By Jeremy Morrison, Inweekly
Much of Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson’s time as of late has been devoted to securing funds for the jobs-related infrastructure project at the airport dubbed “Project Titan.”
“I think much of last week we were working towards what is going to be this week,” Robinson said during his weekly press conference Monday morning.
In addition to discussing the city’s Project Titan-pursuits—as well as defending the use of public money for the jobs project—Mayor Robinson also discussed a number of other topics during his Feb. 4 presser, including the potential for the city to explore annexation, plans for a women veterans memorial at the old Amtrak station and the future—whatever that means — of the DIB.
Robinson also announced a Feb. 18 town hall in District 7 with City Councilwoman Jewel Cannada Wynn, mentioned how incoming city attorney Susan Woolf would be hitting the ground running as she dealt with tidying up the legal landscape inherited from the previous city administration, and said he looked forward to a final report from his transition team by the end of the month–“I’ve encouraged them to think big.”
Show Me the Money
In an effort to become a player in the aerospace manufacturing industry, the city of Pensacola is constructing a series of hangars and associated facilities at the Pensacola International Airport. The multi-year project cost more than $200 million, with funding coming from a variety of sources.
Triumph has promised that $56 million, but it’s contingent on the city cobbling together the rest of the funding. The mayor will be looking for $5 million each from the city and county this week, and said he felt pretty good—“generally no one’s said anything necessarily in opposition, directly”—about the prospects following conversations with most of the elected officials.
“Let’s put it this way, they all said one thing or another, but like I said before, it really doesn’t matter until they hit the switch,” the mayor said, adding that he felt the city needed to “stay on top of them and continue to meet with them.”
One concern the mayor was hearing regarded the appropriateness of using Local Option Sales Tax revenue for the jobs project. Robinson defended the use of public funds for the project, contending that the resulting jobs— generated by current tenant ST Aerospace — would mean more tax revenue in the future.
“More spending in our economy means we have more LOST,” the mayor said.
Robinson also noted that the city would not be spending LOST funds earmarked for much-needed sidewalk repairs, as was the suggestion of Dick Barker, the city’s chief financial officer.
“First Dick talked about taking some money from sidewalks, and Chris [Holley, city administrator] was the first one to step up and tell him ‘we’re going to find a different source than sidewalks.’ We know that’s a priority, so, we’re not going to take money from sidewalks.”
Instead, the funds will come from elsewhere, such as funds going toward the city’s efforts to switch street lights to LED lighting. The mayor said that city should be able to make up the funds in future years if the economy continues an upward trajectory.
“We hope within a couple of years we will have made up enough money that we can just stay right on schedule,” Robinson said.
While he described it as “incredibly hard and difficult to do”, Mayor Robinson appears game for a conversation about annexation. He said Monday that cleaning up the city’s jagged boundaries—“better lines, easier to understand”—made sense.
“I mean, if we could get it done, I’d love to have a much squarer city that was easier to understand,” the mayor said.
The reason annexations are difficult, the mayor said, due to the vote requirement attached to them. He said he plans on discussing that issue with the city’s legal department.
“Unless there are some legal changes it’s going to be very hard to do annexation,” the mayor said. “But everybody’s been asking about it.”
Women Veterans at the Train Station
Recently, there have been discussion concerning locating a site honoring women veterans at the old, no-longer-in-use Amtrak station east of downtown. Mayor Robinson said the city was on board with the project and would be drawing a contract up for the property.
The mayor didn’t see the project interfering with the return of rail service any time soon.
“We’d put in the agreement that if Amtrak comes back, we’d come back into rail service,” Robinson said. “I’m not sure, unless something dramatically changes with the federal government, Amtrak and the densities in Northwest Florida, I just, at this time, don’t see train service coming back here for a while.”
What’s the Deal with the DIB?
When asked about the Downtown Improvement Board’s new downtown parking structure, Mayor Robinson shifted the topic to the “much bigger issue” of the DIB’s overall existence.
“Having appointed people who make decisions without really having to answer to the people does not provide us the best, sometimes, solutions,” the mayor said.
Robinson said that he would like to see the DIB “come back in to the city.”
“We believe they’re far too independent,” he said.
For now, however, the mayor said he would “deal with the system that we have with the DIB” and pointed to the summer—when the city will be able to appoint three new members—as a time to assess the situation.
Robinson said that while he thought there should be changes to the DIB’s structure, he did intend on keeping the funding source it generated via taxes on downtown businesses.
“You can’t get rid of the funding source,” the mayor said, “but there is a definitely a need for us to change how it is administered.”