Over the past ten years, Quint Studer and his wife Rishy have made tremendous investments in the city of Pensacola.
The Studers have spent tens of millions of dollars purchasing and renovating downtown storefronts, bringing a first-class minor league baseball team to town, and supporting entrepreneurship, education, and more. They’ve helped spark redevelopment in places like Belmont-Devilliers. Quint and Rishy deserve as much credit for Pensacola’s resurgence as anyone.
Without a doubt, Quint Studer is an incredible asset to Pensacola. But he isn’t — and shouldn’t be — a sacred cow.
I’m no Studer hater. I supported the Community Maritime Park project. I was there for the groundbreaking. I’ve been to probably a hundred Blue Wahoos games. I frequent the downtown shops and restaurants that the Studers have made possible. And as someone who believed in Pensacola while many if not most of my high school classmates fled for other cities, I’m deeply grateful for the investments he’s made in the city that I love and that he chose to call home.
But the millions Quint Studer has invested into Pensacola doesn’t grant him immunity from public scrutiny. Those dollars don’t — or at least they shouldn’t — buy Mr. Studer a press which prints only press releases and puff pieces without asking the tough questions. And when people ask those tough questions — whether they’re reporters or government officials or citizens — it doesn’t mean they’re being negative or obstructionist or crazy. It means they’re being responsible.
Development incentives that use millions in taxpayer dollars deserve scrutiny. Land deals that involve public property deserve scrutiny. Promises made by public figures deserve scrutiny. Without a doubt, Quint Studer is an incredible asset to Pensacola. But he isn’t — and shouldn’t be — a sacred cow. He’s a generous and gifted businessman, for sure, but he isn’t our city’s savior. He’s a human being, just like you and me, and as we’ve seen with ventures like BLAB-TV and Bubba’s Sweet Spot, he’s not immune to failure or incapable of breaking promises.
So let’s let go of the notion that scrutinizing Mr. Studer’s development deals — particularly when they involve public dollars — is somehow anti-business, anti-progress, or anti-Studer. Sure, there are a few rabid Studer-haters out there. Most of us, though, are smart enough to appreciate what the Studers have done for Pensacola while knowing that a little due diligence and fact-checking never hurt anyone.
Those dollars don’t — or at least they shouldn’t — buy Mr. Studer a press which prints only press releases and puff pieces without asking the tough questions.
While we’re at it, let’s all take a deep breath and accept that fact that no matter how much we appreciate what he’s done, Mr. Studer isn’t the messiah. Let’s have enough pride in our city to believe that its future doesn’t ride on this one guy. Let’s recognize that he’s a businessman, not an altruistic benefactor. As exciting as his proposed $50 million redevelopment project at the former News Journal site may be, it’s a business venture, not a gift to Pensacola. If it was charity, we wouldn’t be talking about tax incentives.
But we are talking about tax incentives. We’re talking about millions of dollars — public dollars — that would be used to build a privately-owned parking garage. And if it was anyone else, we’d expect the media and local government to make sure all the t’s were crossed and i’s were dotted. We’d expect the media and local government to evaluate a developer’s past promises and to look out for the taxpayers.
And so it should be with Mr. Studer.