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.