A much-discussed plan to build a new arena complex in Pensacola could come to a vote at Thursday’s meeting of the Escambia County Commission.
The proposal, submitted by a development consortium called Pensacola Arena Development Partners, calls for the public-private development of a new arena, field house, hotel, and retail complex that would effectively replace the 33-year-old Pensacola Bay Center. Several sites have been considered for the proposed project, which first surfaced last July as the community competed to host the New Orleans Pelicans’ new minor league basketball team.
Commissioners have discussed the proposal several times — as well as a proposal by Bay Center manager SMG to update the existing facility — but haven’t committed to moving forward with a new arena. That could change Thursday, as commission chairman Jeff Bergosh plans to push for a vote on an interim agreement between the county and PADP.
“It is time to fish or cut bait,” Bergosh wrote in a blog post Wednesday.
Project hinges on $25 million Triumph request
If commissioners approve the agreement, the county would move forward with an independent financial analysis and feasibility study. The agreement stresses that the county will not “under any circumstances” use local option sales tax or general fund revenue to finance the project. Commissioner Doug Underhill has repeatedly said he would not support the new arena proposal without such a guarantee.
With commissioners unwilling to spend tax dollars on the project, its proposed public-private funding structure rests in large part on a $25 million request for Triumph Gulf Coast funding, a pot of money being distributed as a result of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Under the proposal, PADP would essentially front the entire $80 million or more cost for both the public and private portions of the project, and the county would use the Triumph money and other sources to repay PADP for the public improvements over a 30-year period.
Commission could determine whether arena is built downtown
The original proposal for the new arena complex contemplated two potential sites: the existing Bay Center property and the former site of the Main Street Wastewater Treatment Plant, now owned by developer Quint Studer. But it’s since discovered that neither site would be eligible to receive federal new market tax credits that developers have said are a critical part of the financing plan.
Jay Patel, the local hotelier leading the PADP consortium, said in March that he is open to considering locations north of Interstate 10 for the project. Building the new arena in downtown Pensacola without new market tax credits would likely require commissioners to approve adding a fifth cent to the county’s tourist development tax.
County staffers have said that the Triumph Gulf Coast board likely won’t take action on the arena’s $25 million funding request until commissioners and developers choose a location for the arena.
Patel said Thursday that if the interim agreement is approved, PADP would take 60-90 days to complete due diligence before bringing forward two potential project sites — one downtown and one north of the Interstate — at which point commissioners would have to make the decision.