Posted November 14, 2017
One of the most effective things to do in public service is to listen. Not only do you get to hear what others are thinking, every now and then you learn things you had not thought about.
Recently I had a meeting with Sam Horton, a member of the last city charter commission. We met to discuss thoughts on the city charter and the roles of the various branches. However, in discussion it turned to current events facing the city.
As an African-American, Sam is concerned about urban issues and had been talking about the need for annexation. During our discussion, I was lamenting the problems the county faces in providing urban services on a traditional rural form of government and tax basis. However, I expressed that I did not see large scale annexation as an option due to the voting requirement of those being annexed.
He then asked me about my thoughts on the hatchery. I told him that I favored the hatchery, not only for the jobs it provided, but also for the opportunity to establish some form of marine research in Pensacola and NW Florida. I went on to explain that the research synergy was one reason I really thought the port location was far superior to the proposed Bruce Beach.
He then said something that I had not thought of, but it made so much sense. He said why would the city, with limited borders, give away a location that could produce significant tax revenue, both property taxes and sales tax. I really had not thought about that kind of use and the revenue that could be generated. Bruce Beach with its access to the Maritime Park and views of the bay would be perfect for hospitality, restaurant or retail, the kind of uses that generate a large portion of our property and sales taxes.
He went on to say that those types of properties would adapt well to public uses such as a walkway along the beach that connects to the Maritime Park and provides actual pedestrian access to the beach. He was so right. The city could make these public amenities that were touted with the hatchery a part of any private development. Looking at other waterfronts I have seen in Miami, Tampa, Long Beach and San Diego, retailers, restaurants and hospitality love a location where people a drawn to them.
In the right RFP, we, the City of Pensacola, could have the amenities we want as well as the uses that generate not only a complimentary service but one that enhances our tax base and not detracting from it. These types of waterfront projects are even more important when the city considers the challenges in providing services with a limit city jurisdiction with no realistic option for boundary expansion.
Still the bigger question is, why is construction so far behind to create this deficiency in the lease or why was this not addressed earlier as the May construction requirement date approached? Now that we find ourselves in this position, has the city asked FWC if they could reestablish the project with a new lease in a new location? If we could move the hatchery, why would we not?
Generally, I have found FWC and DEP good to work with. Whether NRDA or NFWF monies, they have been good partners to work through the challenges of construction. We, at the county, certainly had them but we have been able to work together to resolve. However, all of these questions require competent and consistent leadership. The better question for the citizens of Pensacola, is why hasn’t city leadership worked to prevent this problem and what are they doing to create a solution?
— Grover Robinson