Friday, January 30, 2009

Maritime Park, part 2

A continuation of the discussion of the maritime park....

Not that many people will go to baseball games. Why build the field?

I have heard many variations to this question. It is the sticking point of the project for most people.

The more variety of things, the greater the variety of people who are drawn to the maritime park, the more successful it will be.

I've heard "multi-use" batted around, and many have suggested that the park will only in the end be used for baseball. What is interesting, though, is that parks that are owned or operated by the team tend to be less used than those owned by the city. The city has many reasons to keep the park occupied, while baseball teams are more reluctant to let folks mess up their field. Other cities, like Round Rock, TX; Reading, PA; Frisco, TX; and Lansing, MI, have a great range of activities at their fields. Baseball clinics for the YMCA, exhibition games, charity events, birthday parties, boy scout camp outs, movies, and concerts.

Each of these events draws a different group of people, on nights that the baseball team isn't playing, to provide activity in the area, patrons for the restaurants, customers for the store. When you combine these activities with the maritime museum and other events that might be hosted in the park, you end up with a vibrant location.

I remember that during the planning stages of the park there was talk about a retractable outfield wall. I had known that something had changed and thought it was gone. However, the idea is alive and well, with a plan that the outfield wall will be a series of openable gates. When there isn't an event, the field will be open to the public. Some multiuse parks have playgrounds (even a swimming pool and rockwall) along the edges, and, while I don't yet know what similar amenities this park might have, these would be accessible when the field is open.

By locating the park downtown, there is a sacrifice of convenience--no easy highway access. However, you get the return on the proximity of other venues and decreased need for additional parking. I am most familiar with Fenway Park in Boston, which is right in the heart of town. The parking garages that handle the crowds double as parking for the nearby office buildings, which otherwise are empty at game times. When you go to the game, though there is something nice about stadium food, you had the option of a whole host of restaurants. When people come to a game in downtown Pensacola, the experience will be beyond the game--they might stroll afterward along the waterfront, perhaps stop at the museum beforehand, go out of dinner, or otherwise enjoy downtown Pensacola.

But what if none of these events interest you? You will still benefit. By providing a steady stream of people, the stadium will encourage restaurants and retail to locate there. We are blessed in Pensacola with many beautiful venues where we can look out over the water. The maritime park is no exception. By having the events, we will generate foot traffic, which will increase the safety of the park, making it one of the best places to enjoy the beautiful environment here.

Even those who don't expect to go to many games may just indulge every once in a while. Tickets to Pelicans' games are currently $9. There is just something wholesome about a ballgame. Perhaps you'll take family when they come to town for a visit to the museum, dinner, a game, and a walk along our incomparable waterfront.

I look forward to sharing with you further details about the new agreement that is being hashed out for bringing this great park to fruition. Please share with me any other questions you have about the park.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Maritime Park

Our council workshop on the maritime park was long, but there were many good comments and concerns raised. During the meeting we focused on a rough draft agreement which had obvious holes, holes that everyone knew needed to be filled. I am confident that we will have an agreement that meets most concerns soon.

A number of good questions have been raised, and over the next few days I plan to address some of them here.

1. Why would we want a master developer who handles both public and private improvements, acts as general contractor, and manages the property?

This type of an arrangement does sound daunting, to be sure. We are handing over a lot of control. However, this park is not the first place where something like this has happened.

There are a number of projects that are similar to this. Some, which are more retail oriented include Faneuil Hall, Boston; Horton Plaza, San Diego; Plaza Pasadena, Pasadena; Town Square, St. Paul; Pike's Market, Seattle. All of these projects were built as public private partnerships with a master developer similar to what is being considered here, and we can look at their experiences to guide our project.

This arrangement gives the developer the potential to bargain to bring a vibrant mix of retail, office, restaurant, and other tenants.

The developer has relationships with possible tenants. In working with tenants, new ideas about the arrangement of the public and private portions may be explored. Perhaps a tenant wants to ensure a certain amount of parking near one structure, so the developer might nudge another building and a road to make room. If the developer has control of both parts, then these ideas could be brought to fruition. [In our case, "control" is limited. All changes will come before the CMPA board.]

In addition to the actual layout and construction, the developer might want to recruit a national chain to "anchor" the development. Malls traditionally offer low rent to anchor stores, making up that loss through increases on the smaller stores. By having control of all the private development, the developer is better able to cushion a loss in one area by making it up in other areas. By bringing in a national chain, the developer can attract other businesses that will appreciate the foot traffic that chain will bring to the park.

Having the developer act as general contractor, we can expect some efficiencies and cost savings.

If the developer is the general contractor, there should be faster action on getting construction moving forward. Additionally, the developer can subcontract different portions of the project project-wide (or at least wider than a single portion) and potentially realize some savings.

The developer has the greatest motivation to have the project managed to high standards.

The developer wants people to be coming to the park so that they will shop at the stores and eat at the restaurants, which will bring more shops and restaurants, which will bring more offices. The city, of course, wants that too. However, it is easier for the private developer to sell the private improvements when he can say how the park will be managed. In the case of Faneuil Hall in Boston, Rouse Company went to Disney to learn how to maintain a public space to high standards. At the time Faneuil Hall was in a gritty, run-down part of Boston. Rouse needed people to feel that this development was pristine, that the city was not all grime. He, at the time, had no experience maintaining such a property (suburban malls do not attract the range of clientele that an open city thoroughfare does), but he knew that he couldn't get stores if he couldn't say that it would be maintained at higher levels than Boston was maintaining the rest of their city streets.

Enough discourse. If you are interested in the park, I highly recommend a book I recently read called Downtown, Inc. which gives good background on projects like what we are undertaking. I am really excited about the park and am glad that I am on the council in time to bring it to fruition.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Outcome of our first full meeting

In my previous post, I noted a few issues that were to come up this week that I thought worthy of some discussion. I would like to recap the issues and my thoughts.

Our first vote was to rezone a property at the intersection of 9th, Langley, and Tippin to C-2 zoning. The rezoning was requested by the property owner. He had built a new building two years ago, and now, in this economy, has been unable to rent it. A group approached him about putting in a bingo parlor. There was some dispute about the zoning rules, but the general consensus of staff and the planning board was that it would be allowed in C-2.

I was very hesitant to vote for this change. This intersection is a pretty main thoroughfare in our community. While this bingo hall will be tucked back, in a pretty decent building, C-2 zoning opens that property up for a lot of other uses, like used car lots. Part of the argument for it was that this parcel is bordered by county parcels which are zoned equivalent to our C-2. Hence the pretty unappealing strip in that area.

However, in the end, I voted for the change. Here's why:
  • The actual impact of bingo in terms of traffic is not much different from even a restaurant. So the change to a bingo hall will not have a dramatic change on the use of the area.
  • In my mind, I typically imagine ugly sheds housing bingo. In this case, though, it is a nice building (at least for a strip mall) that was originally designed for retail. So the appearance should not degrade the location.
  • The owners have been trying to lease the building for a couple of years. A vacant building is not attractive. I hope that as the economy improves that area will have more demand for retail tenants.
  • State law mandates that bingo benefit charities, and a portion of the profits from this hall will go to charities. Currently bingo can be played in churches and other venues in our community, and there has not been a large outcry about bingo in those locations.
  • Finally, there were no compelling arguments against the change. There have been comments, even by the council at the meeting, that bingo is not what we'd really like. However, no neighbors or others complained that it could become an eyesore.
I do not believe that this change will lead Pensacola to becoming the bingo capital of the world. I anticipate that soon we will have a demand for retail at this location. In the meantime the business will bring activity to a vacant parcel.

When dropping my kids off at school on Friday, a couple of the other moms asked how my new job is going. I mentioned the bingo issue. They said, "What we want to know is, when will we get recycling?" I had good news for them.

Thursday night we instructed staff to draft a plan for instituting city-wide, mandatory recycling. One of the hurdles is finding the money, but staff seems confident that it can be found. Expect to hear more about the plan in the next month or two.

Pensacola Community Improvement Programe (PCIP)
Another issue that was discussed at length at the committee meetings was the PCIP grant program. These are grants to neighborhoods for neighborhood improvements. With the tight budget situation we are facing, the staff chose to hold back some funding. Requirements for different pots of money were unclear to the neighborhoods, and some were recommended to receive no funds. I initially was not supportive of the motion to just give those neighborhoods the money they requested because we need to decide where the money will come from. However, I chose to support it in the end because we need to ensure we deal fairly with neighborhoods, it is a great program for getting a good bang for the buck since neighborhood have to match the funds, the neighborhoods know best what they need for their neighborhood, and it is a small amount of money compared to our total budget.

In all, it was a good meeting, I think, with the four newbies getting a better sense of the process. Even some of the returning council members were in new roles as committee chairs and had a few stumbles. I do hope our future committee meetings won't all last 5 hours.

Coming up... Next on our schedule is a workshop on Wednesday at 4 pm to discuss the maritime park. I added on the blog a Google calendar, which I have also made a public calendar on Google calendars. You can download such calendars, I believe, into Outlook or other programs. Thought it might reduce effort--fewer people have to reenter the data.

As always, feel free to email me with your thoughts on these or other issues.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Council Agendas, week of Jan 18

I have been reviewing the agendas for the upcoming council meetings. There are a few things that could be noteworthy conversations at the meeting, and I'd like to call your attention to them. Of course, these aren't the only things on the agenda, and others might result in discussions as well. Let me know your thoughts.

The full agendas are posted on the city website if you'd like more information.

Do note that the committee meetings will start Tuesday at 3:15 instead of Monday because of the holiday.

Committee of the Whole:
Alcaniz Renaming
An information issue is the renaming of the remainer of Alcaniz St. to Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. The road from Barcia Dr. to Cervantes is named for Dr. King, with the segment south of Cervantes retaining its historical name of Alcaniz. Originally we were to discuss renaming all of Alcaniz. However, that is no longer being considered.

The issue that remains, though, is one of consistency. There is a small portion of road, from Barcia north to the joint with Davis, that retains the name "Alcaniz". So, if you are travelling south on Davis Hwy, then cross Fairfield, after the road forks, you are first on Alcaniz then on Martin Luther King Jr. At Cervantes, you get back on Alcaniz. This is an artifact of the jagged city-county lines and the original renaming. There are no street signs in this area indicating it is Alcaniz St; Google Maps has it as King; the property appraisers website has several inconsistencies on what is named what. For consistency, there is a logic to renaming the northern section.

Such a change would affect a few property owners. A renaming would result in a cost to the owners, due to reprinting letterhead and business cards and changing the name on other materials. Turns out, though, that the post office delivered letters addressed Alcaniz to places on Martin Luther King Jr for seven years, so the urgency is not huge.

An additional part of this is the plan to put a sign on the off-ramp indicating the direction of Martin Luther King Jr. Dr.

Economic And Community Development Committee
Pensacola Community Initiatives Program (PCIP)
PCIP is a program that provides matching grants to neighborhoods for neighborhood improvement projects. This year, due to the tight budgets, the city staff planned on cutting the funds coming from general revenue for this program. The bulk of the funding will come from the local option sales tax (LOST), which has more stringent rules on usage. The only project which is receiving GR funds is a request from Neighbors of Seville, while all of the requests that were LOST eligible were funded. Two other projects were recommended to receive funds through alternate sources.

Request for License to Use Right of Way-De Luna Alley
Ragtime Grill is requesting the use of the right of way adjacent to the restaurant for providing additional seating and storage of a dumpster. There is concern from neighboring property owners that such a license will reduce access to the remainer of the shared alley due to deliveries and other activities.

Revised School Planning Interlocal Agreement
This agreement appears to be a formality, required by the state. The intent appears to be that local governments communicate with school districts when initiating new developments so the school district can adequately plan for enrollment. The agreement has language that encourages schools to be colocalized with other resources like parks, libraries, and community centers. The school district is getting ready to build a new school on the westside, and there is a potential that a joint effort to locate a community center and public library in that vicinity, currently underserved by those types of resources, would provide great synergy.

The agreement makes a bit of a note of school closures but is largely silent. School closures are going to be more prevalent in our city in the near future, and I hope this agreement can also help inform thinking on the closures and subsequent reuse of the closed buildings.

Future Land Use Map/Zoning Map Amendment-6305 North 9th Avenue
The property owner at 6305 N. 9th Avenue (the Waffle House at the intersection of 9th, Langley, and Tippin, I believe) is requesting a zoning change. He has been approached about putting in a bingo parlor at this location. This zoning change would change it from C-1 to C-2. Such a change would allow a number of new activities, such as new and used car sales and mini-warehouses, at this location (C-2 allows bars but they won't be allowed here because of the proximity to residential areas). I don't know what the radius for notifying people about these changes is, but this is an intersection that is used by many folks who might have an opinion. A public hearing will be held Jan 22 at the council meeting.

Additional items

I am also aware that the Arts Council is planning on bringing up an issue at the committee meetings. During the last year, there have been numerous issues brought up about alcoholic beverages during Gallery Night. I don't believe there have been any concerns about actual behaviors, but they are trying to determine the best way to ensure that downtown activities are covered appropriately. The Arts Council has worked with the state to come up with a proposal which they would like the council to consider.

Please email me your thoughts on these or other issues.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Swearing in and first activities

It's official. The 2009-2011 council is now installed. Our first order of business was voting for our deputy mayor. As others have noted, the choices were all minorities--Jewel Cannada-Wynn, John Jerralds, and P.C. Wu. Cannada-Wynn won, making her, I believe, our first female deputy mayor. With 4 women total on the council, there definitely is a different mix of faces to this council.

We have also received our committee assignments. I was interested to notice that each committee vice-chair is a newcomer to the council, except for the finance committee, which is made up of the chairs of the other committees. I am on the neighborhood services committee and vice-chair of the economic and community development committee. I am particularly excited about the economic and community development committee since getting good jobs to this city is my priority.

The council is now going high tech. We have all been issued laptops, so we can receive materials electronically rather than have the staff print materials and deliver them. Our first committee meeting this Tuesday (Monday is a holiday) will have a new look, with all of us sporting new computers. The big change you will see is that the council agendas are now more user-friendly, with bookmarks to agenda items and the text is searchable. Another step forward in open government.

Speaking of open government, I am getting a better sense of public records and all the other laws that now affect me. It seems that blogs are not how our forefathers imagined us communicating. Keeping a record all posts could get complicated. Therefore, I have set this blog up now to have all comments previewed by me, and I anticipate keeping most from being posted. However, I would like to start a dialogue with you and eagerly await your feedback. I will attempt to post some of your comments, or at least the nature of our communications, when I think others are interested. You can either use the comment feature here or email me at

Friday, January 2, 2009


One thing I heard over and over going door to door is that people are ready for curbside recycling. ECUA is leading the way, which is a bit of a reversal for our city, which prides itself on great services. It is even interesting to hear city residents talk about how excited they are to get curbside recycling next week, only to hear how disappointed they are when they realize they aren't lucky enough to be in the county....

Rest assured, city staff is working on how to make recycling a reality. I contend, however, that we need to consider offering a sanitation franchise to ECUA. As always, there are pros and cons, but I believe the pros outweigh the cons. Of course, the below numbers (like the cost per household) could be changed during negotiations for service, and it is likely that we could get some concessions. Additionally, I do believe my numbers are accurate but will willingly correct them if they aren't. [A disclaimer: My mom, Lois Benson, is on the ECUA board, and we have had extensive discussions of this topic. I am basing my views on the facts as I see them and do not believe I have been unduly influenced.]

First, a comparison of the two plans.
Monthly Residential Charge$22.20$18.00
Monthly Fuel Surcharge$2.85$0.86
Yard WasteUnlimitedFree weekly one pile of cuttings and up to 6 (six) bags
Excess Yard WasteN/A$28-$312, depending on volume
Bulk Waste (sofas, dryers)$15+, depending on timeFree monthly, up to 6' x6'x6'
RecyclingCounty drop-off centersWeekly curbside
General trashTwice weeklyWeekly

As you can see, there are differences in services. As far as I can tell, the current plan the city is working toward is once-a-week trash, once-a-week recycling, similar to the ECUA plan, which would eliminate the difference in the general trash pick up. Other notable differences are the yard waste and bulk waste amounts. While I encourage people to clean up their yards, I imagine that most people, doing routine maintenance on their yards will not exceed the ECUA free yard waste limits. As for bulk waste, I am always bothered by customers being charged for the time it takes a person to do their job, which can lead to unexpected costs. The ECUA bulk waste pick up will cover a sofa, a dryer, or other similar things that customers might want to dispose of. Based on my review of the two offerings, excluding the fact that ECUA is already beginning their curbside program, the city and ECUA customer sanitation services are fairly comparable, with ECUA nudging ahead based on the lower monthly cost.

That said, not all of the city's sanitation services are curbside pick-up. The city also has STEP programs, which are coordinated neighborhood clean-ups, with free bulk waste pick-ups. There is also the debris removal after hurricanes or other weather events. I believe that it is imperative that we continue to maintain high standards for the appearance of our city.

As far as I can deduce from the budget, the STEP programs and other debris removal efforts are lumped in with general yard waste/bulk waste pick up. That item, in the big budget book I have, is about $1.4 million proposed for 2009. That results in approximately $74 per household (19,000 customers) per year. That is about the difference in cost between the city and ECUA monthly charges ($74/year, if you include the fuel charges). Mind you, the $1.4 million includes the free yard waste pick up as well as the bulk waste (for which we charge approximate $200,000 per year).

Now, for recycling. For the city to begin recycling, we need to get cans, which is not a negilible cost. The cans for the pilot program in East Hill were provided by Escambia County, but they are unwilling to provide cans for the whole city. Finding the funds for the cans (approximately $1 million) seems to be the biggest obstacle to beginning a city-wide program.

So, where to go from here? I would like to see the city renew discussions to ECUA. (There was a discussion over the summer, but the council ended it because of concerns over unlimited yard waste pick up and disaster clean up.) Would it be possible for ECUA to offer us the cans in exchange for being the residential sanitation franchise for the city, providing the same service for the same costs as they offer the county residents? Might they be willing, even, to cover the cost of some equivalent of the STEP program as their franchise fee? One would assume that by consolidating this service there would be cost savings--consider how many streets in this community have city as well as ECUA trucks rumbling down them--so perhaps they could pay us some of that difference to cover these programs. Of course, the city will lose some control with consolidation, particularly during disaster clean up. Such concerns could, I believe, be addressed during negotiations. ECUA is an elected board, and they, too, need to ensure that they provide great service to their constituents.

As always, the views I have outlined here are based on the information I currently have. It is possible that missed something, that I might have incomplete or incorrect information. Please let me know if you see any errors. I will try to be as transparent as possible in my reasoning, but by the time an issue comes to a vote, I may be voting based, in part, on new information which I may or may not have posted here.