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.