Questions for DPA meeting today

Today George Hawthorne, CEO of Diversity Program Advisors, unveils his plans for Brownsville Middle School. The meeting is at Pensacola City Hall on the second floor, 1-4 p.m.. It will be broadcast on the city’s website. Hawthorne will be seeking people to serve on a steering committee for his project, which includes selling 10 acres to Habitat for Humanity and developing the old school into a one-stop facility for social, educational and health services that will be leased by various agencies.

Here are the questions Hawthorne needs to answer:

Financial: Does he have the financial resources to complete this project? Who are his investors? Ordinarily the Superintendent of Schools and his staff would have vetted Hawthorne and reviewed his financial capability before signing a contract, but I get the impression that hasn’t happened. When Quint Studer and the City of Pensacola began talking about the maritime park, Studer had to let Finance Director Dick Barker review his finances to prove he could meet the over $15M in financial commitments he was making to the park. If Superintendent Thomas issues a statement that the School District has done a similar review of Hawthorne’s finances and believes he has the resources to deliver on the subdivision and one-stop facility then I will be satisfied.

Housing Subdivision: In emails to me, Hawthorne has called Habitat for Humanity his co-developer. Habitat officials have told IN that they are not in the subdivision or development business. Hawthorne will have to get the 10 acres platted, zoned and approved and build all the infrastructure-roads, lights, sewer, etc. Habitat will only buy finished, buildable lots. For these lots to qualify for Habitat grant funds the people must be in the houses by the end of 2012. Not impossible, but very tight timeframe.

What are Hawthorne’s plans for achieving this? He needs to lay out his timetable. And more importantly has he asked the neighbors do they want Habitat Village in their neighborhood. The Catholic Charities project, Journey, (which was to be built next door) was to be mixed use. This doesn’t appear to be, but Hawthorne needs to tell us what his subdivision will look like.

One-Stop: Hawthorne needs to show letters of intent from agencies that have already agreed to use his facility. I talked with Sacred Heart and they have had no discussions with Hawthorne. Friendship Missionary Baptist Church will not be part of this facility either. I suspect Superintendent Thomas has made some verbal commitments. What are they? What is the proforma for the facility? What will it take to be financial self-supporting? What county funding does he need, if any?

All these questions need to be answered in public hearings so everyone hears the same message at the same time. A private developer buying school property and building affordable housing and a community center for social services is a grand idea.

His signing of the sales contract with Thomas as put this plan on a tight timetable. The time to discuss many of these issues would have been before buying the property. The contract and the Habitat grant requirements put a lot of pressure on DPA to get public buy-in and make commitments quickly.

However, before the community gets invested in his idea, we need to know more details.