What Charlie Fairchild said about Maritime Park in 2005

The year was 2005. Pensacola had finished a series of town hall meetings on a proposed community maritime park. Charlie Fairchild, C.C. Elebash and Marty Donovan were working behind the scenes to defeat the project. I actually interviewed Fairchild in July 2005 about the project (“Save Our City,” July 14-21, 2005):

Here is the interview:

A Q&A with Community Maritime Park opponent Charles Fairchild

It’s not easy being the voice of opposition in Pensacola. Just ask Leroy Boyd of Movement of Change, Susan Watson of the American Civil Liberties Union Panhandle Chapter or Francis Dunham of Citizens Against Toxic Exposure. Each often takes the heat for unpopular stances. Each is a thorn in the side of The Establishment.

Charles Fairchild is one such thorn in Pensacola city politics. In 2003, he was a leader of the citizens who opposed the city’s original bayfront festival and municipal auditorium idea on 27.5 acres. Known as the Trillium property, it sits across Main Street from Pensacola City Hall. Through Fairchild and his group’s efforts, Pensacola voters soundly rescinded city council’s approval of the $40-million plan and stopped its construction.

In January, Pensacola Pelicans baseball team owner and Studer Group CEO Quint Studer, University of West Florida President John Cavanaugh and National Museum of Naval Aviation Foundation President and retired U.S. Navy Vice Adm. Jack Fetterman joined forces to propose the Community Maritime Park for the vacant Trillium site. Their proposal includes: a public park along the Pensacola Bay’s edge; 3,500-seat baseball stadium that can be re-configured for concerts and other outdoor events; a maritime museum; a conference center; a UWF marine research center and commercial and office space.

Again, Fairchild has stepped forward as a leading voice of opposition at Pensacola City Council and public meetings. His new political action group is called Save Our City. Fairchild is determined to stop what he sees as a public relations freight train to build the $70-million project.

On the eve of Hurricane Dennis, Independent News Publisher Rick Outzen sat down with Fairchild in his Blount Building office that overlooks downtown Pensacola. Outzen, who profiled Studer in IN’s last issue, asked Fairchild to explain his opposition to the Community Maritime Park and what he would prefer to happen with one of the last large tracts of undeveloped land on Pensacola Bay.

IN: Why are you so concerned about Pensacola’s downtown?
FAIRCHILD: I’ve worked downtown since I came to Pensacola in 1967. My first office was in the San Carlos Hotel. I really identify with the area. I’ve seen it in good times and really bad times. It’s why I keep my office downtown.

But the area has changed. I can see that as I walk Palafox Street. When the government center was built, that is probably when things turned for the worse.

IN: What would you like to see done on the Trillium property?
FAIRCHILD: In a perfect world, I would like to see it be all park. But this is not a perfect world. I realize that there needs to be some type of economic development to support the park. I would be satisfied with 200-feet along the waterfront and 5 acres on the peninsula dedicated as public parks.

[Note: Current layout, as of July 2010, has over 700 feet of public waterfront area on Pensacola Bay.]

IN: Where do you come up with 200-feet?
FAIRCHILD: People have discussed anywhere from 50-feet to 200-feet being set aside for the park. I chose the higher figure.

IN: What do you see as the biggest faults of the proposed Community Maritime Park?
FAIRCHILD: Let’s start with the baseball park. It uses up a lot of the land. And I don’t care what the park’s promoters say, it’s not a mixed-use facility. Other events may be held there, but they will only be taking them away from other venues.

The University of West Florida doesn’t need a trophy waterfront location. It can build a campus anywhere else downtown. It doesn’t have to be on the water.

The conference center is not needed. What we need is a replacement for the Bayfront Auditorium.

[Note: Two points,  Fairchild never wanted the stadium and has continued to refuse to believe it’s multi-use despite the millions being spent to make it adaptable for soccer, football and concerts. The 2003 park plan that Fairchild and Donovan – along with this paper and most of the business community – defeated was nothing but an auditorium and park.]

IN: What about the Pensacola City Council’s idea of expanding the community center at Sanders Beach to serve as the replacement for a municipal auditorium?
FAIRCHILD: Sanders Beach is a neighborhood. I have a real philosophical problem putting a commercial facility in a neighborhood.

[Note: Wrong again, Charlie. Sanders Beach facility is fantastic and has gotten rave reviews.]

IN: What do you think about the maritime museum?
FAIRCHILD: I think the maritime museum should be put on the Port of Pensacola property at Warehouse No. 4. The museum should be an anchor for downtown. I don’t consider Trillium property an anchor. The Port of Pensacola is a natural location for the museum. It’s close to the Historical district. The other museums are within walking distance.

Building the maritime museum there is a great way to preserve the Port of Pensacola. I don’t even know if it’s still a maritime museum. UWF is applying for matching funds to build it and I think they will require the facility to have an educational purpose.

IN: Where does a maritime museum fit into that scheme? Is it a really going to be a maritime museum or a marine and archeological research center?
FAIRCHILD: I still think it should be the port.

[Note: Charlie didn’t want the museum on the property.]

IN: Why are you against the University of West Florida building on the Trillium property?
FAIRCHILD: The university can build anywhere. It doesn’t need what I call “trophy waterfront” property. It only needs the ability to get to the water. Professor offices, classrooms and administrative offices can go elsewhere.

Escambia County Property Appraiser Chris Jones’ building on Garden Street, next to the Escambia School Board offices, will be vacant when the new Escambia County government center is built. UWF can go in there.

[Note: Charlie didn’t want UWF at the park.]

IN: Is there anything you like about the Community Maritime Park proposal?
FAIRCHILD: They are trying to do something positive. I like the public park part, but there is just not enough of it. I like the bulkhead where boats can tie off and the lighthouse. I also like that people will be able fish along the water.

[Note: Charlie will have what he likes.]

IN: Nationally recognized urban planner Ray Gindroz was hired to hold a series of public forums and modify the original proposal based on the input he received. What do think of Gindroz’s modifications?
FAIRCHILD: I participated in the historical district input sessions. Gindroz is a good urban designer. However, I was disappointed in what he came back with.

He was hired by the park promoters, so he brought them a plan that gave them what they wanted.

IN: Why do you claim this project is not a public-private partnership?
FAIRCHILD: I don’t see any private dollars going for the public portion of the project. The taxpayers of Pensacola are paying for the public park, baseball park and conference center. The private sector is a paying for its own buildings. I don’t consider someone building his own building part of the public.

The original proposal had the private sector putting $2.25 million towards the public sector, but that has gone away.

[Note: The $2.25 million is Studer’s contribution to the maritime museum – which he originally wanted  go towards the stadium, but the City wanted the state matching to help the museum. It still could go to park, if the city council or CMPA will ask UWF to release the funds. Charlie also is confused about public-private. Public builds the public portion and infrastructure. Private leases land, builds their buildings and pays taxes on what it builds.]

IN: The estimated cost for the project is $70 million with CRA financing about $40 million and the private sector paying for $30 million. How is that not a public-private partnership?
FAIRCHILD: It cannot be a public-private partnership unless the private sector is paying part of the public’s $40 million.

IN: In a recent op-ed to the IN, you stated that project construction cost estimate of $40 million has ballooned to $65.7 million. Where did you get those numbers?
FAIRCHILD: The original plan that was presented to the Pensacola City Council on March 1 had the city’s cost at about $40 million. Recently, the city staff took the plan that Ray Gindroz presented to council and which they approved. The staff estimated to do everything that Gindroz proposed would cost more like $65.7 million.

[Note: The net bond proceeds have stayed at $40 million.]

IN: But that doesn’t mean the Pensacola City Council is going to spend $65.7 million, does it?
FAIRCHILD: No, the staff has been told to keep the city’s share at $40 million. They have cut out a lot of things to keep it at the level. They have had to delete such things as the West Side Marina, gazebos, public shelters and two parking decks.The new budget also drops the sound system, scoreboard, food service, field equipment and furniture and fixtures. I wonder who is going to pay for that? The private sector?

[Note: The City has gotten nearly $12M in New Market Tax Credits to put much of this in.]

IN: You’ve made some statements against the Community Redevelopment Agency. But how do you really feel about the CRA?
FAIRCHILD: The intent of the Legislature for the CRAs was good, but the application has been bad. And not just here in Pensacola. The CRAs have become private banks that fund a lot of experimentation.

IN: Give me some examples of what you mean by experimentation.
FAIRCHILD: The redoing of Main Street twice, building the Pensacola Grand Hotel, constructing the Amtrak train station and the development of Palafox Pier are a few experiments that come to mind.

IN: What do think the Pensacola CRA should be doing?
FAIRCHILD: CRAs are authorized to eliminate slum and blight from a designated area. The CRA should be looking at moving the Main Street wastewater treatment plant. I realize you think that ECUA should be the agency paying for it. But if I’ve got a zit on my face, it doesn’t matter how it got there. I’ve got to deal with it. The Main Street treatment plant should be a major issue for the CRA.

[Note: Main Street Sewage Treatment will be shutdown by the end of this year.]

IN: What else gets your blood boiling about the Pensacola CRA?
FAIRCHILD: Again, its purpose is to eliminate slum and blight. Unfortunately, the worse areas are the last ones to get touched by the CRA. There seems to be a trickle down effect being used. The CRA has done a better job recently. There are still a few areas that need adjusting. On the western edge of the CRA district, there are still some pockets.

[Note: Charlie is overlooking how bad downtown Pensacola and Belmont-Devilliers looked before the CRA.]

IN: Do you think the Pensacola CRA should be disbanded?
FAIRCHILD: Yes, it has out lived its usefulness. Give the CRA’s taxes that it collects back to Escambia County and back to the city’s general fund.

IN: How do you see the Community Maritime Park issue being settled?
FAIRCHILD: I see this going to a referendum. My group, Save Our City, still hasn’t made up its mind on this, but I think that’s where we’re headed.

[Note: There was a referendum in Sept. 2006. The park was approved by the voters. ]

IN: Why?
FAIRCHILD: I don’t see the process changing. The Pensacola City Council is so locked in that they aren’t open to hearing any other proposals.

IN: Is there anything that would stop you from pushing for a referendum?
FAIRCHILD: I would like to the city to open up the property for a request for proposals, advertise it nationally and give developers six months to come back with their best ideas. Then, the city council could truly look at what’s best for these 27.5 acres.

IN: What do you see as downtown’s future?
FAIRCHILD: The future of downtown is positive—just because it has a lot to offer. But I think the emphasis should be on getting people to live down here. The city needs to look at developing a bond pool to encourage more attainable housing. Right now, the private developers have the housing market cornered. Maybe all we will have is high-income people living down here.

[Note: Fairchild’s office building (South Palafox & Main streets) was sold to build high-priced condos that were never built. He has since retired and moved outside of the City limits.]