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.