deal will come to council at its June 13 meeting.

“From our standpoint we think this makes sense,” Robinson said. “We know it’s not what everyone wants to do immediately, but we think in the long run it’ll be very positive for all areas of northeast Pensacola and we’re excited about what it has to offer.”

For some time now, the city has been eyeing a dedicated soccer complex for its growing youth sports soccer league. Most recently, the city has been in talks with the YMCA about swapping the Y’s property off of Langley for a piece of property east of the city’s Vickery Community Center, near a collective of ballfields and the Roger Scott Athletic Center on Summit.

This deal would allow the city to use the Langley property, along with area of the adjoining Hitzman Park, where some fields are currently, to construct a three-field soccer complex. The Y would get the property near the Vickery to build a new facility, and also lease space within the Vickery Center out of which to operate.

The city-YMCA swap has been a contentious issue, with residents of the neighborhoods off Langley contending the new complex will increase traffic and negatively impact the park, as well as deprive the area of the services provided by the YMCA. The Y, however, appears to be on the way out regardless; the facility’s director informed residents at community meeting over the winter that the facility had outlived its usefulness.

“Overall, we believe it’s probably going to be the thing that allows us to keep the Y in Northeast Pensacola and expand at the Vickery Center,” Robinson said.

In addition to building a new facility off Summit and leasing space in the Vickery Center, the Y will also be overseeing the adjoining swimming pool (as it has for some time). Mayor Robinson said that eventually the pool will likely be enclosed to enable a longer season and extended hours.

“In the short term, at least like a bubble or something that will allow you to extend the season of the pool for both children and adults,” he said.

Insofar as the soccer fields off of Langley, the city hopes to have them ready by the 2020 spring soccer season.

“I’m optimistic that we’ll play soccer there in March.” said Parks and Recreation Director Brian Cooper.

An Overlay Over?

The Pensacola City Council this week will be considering scrapping the Governmental Center District. The overlay district — established years ago — was intended “to provide the redevelopment of a centralized area for government related land use; and to encourage a coordinated architectural character within the district.

Mayor Robinson said he’s spoken with City Council President Andy Terharr about the issue, and understood why the councilman wanted to do away with the district.

“He’s probably right that that overlay needs to go,” the mayor said. “It had a time, but it’s not the right time anymore.”

Terhaar was one of two council members to vote against the recently approved Urban Design Overlay District.

“He thought we had too many overlays,” Robinson said. “He said, ‘I could live with this overlay, if we get rid of some of the other overlays,’ so he’s leading that charge to get rid of the governmental overlay, and I have to admit, I think he’s probably right. At the end of the day, the new overlay will be much better for this area than the governmental overlay system.”

The mayor said that Terhaar isn’t the only one to push for opening up the governmental district. Design firms the city has recently engaged on downtown projects, including SCAPE and DPZ, have also made similar points.

“Most people believe what we did over here with these large governmental blocks was probably not the best thing we could have done with design,” the mayor said, noting that such decisions had been made in the context of having the former ECUA sewer plant — Old Stinky — in the area.