Presser Notes: Mayoral vaccination, youth engagement, stadium upgrades

Presser Notes: Mayoral Vaccination, Youth Engagement & Stadium Upgrades
by Jeremy Morrison, Inweekly

Pushing up his sleeve, Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson showed off the tell-tale bandage on his upper arm.

“I got my first shot today,” Robinson said Monday during his weekly virtual press event.

Mayor Robinson explained that he had gotten an initial round of the coronavirus vaccine, in part to lead by example and encourage others also to get the vaccine.

“We felt like that city administration needed to be the first to say, ‘we could go do it,’ and, again, ‘don’t be afraid of anything else, we need everyone to do it, it’s important, it’s the only way we’ll eventually get on top of the virus,” he explained.

The mayor said that soon the vaccine would be available to essential workers and teachers — something that would happen later in the day — and that he hoped to serve as an example to city employees, who will be receiving an email from HR urging them to participate in the vaccine program. The mayor also said he hoped his participation would dissuade fears within the African American community regarding the vaccine.

“I can assure you,” he said. “I’ve gone through the process, and you sit there for 15 minutes after you get the shot. It doesn’t hurt too bad, and you find out you’re ok and move forward. I’m scheduled at the end of March to get my second one.”

Vaccine Guinea Pig

Mayor Robinson — who weathered COVID in December — previously reckoned he wouldn’t be receiving his vaccine until later when doses became more widely available, and the pool of individuals eligible for the vaccine widened. On Monday, he said that city staff had determined it best if the mayor received a vaccine to demonstrate it was safe.

“Again, I had not expected to do it; it was not something that I was really looking to do,” Robinson reiterated. “Keith came to me and said, ‘hey, we need you to be the city guinea pig, so go out there and do it. So that’s what we did this morning; he and I both went out there and got our first shots.”

The mayor received the Moderna vaccine. Ascension Healthcare provided it at the vaccination site it operates at Olive Baptist Church.

On Monday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis expanded the state’s vaccine eligibility to include teachers, law enforcement officers and firefighters who are 50 or older; late last week, the eligibility was expanded to included medically vulnerable individuals younger than 65 years of age. Before this, the vaccine has only been available to people 65-year-old or older, as well as long-term care facility residents and staff and some healthcare workers.

When asked how the mayor and City Administrator Keith Wilkins qualified for their vaccine shots, Public Information Officer Kaycee Lagarde clarified that it had been based on health-related concerns.

“You both qualified due to medical risks,” she said. “I don’t want to get into all the medical details.”

Mayor Robinson added that his body-mass index had been a consideration.

“I don’t know about Keith, but I think my BMI gave me the opportunity to qualify,” he said. “I didn’t want to get into my girth too much, but my BMI did qualify.”

Ultimately, though, the mayor said, he decided to get vaccinated to serve as an example.

“It’s hard to tell people to go get vaccinated if you’re not willing to get vaccinated first,” Robinson said.

Municipal Education

After teasing the subject for a few weeks, Mayor Robinson formally announced the Pensacola Youth Council during Monday’s presser.

“This is something that we’ve wanted to do for quite a while,” he said.

The youth council is a collaboration between the city and the Escambia County School District, and more specifically, the two high schools within city limits, Pensacola High School and Booker T. Washington High School. Gulf Breeze and Milton are also conducting similar programs.

“It gives students the chance to see and experience what government is like,” Mayor Robinson said, adding that the program is ideal for ”students who are active, wanting to participate and looking for opportunities to serve in local government.”

The Pensacola Youth Council is open to high school juniors and seniors who reside in the city. Twelve members will be selected to participate in the program, which will involve an immersion in municipal government over nine weeks. Applications for the program — which will run March 22 to May 21 — are due March 12.

Mayor Robinson said that he hoped the council — part of a larger Florida League of City program — would educate students about career possibilities in municipal government.

“We have not done a good job of letting students know that there are great career opportunities right here in the public sector that you can do,” he said. “You may not become Jeff Bezos, but you can make a good living and really serve your community.”

Wahoos Get Upgrades

The city of Pensacola will soon be doing some work over at Maritime Park’s baseball stadium. Mayor Robinson said the work was part of the new lease with the Blue Wahoos and the minor league team’s new association with the Miami Marlins.

“There are about 40 cities with stadiums that no longer have teams since Major League Baseball took over Minor League Baseball,” the mayor said. “We’re very fortunate that Pensacola is one of the sites that Major League Baseball wants to continue to stay, and we’re excited that we think this lease structure that we’ve got with the Wahoos really allows us to do that.”

One aspect of the work involves upgrading the field’s turf. Robinson noted that this upgrade had been needed for a couple of seasons already.

“Now we’re going to the Miami Marlins who also have a desire for all of their minor league players to experience the same field, the same turf that if they make it all the way up to Miami that they’ll have,” the mayor explained.

Another part of the work involves changes to the stadium’s lighting. This upgrade is an MLB request, with the league preferring a uniform lighting experience across its collection of fields.

“The batters, the pitchers, the players — they all experience the same lighting,” Robinson said.

Finally, the city also intends to relocate the ballpark’s bullpens to a safer location.

“I think Major League Baseball has been very focused on safety, and they want us to do the same thing,” the mayor said.

In total, all this work at the Blue Wahoos’ ballpark will run about $2 million. The Wahoos will be paying for it, with the city — via the Community Redevelopment Area — reimbursing via a cut in rent cost.

“We may not be able to move the bullpens this year, but if we can get the lights and the turf done by the time they’re looking to start in May, this will be a very good thing,” Robinson said.


2 thoughts on “Presser Notes: Mayoral vaccination, youth engagement, stadium upgrades

  1. Let’s break up your diatribe into manageable pieces. 1) The city is the landlord and owns the stadium and is contractually liable for upkeep and capital improvements. 2) The profitability of Blue Wahoos, Studer Familiy of Companies and their tax returns aren’t at issue – we should want the team and other businesses to be profitable. 3) Mayor Robinson never threatened Lysia Bowling, the former city attorney – complete fiction. 4) Community Redevelopment Agencies are established under Florida law. The downtown CRA has been very successful since the park opened. 6) Your recollection is incorrect. The city, not the Blue Wahoos, are contractually liable for improvements. 7) Grover Robinson is not a failed businessman. 8) The playing field needs to be replaced – the Wahoos’ award-winning grounds crew have stretched its life beyond expectations. 9) I suspect if the city put the stadium on the market for $50 million, it would get the same reaction as the county did for the Pensacola Bay Center – zero offers, especially if there is no MLB team under contract to use it. 10) When was the last time a MLB minor league team bought a ballpark – particularly one the size of Pensacola’s, which is the smallest in the Southern League? My Google search came up empty. 11) The team can move and get a larger ballpark and better lease. Who will want to move a team here after seeing the city give the boot to one of the most celebrated franchises in the MLB minors? The stadium will become the 2020s version of a Zayre or K-Mart – empty.

  2. Poor, Poor Blue Wahoos: There is a “lot” more to this story. Maybe it would be reported accurately if the city had a daily newspaper that reported the news. (Maybe the City should fund its own daily newspaper using its profits from Pensacola Energy with the newspaper delivered each day to every address in the city?) Bottom line up front, the money-making “for-profit” Blue Wahoos baseball team wants a nearly $2 million taxpayer subsidy. The Blue Wahoos are willing to front the money but only if the public will pay it back to them. Has anyone ever even seen they Blue Wahoos tax returns? Do we have any idea how much money they and other Studer Family of Company business earn each year related to the use of our public stadium? Shouldn’t the City Council demand to know that critical info? The “CRA” referenced above is not the “Community Redevelopment Area” as incorrectly described. It is the Pensacola Community Redevelopment “Agency” (CRA), a part of the city government originally run by the City Council but now under the control of the Mayor who can even hire and fire the CRA staff. The City Council give up its power to the Mayor. Whether that is legal or not is unclear. In 2016, the previous City Attorney said it was not legal and that is probably why Robinson threatened to terminate her at which point she agreed to a demotion and then resigned. The CRA is funded from city and county property tax revenues paid by “all” city and county property owners subject to taxation. Basically, the CRA operates like a money-laundering operation to take money from all City of Pensacola and “all” Escambia County property owners and diverts most of it to fund “downtown” projects at the expensive of paying law enforcement officers a living wage, fixing neighborhood drainage problems, maintaining city and county parks, etc. The CRA uses the “Reverse Robinhood” concept of public finance, take from everyone to give to the rich. As I recall, the Blue Wahoos are contractually obligated to pay for the nine improvements to the stadium if they want them and “if” the City Council approves. The City Council should approve seven and tell the Blue Wahoos to pay for them to include the two “dishwashers” the team wants the City to buy it for $1,000. Robinson a failed local- businessmen thinks that this is a good deal for the city. The cost to the Blue Wahoos’ owners, two of the richest people in Northwest Florida Quint & Rishy Studer, would be a drop in the bucket in their financial empire, only $863,500. Stop flying in private jets for a while and fly commercial like the rest of us. Or just let the Miami Marlins write the check. The City Council should not approve ripping up the stadium’s beautiful grass at a cost of $1,053,000 to replace it with a so-called “Artificial Field,” i.e., plastic grass. The Blue Wahoos also want the City to pay for “Surveillance Equipment for a command post MLB required.” Who wants the Miami Marlins spying on American citizens with AI-facial recognition technology in a city-owned stadium? Better to have the games without “Big Brother” surveillance. Are the Blue Wahoos really so poorly run also that they cannot afford to pay $12,000 to upgrade “Internet & Phone for MLB Standards” that they say they need? Give me a break. The contract between the City and Blue Wahoos does need an upgrade. The Blue Wahoos need to “begin” to pay for everything related to their use of the stadium to include those items described as “Stadium Expenditure.” The City can no longer be run as a charity to benefit the Blue Wahoos. Long term, the City needs to sell the stadium to the Blue Wahoos, or another Major League Baseball team, for a “bodacious” amount of money. That would put it fully on the property tax rolls. How about $50,000,000 as a starting sales price? The City can then put that money back into the Community Maritime Park “economic development” project to get it rolling even if a decade late starting with construction of the planned but never built 976-space parking garage. Don’t cry for Mr. Studer. He owns “another” baseball team –

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