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.