January 22, 2020
Former Navy land is Escambia's “field of dreams”

Photo:

The land was formerly owned by the Department of Defense.

Northwest Florida Roundup

Former Navy land is Escambia's “field of dreams”

Carlton Proctor | 3/27/2019

Field of Dreams
Escambia wants 1,000 new jobs on its newly acquired Navy land.

After years of negotiations with the U.S. Navy, Escambia County took ownership in late January of a prime 636-acre site adjacent to Navy Federal Credit Union’s 306-acre Pensacola area campus.

Formerly owned by the Department of Defense, the land was used for decades as a helicopter training field. Over the past five years, Escambia County has spent more than $17 million to buy the land, with the understanding that it will build a new, similar-sized helicopter training field to replace the previous one. Current appraisals value the 1-square-mile site at $28 million to $32 million.

Meanwhile, the site, also known as OLF 8, is attracting private interest. In January, Hemmer Consulting of Pensacola and 68 Ventures of Spanish Fort, Ala., offered Escambia County commissioners $18 million for 536 of the 636 acres. Navy Federal is offering $4.2 million for 100 acres.

Navy Federal spokesman Bill Pearson says the 100 acres are critical to the credit union’s master plan for its rapidly growing $1.2-billion campus. If the sale is approved, Navy Federal says it will add 300 jobs to its 7,000-employee workforce, Pearson says.

Escambia County Commissioner Jeff Bergosh, whose district includes the site, has said the 300 Navy Federal jobs would help the county reach its goal of creating 1,000 jobs at the OLF 8 site.

INNOVATION
Robot Race

The Toyota Foundation has named the Pensacola- based Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition a finalist in the $4-million global Mobility Unlimited Challenge. The five finalists, chosen from 80 international entries, include teams from Japan, Italy, the United Kingdom and two from the U.S. The winner will be awarded $1 million in 2020 in Tokyo.

Led by senior research scientist Peter Neuhaus (pictured), the IHMC team will receive an initial $500,000 grant to develop wearable robotics, powered exoskeletons and legged locomotion devices for people with lower limb paralysis.

“We’ll be building a new device, and it will involve considerable hardware development,” says Neuhaus. “We’ll be leveraging software, tools and algorithms for balance that we’ve developed in our robotics program.”

IHMC is partnering with Myolyn, a medical technology company based in Gainesville.

BANKING

  • Jacksonville-based VyStar Credit Union is acquiring Citizens State Bank, a longtime fixture in the Perry and Steinhatchee communities. Citizens State Bank has assets of more than $280 million. The sale price was not disclosed.

COMMUNICATIONS

  • Retirement Systems of Alabama bought the Mayo Free Press, a weekly newspaper covering the Lafayette County region.

HEALTH CARE

  • Lighthouse Health Plan has launched a doctor-led Medicaid health plan based in Pensacola. The company’s CEO, Christie Spencer, says Lighthouse expects to hire some 100 employees as it ramps up service.
  • Gulf Coast Regional Medical Center in Panama City is back at full operational levels following damage from Hurricane Michael last fall. CEO Brad Griffin says all of the hospital’s 216 beds are now available to patients.

NON-PROFITS/PHILANTHROPY

  • Greater Pensacola Chamber CEO and former Florida Rep. Clay Ingram is the new CEO of Volunteer Florida. Gov. Ron DeSantis tapped Ingram for the job in January. The state agency coordinates volunteer organizations across Florida and administers more than $30 million in federal and state funding for national service and volunteer programs.
  • Former Suwannee Lumber CEO and Chairman Frank “Bump” Faircloth of Perry and Blue Wolf Capital Partners, a New York-based private equity firm, are donating $1 million to the Dixie County community. The funds will be distributed in $50,000 increments to four Dixie County charities over a five-year period.

POLITICS/GOVERNMENT

  • Facing a projected $450-million disaster recovery bill, Bay County leaders say public services may face sharp cuts and property and sales taxes raised to overcome the severe property damage caused by Hurricane Michael. Bay County officials also are bracing for an estimated $10 million reduction in property tax revenue for the 2019 budget and beyond due to hurricane destruction.

TECHNOLOGY

  • AppRiver, a cyber-security company based in Gulf Breeze, has reached an agreement to be acquired by Dallas-based email security firm Zix for $275 million. Founded in 2002 by Michael Murdoch and Joel Smith, AppRiver has more than 60,000 customers and 270 employees with satellite offices in Atlanta, Austin, Canada, Spain and Switzerland. AppRiver executives say they are not expecting changes to the company’s staffing or core operations as a result of the acquisition.

TOURISM

  • DeFuniak Springs in Walton County has been named the Best Small Town in Florida by MSN.com’s Insider Online. The article cites the town’s Victorian charm, “welcoming atmosphere” and highlights the Walton County library, the oldest public library in Florida.

TRANSPORTATION

  • CSX and RailUSA were unable to come to terms on a proposed sale of 373 miles of CSX track from Jacksonville to Tallahassee to Pensacola.
  • A Georgia company is seeking more than $47 million from Triumph Gulf Coast — an entity created to distribute funds from the BP oil spill settlement — to create a biomass production facility at the port of Port St. Joe. Twin Rivers Land and Timber of Perry, Ga., is seeking the Triumph grant to build the facility to make use of the millions of trees downed by Hurricane Michael and to reforest thousands of acres of timberland devastated by the October storm.

REAL ESTATE

  • Palace Partners has announced plans for a 25-story condominium on a nine-acre parcel on Panama City Beach with 850 feet of Gulf-front frontage. The Palace Sands project will offer units from $570,000 to $2.7 million, says Palace Partners’ developer Michael Jones.
  • West Virginia-based developer Mountain Shore Properties plans to build a five-story Hyatt House hotel in the Railroad Square Art Park area in downtown Tallahassee. The proposed development includes a 6,000-sq.-ft., stand-alone retail building.

Read more in our April issue.

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