July 28, 2014

On the Waterfront- Northwest- Feb. 2003

Joan Hughes | 2/1/2003
For over 20 years, Pensacola's largest undeveloped tract of downtown property -- known as the Trillium site --- has lain vacant. Petroleum and arsenic contamination left by past tenants kept the city and potential developers away from the 27.5-acre waterfront property.

But as attendance at festivals and other events in the area began to grow -- with some events attracting up to 150,000 people -- city officials took another look. In May 2000, the city purchased the site for $3.5 million from the Trust for Public Land and began preparing for development -- rebuilding the eroded bulkhead, preparing a master plan and securing environmental permits.

Last November, after more than two years of meetings with focus groups and design contractors and with more than $10 million already invested in the site, the city council approved construction of a $27-million, 16-acre festival park on the site, including a 76,000-sq.-ft. auditorium.

Just when the deal appeared to be done, however, the city found itself defending the project against a group intent on halting it.

"I've spent the last four years focusing on the positive aspects of this project and the last several weeks focusing on the negative," says City Manager Thomas Bonfield. The thorn in the city's side? Citizens Against Trillium (CAT), a group formed to force a popular vote on the project. As of early January, CAT had obtained 97% of the required 5,550 signatures it needed to force a referendum vote, which could take place next month at the earliest.

"It's not so much that we're against that property being developed but that we're extremely concerned about the cost and the timing," says Michelle Schmitz, CAT co-chair. The Trillium-tagged $14.7 million in local option sales tax funds, the group contends, should be spent on a new library or improving community centers. CAT also objects to the $19.6 million the city will borrow, saying it's too much under current economic conditions.

Bonfield and many others, including the Citizens for Waterfront Access, which formed to battle CAT, have supported the project, which will replace the city's 50-year-old Bayfront Auditorium with a multiuse facility and provide a 780-foot promenade to accommodate cruise ships.

The development would also bring badly needed improvement to downtown's west side, long riddled by poverty and overshadowed by the Main Street sewage facility. The public would retain waterfront access, which has been a point of contention as development has proceeded on gated communities and private business nearby.

Bonfield is optimistic residents will rally around the proposed project. "This is transforming a brownfield site to a greenfield site, and I don't see how the property can be better utilized."

IN THE NEWS

Chipley -- The Panhandle Area Educational Consortium, an independent alliance of 14 area school districts, has received a $1.28-million state grant to build the Teaching and Leadership Academy, a $10-million, 104,000-sq.-ft. training facility for northwest Florida education professionals.

Franklin County -- The state's $10.2-million purchase of 2,851 acres from the St. Joe Co. (NYSE-JOE) has tripled the size of Bald Point State Park.

Freeport -- Putting dollars behind his desire to "promote biodiversity," south Walton County businessman M.C. Davis has established the private Nokuse Plantation with a $40-million purchase of 40,000 undeveloped acres, creating an east-west corridor connecting 900,000 acres of public conservation lands.

Leon County -- The county's new targeted business pilot program, aimed at enterprises such as technology, telecom, insurance and finance, allows officials to grant new or expanding businesses up to 100% reimbursement for development fees and ad valorem tax.

Navarre Beach -- A legal battle is raging between beach residents and the Santa Rosa County property appraiser, who in 2001 began issuing property tax bills based on $262 million in land improvements on leased beach property.

Okaloosa and Walton Counties -- Two newly elected commissioners are leading another mediation attempt to settle lawsuits between Okaloosa and Walton counties over the U.S. 98 developments of Destin Commons in Okaloosa and nearby Grand Boulevard at Sandestin in Walton. At issue is limited traffic capacity that could derail further development along the area's U.S. 98 corridor.

Pace -- Air Products & Chemicals plans to phase out methanol and ammonia production at its Pace plant and instead buy from outside sources, reducing nitrous oxide emissions by 55% but forcing up to 75 layoffs.

Pensacola -- The Department of Environmental Protection has purchased an additional 186 acres for $1.2 million for the Perdido Pitcher Plant Prairie Preserve, protecting 2.5 miles of Perdido Bay from development.

Pensacola Regional Airport saw a record 637,885 passengers board planes in the 2002 fiscal year, a 21.7% increase -- largely because of new service by AirTran.

Santa Rosa Beach -- The $53-million, 50-bed Sacred Heart Hospital on the Emerald Coast opened in January.

Tallahassee -- The 158-year-old Old Capitol, closed in 2002 for $3 million in renovations, has reopened as the Florida Center of Political History and Governance.

With 1,464 students in 37 programs studying abroad in 2000-01, Florida State University ranks fourth among U.S. research institutions, up from 10th place in 1999-2000.

The MDS Research Foundation has given $11 million to FSU, triggering a $68-million package from sources, including $11 million in state matching funds, to benefit chemistry education and research.

West Florida -- Heavy rainfalls from Tropical Storm Hanna and Hurricane Isidore have resulted in some of the worst crop yields in decades -- 75% to 85% losses in Escambia County and 50% to 65% in Santa Rosa, Okaloosa and Walton counties. In addition, prices fell because of the poor quality of the crops.

Internet Crime
CYBERSECURITY INSTITUTE

TALLAHASSEE -- The Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the National White Collar Crime Center and Florida State University have joined forces to create the Florida Cybersecurity Institute to aid in combating cybercrime, which is estimated to have increased 142% nationwide in the past two years alone. Florida ranks second in the U.S. in internet fraud-related complaints.

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