Plus: Affordable Housing, Re-openings and Restrooms (Both Pricey and Cheap)
by Jeremy Morrison, Inweekly
On the other side of the Labor Day holiday, decisions will be made regarding the city of Pensacola’s masks order. Currently, the city is requiring the wearing of masks in public businesses, but that could change as summer turns to fall.
“We’re trying to figure out what to do and do it safely,” Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson said Monday during his weekly press conference.
As of now, there are more than 11,000 cases of COVID in Escambia. The hospitalizations, however, are steadily falling. The mayor pointed to the current the count of 116 in local hospitals as a bit of good news.
“The last time we were at 116 hospitalizations was July 5,” he said, referencing the area’s pre-summer-spike numbers. “So, we’ve seen a significant decrease.”
Robinson said he was regularly consulting with officials for the region’s three main hospitals and discussing when might be an appropriate time to ease off on the mask order. The mayor said that he was considering the 75-hospitalization mark, but had yet to decide.
“Seventy-five might be the number,” the mayor said. “The hospitals themselves want to be more conservative and go with 50.”
In addition to possibly dialing back the municipal mask order, city officials will also be considering reopening its community centers soon. Mayor Robinson said the centers might be open by the end of September.
“It’s all sort of depending what the numbers do,” the mayor said, referring to COVID data.
In addition to community centers, the city will also be looking at reopening its public meetings to the public. Over the course of the summer, and in accordance with an order from the state level, the city has conducted such meetings on a virtual platform, allowing members of the public to comment by calling in to the meetings.
Mayor Robinson said that even if the city dropped the mask order and returned to in-person meetings, that masks would likely still be required in the meetings themselves. All of these measures, he stressed, depend on the evolving pandemic numbers.
“I don’t want us to do the same thing we did in June,” the mayor said, referring to the state’s reopening of businesses like restaurants and bars that preluded a considerable coronavirus spike.
Getting a Look at Bayview
Another city community center will also soon be opening to the public. And its been offline since well before the coronavirus pandemic shuttered the others.
Mayor Robinson relayed a recent visit to Bayview Community Center, which is in the process of being rebuilt and is expected to open in the coming months.
“I had a chance to take a tour the other day,” Robinson said of the nearly-completed project on the banks of Bayou Texar.
The mayor noted that Bayview, located in East Hill, is meant to serve citizens from the entire community due to its central location in the city.
“We’ve got a lot of parks around the edges,” he said. “Bayview is sort of one that’s in the hold of the doughnut, right in the middle.”
During his recent visit to Bayview, the mayor took account of the number of trees that had to be downed to make way for the project — and said the city would probably be spending some money from its tree trust fund to replant in the park.
“We’re looking at something there,” the mayor said, “how we can stabilize that hill a little better.”
Soccer Complex Over Budget
Across town, in Hitzman Park off of Langley Avenue, the city is still working out the finer details of its planned soccer complex. Specifically, the city is still trying to work out the numbers after twice receiving bids on the high side.
“We were way over,” Robinson said of the bids.
Back in the spring, the city received a bid for $700,000. After more recently putting the project back out to bid, they’re now looking at being $400,000 over.
The soccer complex project consists of some fields and park upgrades, most relevantly, a new restroom facility.
“They deserve a new restroom facility at Hitzman Park,” Robinson said, noting the condition of the aging facility currently at the park.
The mayor said that the city was in the process of determining other projects from which the needed funds could be siphoned, but that ultimately the decision on upgrading the restrooms would be left to city council.
Robinson said that city staff would be recommending that council figure out a way to make the restrooms happen.
“I think the citizens at the north end deserve that at Hitzman,” he said. “It’s something they’ve been asking for fo a long time.”
A Place to Sit, A Place to S#!*
Other park upgrades, on a much smaller scale, are much easier and more affordable. On the park grounds surrounding Pensacola City Hall, the city is placing new benches and a portable toilet.
“We can work to put more facilities to use for those individuals that have nowhere else to go,” Robinson said, noting that the new city hall features would help accommodate the city’s homeless population without access to such facilities.
The mayor said he recognized this was but a small step in the city’s efforts to address the area’s homeless, but that work was afoot to take further steps.
“At the end of the day,” he said, “our goal is to try to find longterm solutions.”
Addressing Affordable Housing
Another piece of puzzle that could address the issue of homelessness — as well as the issue of housing in general — will soon be delivered to the Pensacola City Council, as the city’s affordable housing task force recently polished off its list of recommendations.
Mayor Robinson said Monday that he was comfortable with the city’s stated goal of creating 500 units of affordable housing within five years.
“I think we’ve got to set a number out the and start working towards it,” he said. “We’ll figure out if the goal is too high or too low in five years when we shoot for it.”
Robinson, who participated in the task force’s discussions over the course of nearly a year, said he was particularly optimistic about elements of the group’s recommendations — concepts such as waiving permitting costs and taking advantage of new state building codes that will allow for so-called tiny homes.
“There’s a lot of different things we’re looking at,” the mayor said. “Five hundred seems like a lot, but we may hit it, we may go past it.”