Monday, October 25, 2010

Technology Park and Admiral Mason Pond

One question that I get asked often is what the city is doing to recruit high tech businesses, often with the request that the city use surplus property as a lure. I want to share with you a bit of information about two related projects that are currently underway. You might have heard about them at some point, but there is great forward momentum now, and I'd like to bring you up to date.

Technology Park

Several years ago, Ray Gindroz and his team of urban designers visited Pensacola and created a plan for the Pensacola Historic District. One of the main elements was to better utilize the field just south of the Civic Center. Currently it is used for parking for Civic Center events, as well as a little golfing, assembly for the military units who participate in the McGuire's St. Patrick's Day run, and housing elephants when the circus is in town. Not the highest and best use of a large urban parcel.

For several years, the city and the county (most of the space is county owned) have worked with the Pensacola Chamber of Commerce to create a plan for that space, which has become know as the Tech Park. The park is envisioned as a shovel-ready site for technology companies that want to locate to our downtown. Industries such as information technology and life sciences will be targeted, and companies purchasing parcels must commit to providing 50 jobs with an average wage at least 125% of the average county wage.

I'm pleased to share with you that recently the chamber finalized a contract for the development of the infrastructure improvements (a new road, sidewalks, streetlights, etc) for the project. Construction should begin in the next 30 days with completion within the next 8 months. Half of the approximately $4 million in infrastructure improvements will be funded through a federal stimulus grant (you might have noticed the signs on the property).

The chamber is currently in discussions with at least one company about locating there. However, the advantage of this project is that it will provide sites for companies who may not be able to wait very long for infrastructure improvements and the like, so we should see more movement once the infrastructure is in. It will be a great boost for our local economy, bringing more folks to our downtown, and will strengthen Pensacola's position for future economic growth.

Admiral Mason Pond

Well, you might say, "The county is putting up the land for the project--what is the city doing?" The city's largest role is rather unique. One of the biggest expenses for a new development is meeting the stormwater retention requirements. Most developments dig a hole, which isn't too hard, but it takes up valuable land. It also reduces the density of the project, making it less compatible with an urban environment (if it is a downtown project). To assist the tech park project, the city is building a stormwater retention pond.

This isn't just any old pond, though. This is going to be a feature of our downtown. The pond will be located at Admiral Mason Park, at the corner of 9th Av and Romana, adjacent to Veteran's Park. It is going to be an attraction, rather than something behind chain link fences. The perimeter of the pond will be quite long, about a third of a mile--a great exercise loop for the walkers and runners out there as well as a nice place for a quiet stroll. The pond will have fountains spraying in it, so it will likely be visible from Bayfront as you approach the city. The city council will likely award the $1 million dollar contract for the pond construction (funded through the annual stormwater capital program) this week, with construction beginning in November.

This pond will provide stormwater retention for the tech park. In addition, it will be able to accommodate further development on other undeveloped parcels in the surrounding area, increasing the potential for other economic development downtown.

So, in a sense, the city is providing city property for economic development. But the citizens are not losing any property but rather are gaining a new type of park, a new kind of attraction.

This entire project, the tech park and the pond, are an intriguing collaboration among many partners--the city, the county, the chamber, even the federal government--which is going to provide economic growth, a new park feature, increase density in our urban core, and even improve the looks of our community on one of the most heavily traveled gateways to our city. I look forward to the current construction efforts and hope to see new building sprouting up very soon.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Bayfront Sunday - October 24

The second trial of Bayfront Sundays will be held October 24. Bayfront Parkway between Chase and Tarragona will be open to pedestrian and bicycle traffic from 8 am to 5 pm. This is a great opportunity to enjoy our beautiful waterfront and downtown while enjoying exercise, being with your family, and meeting others from our city. While you are downtown, do consider patronizing the downtown businesses--road closures typically negatively impact their business, but I am hopeful that an event like this will provide a boost to their typical Sunday crowd rather than an hinderance.

This trial had originally been scheduled for June, but the summer heat had already settled in, so we postponed until the cooler weather. This pleasant October weather is a wonderful opportunity for us to get outside and be reminded of why we endure the summer heat--so we can enjoy such a beautiful fall.

Attendance at this trial will determine whether the city ought to continue with a program like this, so if you'd like to see it continue, plan on coming down and help spread the word.

We have a facebook page about the event--check it out and share your plans for the day. Additional information about the event is in previous blog posts from last spring and the spring before.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Cyberbullying and other internet risks

The unfortunate events of recent weeks have reminded us all of the incredible potential of the internet, for both good and bad. We all know that cyberbullying, big and small, is happening all of the time, but we often wonder what we can do about it, how we can protect the kids in our lives. I'd like to share a special resource with you.

The Pensacola Police Department has an informative presentation about cyberbullying and other internet risks which often affect teens. There are two versions, ones for teens and one for adults. I have been fortunate enough to have seen the adult version, and it is amazing, though, unfortunately, quite depressing. It definitely sticks with you and provides incentive and ideas for talking about the dangers with kids. The PPD provides this presentation in various forums, and if you have a group that might be interested in seeing the presentation, please contact Chris Wilkinson.

While most often we think that the police just chase down bad guys or give out tickets, they provide a range of services, including presentations such as this, online crime mapping, and the Are You O.K.? and Take Me Home program, to enhance the safety of our citizens. I hope that you will take advantage of these programs so that together we can work to keep our community safe.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Parks photo contest ending

For all of you shutterbugs out there.... The deadline for submitting photos for this year's park photo contest is October 8. Winning photos will be included in the parks calendar for 2011. It is a beautiful time of year, finally nice enough to go out and enjoy our wonderful parks. Bring your camera along and shoot some pictures. More information and a listing of all of our great parks are available on the parks department website.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Talking Trash

Recently I had a conversation with a friend. She mentioned how informative a tour she took of the San Francisco landfill was and commented how neat it would be to have such things here. To her surprise, I told her that we do have them, that I've been on the tour, and the tours here, too, are really interesting and informative.

I bet that friend isn't the only one who is curious about what happens to our trash after the truck comes. So, if you are interested in learning about the local landfill, you can take a tour on the last Wednesday of the month every month. Tours are at 10, noon, and 2 pm. They appreciate RSVPs, and you can call (850-937-2160) with other questions. I guarantee you will walk away with lots of information about trash.

If you can't get away for a tour, you can read my blog post about my visit. You can also view a video about the landfill. For other information about the Perdido Landfill, visit their website.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Environmental Book Club

The environment continues to be a topic of discussion and debate. Many books have been written which can provide insight and ideas on environmental concerns, but sometimes it is better to have others with whom to discuss the books. If you'd like to discuss environmental books, consider joining the library's newest book club.

The environmental book club will kick off October 20 with a discussion of Silent Spring. The meetings will be held at Tryon library, and the first meeting might coincide with the installation of the gazebo in the park, providing the proper setting for discussing the natural world.

Meetings will be monthly on the third Wednesday of each month from 6-7 pm. The schedule for the first reads is:

October 20 - Silent spring by Rachel Carson
November 17 - Last child in the woods by Richard Louv
December 15 - Rubbish! : the archaeology of garbage by William Rathje
January 19 - Green metropolis by David Owen.
February 16 - The song of the dodo by David Quammen
March 16 - Song for the blue ocean by Carl Safina

I hope this book club is of interest to you. If you'd like to be a part of it, please call Gabriela Galescu at 436-5060 ext. 2227 or email

Borrowing books from the library or a friend are ways to make this book club green beyond the topic. The library has (or will have) copies of all of these books, so check them out. The club is sponsored by the West Florida Regional Library and the Friends of the Pensacola Public Library.

I hope you will join the discussion.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Bryan Park update

It feels like we've been discussing the idea of a natural playground at Bryan park, behind the new Tryon library, for a very long time. Much progress has been made, mostly behind the scenes, so I thought I'd give you a status report.

Last weekend I joined a number of people from the neighborhood near the park as well as many Navy personnel to help parks and rec staff get the park cleaned up. The park is on the site of an old street-sweepings dump, and there were many hunks of concrete and other large items that needed to be removed. Others cut back vines and other growth around many of the trees that will stay in the park. I spent some time pulling weeds out of the existing beds, giving a new meaning to "grassroots politics".

While the main idea of the park is natural, we decided to order some modern structures as well. Those items, including a net climber (right) and a new-fangled swing (left), have been ordered and might be in the park in September. In addition we ordered a gazebo for the park.

The parks and rec staff is excited to develop some of the elements themselves. They put in one test activity already, a set of stump steppers (right). A neat feature of their work is that some of it will be a reuse of equipment from the old Lavallet playground wooden play structure which was recently removed, diverting materials from the landfill.

Along with all of that, Home Depot has gotten on board (literally). They have store goals for community service projects, and this fits very nicely with their skills and resources. They have begun plans for a pirate ship, a bridge, a reading area, a sensory garden, and a labyrinth. They have been excited looking through ideas for natural elements, often adding to their list rapidly with "Oh, we should do that, too!" comments frequently. We appreciate their help on this project.

Some of the store bought elements will be in place in September, and we are aiming for some of the natural elements to be installed in October. The drainage project is finished, and the irrigation for the park will go in soon. Once the irrigation is in, landscaping will begin. Since many of the natural elements can be constructed by parks staff during the off season, it is possible that new elements will trickle in as we assess the park usage and what appeals to the users.

I am excited by the enthusiasm about this project and am eager to see the outcome. The park will likely become a popular destination by virtue of its location with the Tryon library, which saw 20,000 users in the month of June alone. Also, as a unique addition to our large park supply, this park will likely be a "destination" park, attracting visitors throughout our community. I look forward to seeing you there.

Monday, August 2, 2010


One of the most important roles of local officials, in my opinion, is to provide connections. We interact with many people with many interests, and linking those people together can help strengthen our community. At the basic level is something like this blog where I attempt sometimes to connect you to events in our community.

There are also more powerful connections that can be made, too. For example, when Holly Benson was in the state legislature, she connected me, through my science education work at IHMC, with Gulf Power and the Escambia and Santa Rosa school districts to create a program to enhance science education. The outcome was I LOVE Science (Increasing Local Opportunities for Volunteers Enthusiastic about Science), a program that brings community volunteers into 5th grade classrooms to lead hands on activities aligned with the curriculum. The program is now entering its 5th year and has been very successful. (Keep your eyes peeled for forthcoming information on volunteering this year.)

Most of you have a robust network that connects you with many resources throughout this community. These connections have a significant impact on you, your finances, and your health. Did you know, for instance, you are more likely to be overweight if your friends' friends are overweight? Your connections provide an extended knowledge base, helping you navigate through many of life's challenges (did a friend help you figure out how to get your first mortgage? have you gotten a job because someone told you of an opening?). The impact of your circles is critical to your well-being.

Unfortunately, many in our community do not have strong connections. Or their connections have a detrimental impact on their quality of life, linking them to damaging behaviors or not linking them to important resources and skills. Unite Escambia's Poverty Solutions Team realized that by connecting those living in poverty with new circles, they could have a positive impact on reducing poverty. To this end, they have created the Bridges to Circles program which links allies with families living in poverty, connecting them to the knowledge, skills, and resources many of us take for granted. Of course, they are always looking for new allies in this program, and information is available on their website. I encourage you to consider this opportunity.

By increasing our connections in our community, whether participating in local government, helping in the schools, or serving as an ally for someone trying to break the cycle of poverty, we can strengthen our city together. Let me know if there is a resource or a group that I can help connect you to.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Recovery toward a green future

For several months the entire focus of the Gulf Coast has been on oil. We have watched black tar wash onto the shores of our white beaches. We have learned a whole new vocabulary and more details about oil rigs than we ever wanted to know. We also look to the future, a future of damaged fisheries, a poisoned Gulf, and a damaged reputation with tourists.

And we have seen firsthand the perils of our national and worldwide dependence on oil.

With the clean-up progressing and hope for an end to the gushing, the talk now is of how to target assistance to rebuilding our economy and our region. It is time for local leaders to come together with one voice to tell the federal and state governments what would help us the most.

Local leaders have begun the process, and many lists have been generated. Instead of a generic wish list of projects, though, we need a driving vision, a focus for how we can emerge from this catastrophe as a better community. Since the challenge has been caused by dirty energy, the rebuilding should target green initiatives, improving our local environment, strengthening our economy, and also giving the Gulf Coast the cache of the “Green Coast”.

Many ideas have been suggested. Some tap existing federal programs, such as
  • Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grants
  • EDA grants for infrastructure development at former superfund sites.
Others might be region-wide projects that could make our transportation network more green, including
  • Implementation of a recommended passenger rail service between New Orleans and Orlando
  • A targeted pilot program of the Marine Highways program to encourage shipping through a less energy intensive means.
But if we are to become a greener community we should consider new programs. These programs could be region-wide, including:
  • Support for new, green industry in the area.
  • Assistance in creating in-fill housing to reduce residents’ commutes
  • Grant programs for residents or businesses to improve the energy efficiency of buildings
  • Incentive programs for businesses to encourage employees to use alternative transportation
In addition, communities could create a list of targeted projects unique to their needs. Projects for Pensacola might include:
  • Ferry service between downtown Pensacola, the beach, and NAS
  • Infrastructure for the port of Pensacola to increase the range of materials which may be shipped through the port
  • Improvements to the ECAT bus system to increase ridership
  • Enhancements such as bike lanes and sidewalks to encourage the use of alternative transportation
  • Acceleration of efforts to clean up our bayous, including additional stormwater vaults.
These suggestions should not supplant other proposals which provide traditional incentives and support for small businesses. However, we need to move beyond the idea of business as usual toward a new vision of the Gulf Coast. We also should not count on others to do it all; we need to consider local initiatives, like transportation reduction incentives and green certification, which I will explore in a future blog. Where currently we are so devastatingly impacted by dirty industry, we will emerge as an environmental leader. White (sands) and black (tar) should make green (initiatives).

Monday, July 12, 2010

Transportation Project Priorities Workshop

Many of you have expressed concerns about how we get around here in Pensacola. You have another opportunity to help shape the priorities for state-funded transportation projects for our area over the next few weeks. The Florida-Alabama Transportation Planning Organization, who oversee the transportation expenditures by the state in our area, will be having public input session on the priorities for the upcoming years. These priorities encompass all modes of transportation--pedestrian, bicycle, public transportation, highways, ports, airports.

The sessions will be held:
July 12 5:30 P.M. Navarre Community Center, 1917 Navarre School Road
July 13, 10 A.M. West Florida Regional Planning Council Offices, 4081 E. Olive Road, Pensacola
July 14, 10 A.M. Escambia County Extension Office, 3740 Stefani Road, Cantonment
July 15, 5:30 P.M. Santa Rosa County Auditorium, 4350 Spikes Way, Milton
July 29, 5:30 P.M. Southwest Branch Library, 12248 Gulf Beach Hwy, Pensacola

I realize this is late notice, and I apologize. If you are unable to attend a session but want to provide some feedback, there is a survey online. It doesn't seem interactive, and there isn't an email address to send it to, but you could contact Gina Watson with your comments. If you want to know a little more about the proposed priorities before the meeting, those are also available online. (Do note that these are long range priorities, and many of the items on the list have been there for several years--funding is dependent on the state allocations.)

I hope you will be able to provide some input. Local residents are the best resource in determining how state funding should be allocated, and all levels of government need to work together to meet the needs of our citizens. We can't address your concerns, though, if we don't know your priorities.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Second Bayfront Sunday postponed

Like many of you, I woke up last Sunday excited to try out Bayfront Sunday, having discussed with the kids whether they’d like to bike, scooter, or walk along our waterfront. Unfortunately, when I went outside to get the newspaper very early, I was hit by a wall of humidity. We did go down and try it out, but the kids wilted pretty fast (and I was pretty hot, too). I’ve heard from several of you that you, too, had planned to go, but you just couldn’t get out of the air conditioning (or perhaps the pool).

The positive response that I have received from so many who are excited about this type of programming is at odds with the low turnout we had last Sunday. The original idea was for these trials to start in April, a much more humane month, and I believe that the heat of the summer was too much of a deterrence. Therefore, the city has decided to postpone the second trial, originally scheduled for this coming Sunday, June 27, until the fall, possibly October. Keep your eyes peeled for more information. And do remember there is still a sidewalk, so do come down and enjoy the waterfront whenever you have a chance.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Pensacola Beach produces...

“They don't produce anything off Pensacola Beach.” – James Carville, on the impact of this oil spill on Pensacola Beach.

The BP oil spill has been called one of the greatest environmental disasters in American history will affect all of us--along the Gulf Coast, in the southeast, across the United States, and around the world. For some coastal communities it will be devastating. And while the effects will be felt greatly here, this disaster is bigger than any one person, community, or region.

I was particularly disappointed to hear that Pensacola Beach doesn’t “produce” anything. Sure, our beaches are known more for swimming and basking in the sun than for wildlife. Even if this were just a vacation place for people, though, there is a value in that. People need rest and relaxation. The sound of the waves breaking on the beach can wash away the stress of the work-a-day world, recharging us for the rest of the year of the daily grind. Vacation produces good workers and keeps our country and economy moving smoothly.

But there is another side to our beaches, one that most of us don’t see on our vacations. Sure, we see fish swimming near our legs or go ghost crabbing with the kids. We like to watch the shorebirds run near the surf and the pelicans swoop down for a meal. And who is not enchanted by the sight of dolphins jumping? There is also, of course, the wildlife we dread, like the jellyfish.

Our beaches, though, also teem with life that we rarely glimpse. One of the great things about having kids is that I have gotten to take them to many educational programs where I have learned so much. Programs like a sea turtle presentation at the public library, where we learned that the gender of sea turtles is affected by the temperature. Beaches on the northern Gulf coast tend to be cooler, producing more males. However, some females are born here, too, ensuring that eggs are laid here year after year (turtles return to their natal beach to lay eggs). Maintaining nesting sites across their range is essential for turtle survival, and with all species threatened or endangered, they need all the help they can get. (Don’t forget, too, that turtles enjoy eating our beach nemesis, the jellyfish, so we should all be rooting for the turtles.)

I have also learned about other wildlife at our beaches, thanks to snorkeling and seining programs at the Gulf Island National Seashore and Big Lagoon State Park. On these outings, kids and adults have scooped up amazing creatures like pipefish, juvenile shrimp, and baby blue crabs, along with many, many hermit crabs. I hope that the programs at both the national and state parks will continue this summer since now, more than ever, we need to be aware of the fragile ecosystem right outside our doors. If they can’t continue or you can’t make it out there, I do hope you’ll watch the Gulf Islands National Seashore program recently produced by WSRE which highlights some of the wildlife under our waters and on our shores.

The rangers I’ve talked with at these programs (some of whom are on the WSRE program) have been very knowledgeable and enthusiastic. They are eager to share the importance of our local environment with everyone, whether locals or tourists, with the understanding that we’re more likely to protect what we know.

Mr. Carville, please take back those cynical words. Our beaches matter. Our flora and fauna, even our jellyfish are important. And vacations at the beach recharge the workforce. Why don’t you come to Pensacola. It’s a vibrant community. We’ll show you we what we produce... But right now we’re busy, working together to clean up the beaches and water that we love.

Friday, May 28, 2010

The City and Education

No more pencils, no more books, no more teacher's dirty looks....

Summer vacation is fast approaching, when schools close their doors and kids find other things to do. Today, though, nine months of instruction is not sufficient to prepare kids for the future, for good jobs.

During the last year, the council has had repeated discussions about the role of the city in education, whether we should have a role or not. While some argue that we should not get into the education business, the truth is we are already in it. Our community centers and our library system are the city's contribution to education, particularly with our summer programs.

Researchers conclude that two-thirds of the 9th grade reading achievement gap can be explained by unequal access to summer learning opportunities during the elementary school years, with nearly one-third of the gap present when children begin school. - Lasting Consequences of the Summer Learning Gap

Libraries are clearly educational, of course, since they encompass one of the 3 R's. However, their mission is much broader, bringing programming throughout the year to libraries, for both adults and kids. Adult programming includes using computers and book clubs. Kids programming include special presentations, ranging from wildlife to opera, and an American Girl book club. Many of these programs are supported by the Friends of the Library through their regular sales of donated books.

During the summer, the library hosts a summer reading challenge. Kids of all ages roll dice to choose a book genre, working their way toward a prize (a book to keep) while exploring the range of books in the library. In addition, there are weekly programs from magicians to puppetry, dancers to acrobats. All of this is to spur kids to keep reading during the summer, to keep their skills sharp for the next school year.

City recreation programs, too, are a great educational resource in the community. The athletes among you (and even some folks as uncoordinated as I) know the great skills kids acquire playing sports, skills beyond catching and throwing. Things like teamwork, self-confidence, quick thinking, and goal setting. Not to mention the general value of fitness and healthy lifestyles. And the range of sports available in our recreation programs is large--from basketball and baseball to tennis and golf, swimming, karate, even fishing and juggling.

In the era of the FCAT, many programs are cut from our schools to focus on the "essentials". That is one of the reasons our sports programs are so important as PE is more and more limited. The range of programming at our community centers is quite broad, though, filling in many of the gaps. For example, they offer dance, art, and even foreign language classes.

Our community centers also provide afterschool programming for many kids in our community. That programming includes homework help and access to computers. Many kids also attend preschool at the centers, helping prepare them to succeed in kindergarten.

Over the summer, our community centers are a buzz of activity. Each center hosts camps, providing a range of programming. While there is certainly plenty of time spent on the staples of summer camp, such as arts and crafts (lanyarns, anyone?) and talent shows, there is a lot of learning going on, too. Students get to go on field trips to various places (canoeing on the Blackwater, the PJC Planetarium, T.T. Wentworth) at a time when field trips are being cut from the school district budget. Special guest also come to present programs (from beach safety to cake decorating) for the kids.

Could we do more? Absolutely. However, we have to make hard decisions with our taxpayer's dollars. We are not the school district; we do not have education as our primary mandate. But through our existing resources, our libraries and community centers, we can work to improve educational achievement in our city, strengthening our workforce and attracting better jobs for our citizens.

You should be proud of the efforts by the city toward education outside of school. I hope you will spread the word about these great programs in our community so that we can keep learning going year round.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Maritime Park Update

For the past year, I have had a ring side seat for one of Pensacola’s most unusual projects, the Community Maritime Park. We all know the history: the initial Trillium plan proposal and its defeat, the new proposal and its ratification by the voters through a referendum, etc.

Like many, I had thought that the passage of the referendum took care of all of the issues, and we would soon see a park. Boy, was I wrong. I also have realized that we all have a different recollection of what we voted for in the referendum, a different dream of what those 30 acres of waterfront property will hold and how they will transform our city. There have been many drawings—sketches of the buildings, site plans—each shaping our vision. Now it is time to make our collective vision a reality.

In the last year I have been honored to be the city council’s representative on the Community Maritime Park Board. We’ve reviewed many contracts, considered many different site plans, and puzzled over financing. We’ve held a groundbreaking, but we haven’t seen much action.

This spring has been a turning point. We recently approved the design-build agreement with the developer, resolving many questions and thorny issues. Now bids are going out for significant construction projects, and we will start seeing some action. [If you are interested in providing services on this project, the bid notifications are posted at]

Last summer we were approached with an opportunity to jump-start construction through New Market Tax Credits. People involved in all aspects of this project have been working frantically to get up to speed on the credits and all of the regulatory nuances they entail. There have been wording changes in contracts, restructuring of the CMPA board, and many other changes necessary to take advantage of this money. As a result of these credits, an extra $12 million will be applied to the project, bringing many desired enhancements so that within the mandatory two year window the project will have many elements we all were expecting.

So, what should we expect? The contract for the park is broken into two pieces, the city funded part and the tax credit enhancements. The city portion is limited to $40 million. That money is broken into three components—the site work, the stadium, and professional costs.

The site work will use approximately $16 million. That includes lots of exciting elements like sanitary sewer and potable water, bulkheads, stormwater pipes, and earthwork (fill dirt). It also includes the more visible elements like roads and sidewalks, street lights, trees, benches, and landscaping.

The stadium, which is really more than just a baseball stadium, will cost $11 million to construct. The Pelicans will be a primary tenant, and they are working closely with the designers. The stadium will have 3200 seats, plus an additional 500 seats on terraces. There will be space for an additional 3000 seats on the field for a concert or similar performance. Underneath the seating there will be locker rooms, administrative offices, and spaces for two retailers.

The professional costs round out the bill. These are the engineering, permitting, legal, and developer fees, as well as the owners’ representative fee (they provide the oversight of the developer for the CMPA board) and the contingencies.

The New Market Tax Credits are expected to net about $12 million (we’ll know the final numbers at closing in the next week or so). That money will pay for some enhancements that you might be surprised weren’t in the original budget. A breakwater and marina. DeVilliers promenade (along the western waterfront). A public restroom in the south park. The amphitheater in the south park. Some stadium enhancements.

When will we see some action? The developer is soliciting bids on some of the elements now. And the new design-build contract requires the developer to be substantially complete by the end of December, 2011. There have been many delays, but now we have stringent deadlines.

Taken all together, this construction will create a great foundation for building a fabulous amenity for our community. Alone, it is not sufficient. Notice I didn’t mention a museum, restaurants, offices, stores. Those are not part of the city’s contribution to the project. UWF is still working toward the maritime museum. The Studer Group is working with the developer on coordinating the construction of their office building. The developer is working on luring restaurants and other private development to enliven the park. All of these elements are moving forward, and the development of some of the private parcels should occur in tandem with the rest of the project.

It has been a long, bumpy road, but we now see some light. I look forward to all components of the project moving forward rapidly so that at the grand opening in the end of 2011, we will have a wonderful project that will make downtown Pensacola a magnet for families, school kids, workers, and tourists and a catalyst for new jobs and investment in our community.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Bayfront to be open to pedestrians and bicyclists two Sundays in June

Update (5/26): The event will happen June 13 and June 27. Plan on coming down!

The Opportunity
. Pensacola’s most unique asset is our waterfront, particularly the downtown waterfront. The more opportunities we have to enjoy it, the more we are reminded what a great place Pensacola is.

However, we rarely have real access to our waterfront. We can zoom past it on Bayfront or Scenic. We can go to a few parks. But most of our waterfront is cordoned off for the people who can afford to own water views. Opening Bayfront to pedestrians and cyclists will provide opportunities for us to enjoy our beautiful waterfront with the added benefit of bringing people from across our community together, encouraging them to exercise and meet their fellow Pensacolians.

The Action. The city council and staff have agreed to test the idea. We are now working out the details for two trial closures, to be held on Sundays in June. If these are successful, if people demonstrate that they want this type of recreational access to the downtown waterfront, the council will consider how to make these a regular occurrence.

The plan is to block off Bayfront Parkway from Tarragona/Barracks Street to Chase Street. People will have the opportunity to walk, bike, skateboard, or rollerblade on the road. This stretch also includes two large park areas, Veterans Park and Seville Square, which may encompass related activities. Once the dates are set, I plan to provide more information.

The Cost. Of course, everything has a cost. While staff has worked to develop a plan to minimize costs, money is necessary. Especially in tough financial times, we need to limit spending on anything that goes beyond the City’s core missions. That’s why I am seeking to underwrite this with private funding.

Success will be measured not only by the attendance but also by financial contributions. Our budgets are tight. If this is to become a regular activity, we will need to be able to count on the private sector support. While the city has the physical resources (the road, the barricades), we will need the private sector’s financial resources to implement and sustain this program.

I have spoken to many who are supportive of this idea. Some, who see the benefits of this program, whether drawing people downtown to their business, making Pensacola a more attractive community, or encouraging exercise, have offered sponsorships. If you know of businesses or individuals who would be willing to contribute financially, or if you yourself would, please let me know. The cost estimate is about $1000 per Sunday. Based on the responses I've heard so far, I am confident that there is lots of support for this program, and I hope that will translate into enough funds to cover the cost.

Whether or not you are able to contribute financially, I hope you will join us for this celebration of fitness, our waterfront, and our community.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Bicycle Pedestrian Master Plan

Improving the bicycling and walking infrastructure is important to strengthening our urban fabric. Next week citizens will have an opportunity to voice their opinions on the priorities for walking and bicycling in our region. The West Florida Regional Planning Council is holding public workshops to discuss needs, priorities, and funding options for these amenities in the Long Range Transportation Plan. Workshops will be held:
Lillian, AL: Monday, April 19, 5:30 - 7:00 p.m. Lillian Community Club.

Pensacola, FL: Tuesday, April 20, 11:30 a.m.- 1:30 p.m. Pensacola City Hall, 222 W. Main St. Hagler Mason Conference Room (2nd Floor)
4:30 - 7:00 p.m. Baptist Medical Park, 9400 University Pkwy, Azalea Room

Santa Rosa County, FL: Thursday, April 22, 11:30 a.m. - 1:30 p.m. Santa Rosa County
5:30 - 7:00 p.m. South Santa Rosa Service Center Conference Room
As you can see, these workshops will be held in a variety of venues, as befits a "regional" plan. However, it is important for us to emphasize the importance of bicycling and walking to the City of Pensacola. Amenities which fall under this are bike lanes, sidewalks, multi-use trails, and medians/pedestrian crossings. More information is available online. I hope to see you at one of these meetings.

By the way, if you like biking, check out Hayne St, which runs parallel to I-110. Public Works has recently re-striped the roadway to include a bike lane. Try it out some time.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Employee benefits sequel

Last year, the city council was very close to taking action on reforming city pensions and other benefits. We took some short term steps, like putting a hold on employee raises and longevity pay for the current fiscal year. However, we did not manage to take action on large scale reforms; instead opting to have a study of pay and benefits (the Mercer study).

Study results

The study came back. It showed that in most areas city employees receive similar ("competitive") benefits compared to the other survey respondents. [Note that the study included mostly other local governments and governmental agencies. According to the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics, in 2008 total compensation, salary and benefits, for state and local workers was $39.25 an hour — $11.90 more than in private business.]

There were a number of areas where we were more generous ("highly competitive"):
  • paying longevity (in essence a pay raise based on years worked)
  • leave accrual
  • spousal benefits for retirement
  • and calculation of salary for pension (two year vs five year averaging).
Our benefits were poor ("non-competitive") compared to other survey participants in
  • employee health insurance costs
  • and the types of health insurance we offer.
Additionally, our salary ranges for most jobs compared poorly to the other respondents.

We knew going into the study the areas where we were "highly competitive"--I had urged changes in these areas last May. (For a discussion on these changes, see my May blog post. I had not included changes to longevity in that proposal, since the then-proposed FY2010 froze longevity.)

The Proposal

Now that the study is back, it is time to take action. On Tuesday (today), we will have a special committee meeting at 4 pm to respond to the city manager's proposal for reforming employee pay and benefits. The proposal, roughly is:
  • no pay increases for FY 2011
  • eliminating longevity
  • capping leave accrual and paying out excess over two years
  • change spousal benefits for new employees
  • switch to five year averaging for calculating pensions
  • strive to increase city's contribution to health insurance premiums.
This proposal is responsive to the study results.

Retirement and leave accrual
The proposals regarding retirement benefits and leave accrual largely mirror the suggestions I made last May. The main difference from my suggestion last year is making the spousal benefit change only apply to new employees, leaving current employees with the spousal benefits they anticipate.

Longevity freeze and salary range adjustment
In addition to the retirement and leave changes, the proposal includes abolishing longevity going forward, rather than freezing it. With that change, also, there would be a change in the maximum of all salary ranges by 10%. Currently, an employee's longevity pay is over and above the salary range for their job. This change will bring most of our pay ranges into line with other survey participants (though it will not have an effect on our current budget since it won't change the pay of individual employees).

Health insurance
The other addition to the proposal for discussion Tuesday beyond what was proposed last year is a response to health insurance. The proposal is to gradually increase the city's contribution to family health insurance from the current 55% toward the 72% average of the survey participants. While health insurance gets into some big political philosophy questions (hence the national debate), it is desirable to have insured employees for a variety of reasons. This is simply setting a goal, and we will annually need to work toward that goal when we renew our health insurance program.

Time for Action

As I've said before, it is hard to look at our hardworking, dedicated employees and say, "We can't give you what we want to give you, what we think your effort is worth, because the taxpayers can't afford it." On the other hand, I don't want to look at our taxpayers and say, "Sorry. Couldn't do it. We can't handle the hard decisions."

We are in the midst of one of the worst economic downturns in history. Businesses throughout our community are laying off employees, forcing furloughs, or instituting pay cuts. Our citizens are facing double-digit unemployment. In better times, councils of the past have responded to the economic situation, sometimes raising salaries or benefits in order to attract qualified employees. This council, too, must be responsive to the economic situation, the challenges our local businesses and citizens are facing.

I am ready to act, and I hope that my fellow council members are ready, as well. We need your feedback on this issue so we know that we are making the right decision on this challenging issue. I know we will hear from the employees; I hope we will hear from other taxpayers as well.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Bryant Park Survey

I have posted previously about the effort to turn Bryant Park (around the new Tryon library) into a natural playground. We are making some progress (I'll admit, slower than I had hoped) and have learned a lot about how to do it.

For a variety of reasons, at this point we are leaning toward a hybrid playground, combining natural elements and purchased equipment. I've sat in meetings with various staff members, and we have each responded to the elements ourselves. But it has been a long time since most of us have really played on a playground....

So we decided to bring the decision making to the users, the kids of our community. We are having a workshop for kids who live near the park to give them an opportunity to give their feedback. Since this park will attract more than neighborhood kids, particularly with the adjacent library, I want to expand the input. However, a room full of a hundred kids is daunting. So I've decided to use modern technology....

Below is a slideshow of elements that might be included in the park (some of the more natural ones might be modified from what you see, but just trying to convey the idea). I have also created an online survey. (An apology on the survey--they don't have a "rank" tool, where you could rank things by numbering them, so I created it as a grid. Then it wouldn't let me have everything in the grid, so I split it into two. Sorry for the challenges.) Survey questions correspond approximately to page numbers of the slide. Feel free to provide feedback via email as well--the survey just might make data collection easier.

Of course, we won't just buy the top five vote getters--we will need to consider the budget, space, and other issues. This survey is more to get a sense of what kids really respond to. I also welcome adult feedback. Kids are not always the best at self-reflection--my five year old looked through the images and wanted everything. I have tried to group items, so perhaps look at it as choosing among two directions--wooden stump seating or sculpted plastic, for instance.

I look forward to your feedback.


Click here to take survey

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

City boards

From time to time, the city council is asked to fill vacancies on our boards. These boards run the gamut, from parks to pensions. Rather than ask every time, I was hoping to generate a list of folks who have an interest in serving. I would like to broaden the potential nominees so that we can ensure that our boards are staffed with thoughtful, informed people who will help move this city forward. [We are looking for nominees for the Parks and Recreation Board and the Construction Board of Adjustments and Appeal, due on Friday, if you are interested....]

Please look over the list of boards, and let me know if there are any that appeal to you. Also, please let me know a little bit about you (perhaps a resume) so that I will be able to share it with council when making a nomination. You do not necessarily need a particular expertise to be on some of the boards, but a word or two about your interest in that board would be welcome. Rest assured that I won't nominate you without double-checking with you when a vacancy arises--I understand how life changes and something that might seem like a good idea at the time might not work well later.
Let me know if any of these boards appeal to you, or if you have any questions about them. Thanks for your willingness to serve.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Community Initiatives Program

One of the programs the city has that has a direct impact on our neighborhoods is the community initiatives program. This program allows neighborhood associations to receive funding for projects that will improve their neighborhoods. To insure that the neighborhood has commitment to the project as well, the city only contributes 50% of the project cost. There are additional limitations on the type of project, but we still see a range of activities.

The council recently approved the grants for this year:

Bay Oak Villas - Entry lighting
Cordova Park - Sod for soccer field
Longwood - Enhance entry signage area
North Hill - Banner project, phase 2
Northeast - Replace entry sign
Sanders Beach - Entry signage
Summer Lakes - Gazebo and lighting

Once I learned about this grant program, I began to see the products of the program as I drove around town. Many neighborhoods have entry signs or enhanced landscaping so that you have a sense of arrival. Others have parks with additional amenities, such as gazebos, that were developed by the neighborhood association.

Partnerships like this between neighborhoods and the city are a great vehicle for the city to ensure that the needs of neighborhoods are met. Look around your neighborhood and see if there are some specific needs that we can help you meet. Let me know if you have questions about what kinds of projects are acceptable, and I'll find out. With your input, the city can address your needs most directly.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Port security grant

The council was recently informed that the port was successful in a grant from the FEMA Port Security Grant Program. We have been awarded over $1.6M for a number of projects:

1. The city will create the infrastructure to improve communications via telephone and video conferencing during an emergency.
2. The grant will support the purchase of additional data storage capacity to duplicate city data.
3. Fiber optic cable will be routed to most community and recreation centers to provide meeting places for citizens and alternate work locations for city personnel.
4. The city will purchase Voice Over IP systems to replace the existing phone system for city departments.
5. The grant will support improved training for emergencies for all departments.
6. The port will develop a continuity of operations plan to ensure maritime commerce is maintained after an incident.
7. ESP will receive facility security surveillance.

If you notice, only one of the items is port-specific. It is interesting to note that this grant is going to provide a great boost to our emergency operations while also upgrading our infrastructure across most departments, but we would not have received it if we didn't have a port. While we often try to keep various pots of money separate, the city is a complicated organism--the accountant's spreadsheets only can tell a portion of the story.

I am pleased that the city was successful on this grant. These infrastructure improvements will increase our safety after storms. In addition, elements like the VoIP system will improve our day-to-day operations and reduce future costs. Currently, capital improvements in the city are primarily limited to funding from the local option sales tax and grants like this. Sometimes it is necessary to spend money to save money, and this grant will help us do that.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Hollice Williams Visioning, round 2

Last October the city held a visioning workshop for citizens to share their ideas for the Hollice Williams park. This is the park that can be approximated as the space under I-110 from Jordan Street south. After that workshop, architects and designers worked to create a conceptual plan for the park space, and now you will have an opportunity to share your thoughts on the plan.

The meeting will be held Wednesday, February 24th, at 5:30 pm at City Hall. Please come and see the plan and let us know what you think. I have had a sneak preview of the framework, and it is exciting. There are many opportunities for citizens and citizen groups to get involved in shaping this project so that we can make this a signature park for our community.

I hope to see you there and hear your ideas for this unique property.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Parks calendar photo contest

The Pensacola Parks and Recreation Department is again soliciting photos for the annual parks calendar. The calendar for 2010, the first one, included many wonderful images of our parks. For 2011 there is a bit more notice, so you will have a chance to photograph your favorite park during multiple seasons. With over 90 parks in the city, there are many opportunities for finding a great shot. Submissions will be accepted until September 30, 2010. More information is available on the parks website.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

UWF Maritime Museum offer

We are getting closer to getting a final site plan for the maritime park. (See my recent post for a discussion of the site plan process.) Once a final site plan is approved, the developer can begin putting in roads, drainage, and other improvements, making visible progress on the project. Last week UWF presented the CMPA and the city a proposal for the museum location, along with several other requests that they believe are essential for their participation in the project.

We have a new impetus to get this site plan approved—a deadline for the New Market Tax Credits. These credits were offered to us last summer and would provide millions of dollars in “free money” to the project. We have received word that if we want these tax credits, we must commit by February 8th. So there is some urgency to reach a final agreement regarding the museum and UWF's other expectations for the project.

At our recent CMPA meeting we (I'm the council's representative on the CMPA board) approved the new site plan and UWF’s requests in concept, though many details were left pending. Now it is time for the city council to weigh in on the plan approved by the CMPA as well as on the items that are under City purview. The council had a brief meeting to review the proposal last week. A number of questions were raised. Many concerned the requirements for the tax credits. Others related to specific details in UWF’s request. While it is clear that a variety of concerns still linger, we agreed in concept with the proposal presented by the university.

A special meeting is scheduled for next Tuesday, February 2, to clarify City Council's position on those details. And I would like your feedback. It is vital that the public weigh in on details of this project.

The proposed site plan is to the right. A slightly different higher resolution is available. In addition to this plan, a sequence of previous site concepts were presented by UWF along with their comments. These include the Gindroz sketch and the design criteria package plan.

The following is a brief summary of the requests with some extra context:
  1. The commercial building to the north of the museum would be limited to 48 ft height and would be set back 75 ft from the waterfront.

  2. The developer will incur costs for numerous changes, including a retaining wall and accelerated dredging. (The city has provided $40M in bond proceeds to the CMPA for the construction of the park. Any additional costs for the developer would have to be paid out of those funds, necessitating reductions in other portions of the project.)

  3. A portion in the northwest corner of the site would be leased to UWF for a marine services center, including a boat lift and boat storage. (This would require a rezoning by the city to allow such uses.)

  4. UWF "is willing to entertain" an off-site location for the majority of their boat storage. (It is unclear at this time if they expect the city to provide that site.)

  5. The tax credits together with any other funds made available immediately to UWF by the CMPA must yield a minimum of $13.4M to UWF. (Current estimates predict a best case of $13.1M from the tax credits, about $7M worst case. The CMPA would need to take anywhere from $300,000 to $6M from another park element to meet this request.)

  6. The university must own the museum. (Lawyers are trying to determine if this request can be met under the tax credit regulations.)
These points sparked a brief discussion by council in our short meeting. Some of the concerns raised included:
  • whether boat storage on site is consistent with the park aesthetics
  • which park amenities would be reduced to fund the extra costs, and the impact of those reductions on those aspects of the park
  • the encroachment of the museum and research center into the southern park which had been designated for public open space
  • the economic vitality of the proposed site.
Our time was constrained, hence the need for the additional meeting on Tuesday to explore those concerns and others more fully. Because these are not just trivial details but concern everything from economic impact to aesthetics to allocation public space, I am eager to hear your reaction to the current proposal.

We were assured by UWF that they are still a willing partner in this project. If they can not receive the tax credits, they will revert to the original plan to raise the funds for the project. The city has committed to moving forward with the credits and expect at least $7M in credits at minimum which will enhance this project.

I am hopeful that we will resolve all of these concerns to everyone’s satisfaction, and we can continue on our path to building a centerpiece attraction for our community.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Green lights

Last summer I wrote about a new initiative by Gulf Power to install more environmentally friendly lighting. The lights recently were installed, and they are definitely worth a look.

The new lights are in the park-like space between the main Gulf Power building and 9th Av, between Salamanca and Romana. They utilize new LED street light technology and are part of a nationwide test program to assess the performance of LED lights as street lights. LEDs are more efficient than regular lighting, and we currently use them in our stop lights and pedestrian crossing lights. However, a few technical issues remain in determining if they are satisfactory for street lights; hence the test.

If this test is successful, switching our street lighting to LED would provide significant energy and, therefore, cost savings. The city spends $730,000 on electricity for street lights annually. These LED lights are 60W and replaced 100W fixtures. Switching all of the lights in this manner would lead to a 40% decrease in cost, a savings of nearly $300,000 each year. (Of course, there could be differences from this, depending on the wattage differences, and there would be costs of buying new equipment.) In addition to the energy savings, LED lights are expected to be replaced at much lower frequency, saving labor costs.

Check out the lights, day and night. Interestingly, they are opposite a few different kinds of lights for your comparison. One thing you might notice is that they are in a clear globe, but at night, the vast majority of the light shines down. This is an additional energy-saving feature--why would we need to light the sky? These lights are "semi-cutoff", allowing some light to go upwards, but directing most of it to where it is needed. (While you are down there, check out the lighting on Bayfront Parkway. On the southeast side, the lights that were replaced after Ivan are full-cutoff, meaning their light is only directed toward the ground, while those on the northwest side are more traditional street lights.)

The technology for energy efficient lighting is improving every year, and I am hopeful that this pilot program will prove a success, and we can move toward more efficient, environmentally-friendly lighting for our community.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Street Sweeping

I recently had a citizen ask me what the purpose of street sweeping is. From his house, the street doesn't look any cleaner, but it certainly is clear that it is a cost to the city--owning fancy equipment, maintaining and operating that equipment, and paying someone to drive it. Why do we spend that money?

My most distinctive thoughts about street sweeping, personally, come from my days living in Cambridge, MA, where twice a month I awoke to the sound of a loudspeaker on a car driving down the street announcing, "Street sweeping! All cars parked on the odd/even side of the road will be ticketed and towed." (Remember to read that with the requisite Boston accent....) In Cambridge, street sweeping seemed to make sense--there was just more litter from folks living densely.

Pensacola, though, is a relatively clean little city, so why should we have to sweep out streets? That is a very good question that deserves a good answer. The answer is that street sweeping is one of the best tools we have for maintaining the health of our waterways.

The City's street sweepers collect over 3000 tons of sediment a year. This is sediment, mostly sand, that does not end up in our bays and bayous. And the less stuff that goes into the water, the cleaner it is. This collection accounts for almost 70% of the total sediment we collect--the remainder is collected primarily by retention ponds and baffle boxes.

In addition to the sediment, the sweepers annually remove nearly 400 tons of organic debris. Organic debris is stuff like leaves that have fallen off a tree. Ordinarily, those leaves would wash into the bays and bayous. Decaying grass and leaves can decrease the oxygen in the water, leading to algae blooms and fish kills.

Since we don't have someone driving by with a loud speaker at some early hour, most of us don't even notice the sweepers coming through. We miss the weekly sweepings downtown and the monthly sweepings in residential areas. In the fall and spring, we also miss the bi-weekly sweepings near Bayou Texar.

Of course, the sweepers can't catch everything on that schedule. But each of us can do our part to help keep our waterways clean. For example, during the fall and spring, make an extra effort to rake up fallen leaves. Then bag them up (in a paper bag) for the sanitation trucks to take for composting at the landfill. There are some other tips on the city's website. [One other tip from that site I'd like to highlight: cleaning up after your dog. We typically think of this as a polite thing so others don't get a mess on their shoes, but the larger-scale reason is that animal waste can end up in our waterways, also contributing to the algae blooms and fish kills.]

I hope that this has helped clear up the mystery of why we sweep our streets. If there are other questions you have about city activities that you would like answered, please let me know. During the last year during council meetings, conversations with staff, or in an effort to find the answers to citizens questions, I have had many mysteries cleared up. I'd like the opportunity to help share this information with you or work to find the answers to your questions.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Zoning Board of Adjustment nominations

At the city council meeting on January 25, we will be considering candidates to fill a vacant seat on the Zoning Board of Adjustments. Nominations are due by noon, Friday, January 15. If you have an interest in serving on the board, please let me know. Nominees must be residents or property owners of the city. The appointee will fill an unexpired term which ends July 14, 2010, but could be renewed.

The Zoning Board of Adjustments reviews and grants or denies applications for variances, waivers, and special exceptions to the Land Development Code. In addition, it hears and decides appeals when it is alleged that there is error in any order, requirement, decision, or determination made by an administrative officer in the enforcement of the Land Development Code. More information on the board can be found on the city's website.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

New port tenant

The Port of Pensacola might not be changing course, but at least it may be on a new tack. . .

At a recent council meeting, we had a presentation on the future vision of the port which included many long term goals as well as some steps currently leading in new directions. One new business opportunity for the port is a partnership with Offshore Inland. This company is berthing its first vessel in the port now.

Who is Offshore Inland?
It is a company based in Mobile which provides mobilization and demobilization services for the offshore drilling companies. For example, when an oil company needs services on a rig, they contract with Offshore Inland. Offshore Inland then procures the equipment, loads the vessels and take them to the rigs. Offshore Inland then unloads the equipment and makes repairs to equipment on the rigs. This is just one of an array of services which they might perform.

How will they affect the economy in Pensacola? The port derives income from dockage fees and warehouse fees. While Offshore Inland has a boat at the port, they will pay dockage fees. They will also store equipment in the warehouses. These charges will help underwrite the costs of the port, especially because these boats will stay in port for extended stays (30 days in some cases) plus they expect to have 12-20 boats come in the upcoming year.

Economic Impact Multipliers. But the economic impact goes well beyond that. Offshore Inland is replacing the kitchen in the vessel which is currently at the port. So in addition to outfitting the new kitchen, they are employing a caterer to prepare the meals for the crew. Another ship scheduled to arrive in January will require that 50-60 skilled workers relocate here for 30 days to perform technical maintenance. In addition, they are hiring 30 welders/pipefitters from the local area to work on this project. Each project will be unique, requiring skilled workers from welders to computer engineers. As our relationship with Offshore Inland continues, they could tap local resources, like using local machine shops for custom machining. They might also lure their suppliers to relocate here.

Marketing the Port of Pensacola. During the presentation on the future of the port we saw materials used by Offshore Inland used in marketing their new partnership to their customers. It was very interesting to see the Port of Pensacola through the eyes of a maritime customer. It is clear that our Port has many qualities that port users are seeking. These include our proximity to the Gulf and rail and highway connections.

The Port as a Good Neighbor. Offshore Inland is a customer that we want. They are not noisy; they do not clutter our waterfront with unattractive outdoor storage; they will not require many trucks passing through our downtown; they employ skilled labor for long periods. Their presence will help underwrite the costs of the port while providing a needed boost to the local economy.

I am pleased that our port staff have worked to create this agreement with Offshore Inland. I look forward to a long-term, cooperative relationship with this company to demonstrate the value of the port to our local economy.

P.S. The issue of drilling off the coasts of Florida is currently being hotly debated. Offshore Inland is not a new venture spun off of this initiative. They have a long history in the maritime business and service rigs in the western Gulf of Mexico.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Maritime Park planning

The Community Maritime Park promises to be the single greatest legacy not just of this City Council but also of the civic-minded people living and working in Pensacola today. By developing this waterfront site, we have the unique opportunity to determine the shape of downtown Pensacola and the image of our community for many years to come. I am proud to serve as the council representative on the CMPA board.

The project recently passed a big milestone. The vast majority of our citizens indicated their support on moving forward by not participating in the petition drive. Bonds to underwrite the project were sold. We are now in a position to really push this project forward. And progress does continue to be made, with site work and planning.

When the concept of the Maritime Park was presented to the community, it was based on broad sketches that outlined a concept of the park. Ray Gindroz and Caldwell Associates developed the design criteria. The voters ratified the concept in a referendum. And many of us are eager to see this dream happen.

Having lived two blocks from Fenway Park in Boston, I can’t wait to take my kids to a ball game in the new stadium. And I look forward to Saturday afternoons with the kids at the maritime museum. I imagine the waterfront park could be a great place to fly kites. But I want it to happen while my kids are still kids….

But a good project will take time. Some of the most celebrated redevelopment projects in the country took many years. Fanueil Hall in Boston took 8 years to develop. Horton Plaza in San Diego opened 13 years after the City Council approved the original plan. Redevelopment of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor began in 1959, with Camden Yards stadium opening in 1998. And the plans for each of these projects changed on a regular basis, as the economy and participants shifted over time. We must remember that we are shaping one of this community’s most unique and valuable resources—the downtown waterfront—and we must do all that we can to ensure the long-term success of the design as well as economic viability of the project.

The overall price tag, the scale of the project, and the number of diverse groups with different interests working together as a team (the City, the CMPA board, UWF, the Studer Group, the Pelicans, the developer) make this project complex.

Recent CMPA meetings have focused on determining details of the site plan. At each stage of this project we have refined the plans, and we will continue to refine smaller and smaller details as we move forward. Now is the time in the project where we must finalize details such as where the roads and the building pads go, the site plan, etc. While the roads likely won’t move, we should still expect adjustments throughout this project, so this is not the last discussion on the site plan.

The discussions at this point are not a delay, and they are not covering things that have been decided before. Rather, they are the necessary refinements that must be made to make this a buildable, successful project.

At this point the various stakeholders are developing and refining their visions for site plans of their individual elements. And that is important. However, this project is more than the sum of its parts. We have come together as a team because we want to be part of and contribute to an exciting destination planned for the downtown waterfront as an asset to improve Pensacola. The success of each will be dependent on the success of the project as a whole.

I am eager to finalize the site plan so that this entire project can move forward and each member of the team can focus more on what they do best. The question we must ask ourselves as we look at the site plan is not what have we given up, but whether each element in the park will be successful in that plan. Can the individual and collective goals be met?

Recently many of the people involved in this project have been coming together to try and answer that question. I believe that the answer to that question can be yes, but only if we all remember that we are part of a team with a common, overarching goal. My hope is that in the next few weeks we will have a final site plan that embodies both the individual and collective goals of all participants in this project, particularly the goals of the citizens of Pensacola.

Many years from now the buildings we are currently dreaming of will still stand as a monument of our vision and perseverance. That is why it is critical that we work together and invest the extra time right now in fully vetting the site plan, so that this is a proud legacy for this generation of Pensacolians.