Pensacola’s Downtown Improvement Board needs a new home, and it’s looking more likely that they’ll find it at City Hall.
The agency — which manages downtown parking and special events like Gallery Night — is looking for new office space after the Rhodes Building, where their offices are currently located, was sold by developer Quint Studer last year. The building’s new owners have asked the DIB to be out by April.
Mayor Ashton Hayward and some city council members have suggested the DIB use vacant space on the third floor of City Hall. The floor is currently used by the City Clerk’s office as well as the City Council and staff, but a number of offices remain vacant.
City councilman Larry B. Johnson said Thursday that he plans to place an item about the issue on the agenda for February’s city council meeting. Johnson says he’s spoken with DIB officials about their needs and has directed city council executive Don Kraher to compile an “inventory” of the offices on the third floor of City Hall.
Kraher returned those results to Johnson on Thursday afternoon, saying that between the east and west wings of the floor, there are eight open offices, though one is occasionally used by council members and another is being utilized as a break room. There’s also a large unfurnished area in the middle of the council wing which could be used for cubicles. Johnson said DIB officials have told them they need five or six cubicles and one or two offices.
Nonetheless, the move could meet with opposition from city council president Charles Bare, who has expressed concerns about sharing space with another agency. “I believe it would be a challenge to embed another agency with us as we move forward,” Bare wrote in an email to DIB chairman John Peacock. Bare and Peacock have recently been engaged in a war of words after Bare criticized the DIB in a recent interview with Pensacola Magazine, calling the agency “ineffective.” Peacock sharply rebuked Bare at the council’s January 14 meeting, calling Bare’s comments “disturbing.”
“This board is responsible for making the DIB more efficient than ever, and we tried to make it even more efficient by maybe, possibly moving into City Hall,” said Peacock. “The mayor thought it was a great idea. Our council president doesn’t think we have room on the third floor. I guess we need more city council staff.”
The city council is currently in the process of filling various positions after voters in 2014 gave the council the broad authority to hire staff. In October, council members hired Kraher as council executive, and at the January 14 meeting approved the hiring of two new assistants. In a meeting held earlier this week, council members also discussed hiring an attorney and budget analyst.
“I understand that Councilman Bare feels we need offices for more council staff, but with so many open offices, I can’t imagine we will need them all,” Johnson said Thursday. “I would like to use this opportunity to save the taxpayers some dollars.”
Councilman Andy Terhaar told NewsRadio 1620 on Tuesday that he felt there was ample space at City Hall for the DIB and that he would be “100% for it.”
In order to relocate to City Hall, the DIB would have to amend its bylaws, which currently require the agency’s offices to be located within the DIB district; City Hall sits just outside the boundary. The DIB plans to meet February 2 to consider the bylaws change.