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Pensacola City Council members could take action next week to clarify a disputed lease for a proposed $19 million marine research center at the city’s Bruce Beach property.

Originally approved in 2011, the planned Gulf Coast Marine Fisheries Hatchery & Enhancement Center would use money from BP’s Deepwater Horizon settlement to clean up the long-vacant property and establish a fully-contained fish hatchery and marine research facility. The project would also restore public access to the property for the first time in more than 30 years, with pedestrian paths, a bridge over Washerwoman’s Creek, and historical markers.

Conceptual rendering of the planned Gulf Coast Marine Fisheries Hatchery & Enhancement Center. (City of Pensacola/Special to The Pulse)

Council members approved a lease with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in 2014, and after eight public meetings, approved the site plan for the project at the Bruce Beach site in 2016.

But recent opposition from developer Quint Studer, who previously supported the project, has given new life to critics of the project. The Pensacola News Journal has frequently editorialized against the project in recent months, and Pensacola residents Dan Lindemann and Jerry Holzworth have filed suit against the city and the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The suit argues that construction hasn’t commenced within the timeframe outlined in the lease, and the lease should thus be voided.

That’s why Mayor Ashton Hayward and Councilwoman Jewel Cannada-Wynn are asking council members to approve the lease clarification, which would affirm that construction on the project has started and would extended the timeline for construction to be completed until January 1, 2022.

Some, including Councilman Brian Spencer — also previously a strong supporter of the project at the Bruce Beach site — have argued in favor of moving the facility to a site at or near the Port of Pensacola, including potentially the state-owned port administration building. Both the city and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, have said that the lease for Bruce Beach remains valid. State officials in October released bid documents for the project to contractors.

The overgrown Bruce Beach site has sat vacant for decades. (Special to The Pulse)

Council members are set to discuss the issue first at an agenda conference on Monday and then at their regular meeting on Thursday, Dec. 14. That meeting will begin at 5:30 p.m. in the council chambers on the first floor of City Hall, located at 222 West Main Street in downtown Pensacola.

Read the proposed lease clarification:

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