Pensacola developer Quint Studer wants the City of Pensacola to terminate a lease with the State for Florida in its $19 million public redevelopment of a contaminated fill site along Pensacola Bay in the Tanyard neighborhood of downtown Pensacola.
Studer made his plea in a letter to Mayor Ashton Hayward and the Pensacola City Council Monday.
“At this point in time, I urge you to exercise your right to terminate the lease with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission,” Studer wrote, apparently referring to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Bruce Beach tapped as preferred site for hatchery project
In 2014, the city and FWC signed a lease for 10-acres of waterfront land between the Community Maritime Park and Joe Patti’s Seafood Market in downtown Pensacola. The lease allowed FWC to begin plans to build an $18.8 million Florida Gulf Coast Marine Fisheries Hatchery and Enhancement Center.
The project, fully funded from fines paid by BP in the wake of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, will allow FWC to build and operate a sports fisheries hatchery and marine research lab. FWC would raise sports fish, such as Red Snapper, and release them into the Gulf of Mexico. The project cost includes five years of funding to operate the facility.
Choosing Pensacola for the project wasn’t always certain, however. During initial planning for a hatchery in Northwest Florida, several possible sites were considered for the project. If the City of Pensacola did not cooperate with the FWC, it’s likely the project — and its $18.8 million investment — would have moved to a different county, such as Walton County.
Under the terms of the lease, FWC will operate the facility for 30 years. If the state agency decides to abandon the project after five years of funding has been depleted, the facility would revert back to the city at no cost.
Studer’s reversal on hatchery follows reversal on Main Street site plans
Before Monday’s letter, Studer officially supported the project. Prior to the project being approved by the City Council in 2014, Studer wrote a letter of support for the project to councilmembers and Hayward.
“Even if the hatchery does not work out, the worst case scenario is that the city has remediated the land which is safe and open to the public,” Studer said in May 2014.
Additionally, Studer supported the project through his now since dissolved news outlet, Pensacola Today.
“The proposed fishery enhancement center…is that 10-acre site’s best chance at having another lease on life,” Studer editor Shannon Nickinson wrote in April 2014. “Because whoever builds there is going to face mitigation expenses. And there is no line of other suitors formed anywhere waiting to take that property off of the city’s hands.”
The lease between the city and FWC to build was signed in 2014, one year before Studer purchased a vacant 19-acre property on Main Street, where the Emerald Coast Utilities Authority once operated its main wastewater treatment facility. Studer’s property is directly adjacent to the Bruce Beach site.
“In the past, I expressed to many of your my support for the Pensacola Fish Hatchery project at Bruch Beach,” Studer said. “At the time, I did not nearly know as much as I do now about what makes communities grow and thrive.”
During his bid to purchase the site for $5 million from ECUA nearly three years ago, Studer made multiple promises to ECUA board members, committing to redevelop the 19-acre Main Street property “just as soon as possible.” In 2016, The Pulse revealed Studer had reversed on his statements and the developer admitted he was now land-banking the property to potentially sell to another developer.
“The first phase is just to make this vibrant just as soon as possible,” Studer told ECUA board members in November 2014. “That would include public restrooms and a concession stand to really open this up to the community as quickly as possible. We think it’s important to bring the community down to this property and make it as vibrant as possible,” Studer said.
“We don’t want it to sit stagnant,” Studer told the Pensacola News Journal in 2014.
Contrary to claims by Studer, hatchery project implements many CRA recommendations
Studer claims his reversal in opinion has nothing to do with his recent purchase of the 19-acre Main Street property.
“Critics may suggest this position change is based on our ownership of the former ECUA treatment plant north of Bruce Beach,” Studer said. “If the hatchery fulfilled the promise of the [CRA] plan by creating better public water access, promoting residential development, and strengthening neighborhoods — the public would not be questioning the appropriateness of moving forward.”
Studer cites a 2010 Community Redevelopment Agency report that conceptualized redevelopment of the site into a public amenity with nature trails and public water access. Contrary to Studer’s assertions, the FWC project plans for the site show the site plan is very similar to the 2010 CRA report conceptual renderings, with the FWC project including preservation of heritage oak trees, construction of a Baywalk demonstration trail, a pedestrian bridge over Washerwoman’s Creek, and public access to the waterfront. Much of the site is also being reserved for future redevelopment.
Additionally, the city and FWC have coordinated with the University of West Florida Historic Trust to extend UWF’s Maritime Heritage Trail into the Bruce Beach site, installing educational signage detailing the history of Pensacola’s Tanyard neighborhood and the site’s former uses.
The project site has been home to a myriad of uses throughout its history. As far back as 1919, the Bruce Dry Dock Company operated at the site, acting as an industrial repair dry dock for larger commercial ships.
In the years following the Great Depression, the property became a public beach of sorts, known as Bruce Beach. Historical documents show the beach was utilized by the largely African-American community of the Tanyard and Belmont-DeVilliers neighborhoods. Up until the latter half of the 20th century, African-Americans were banned from most public beaches throughout the Pensacola area.
For much of the past half-century, the waterfront site has remained undeveloped and littered with debris and waste. During construction of the Community Maritime Park, of which Studer was a major partner, contaminated dirt and other material was transferred to and dumped at the Bruce Beach site. Cleanup and remediation of the site are also being funded by FWC.
“We want this development to be an amenity to the public.”
Within the 24,000 square foot facility, a classroom will be built to allow students and visitors to partake in experiments and lessons marine science. A public environmental education center will also be implemented within the first floor of the building.
Additionally, the public will be able to see fish within the aquaculture labs and have access to interactive displays. Plans call for cameras to be set up in the saltwater tanks that will then be broadcast to live monitors throughout the facility.
An observation corridor will also be located on the second floor, offering panoramic views over Pensacola Bay.
“When we designed the building we knew it had to do a number of things,” said architect Mike Marshall with Sam Marshall Architects. “The primary function of the facility is to grow fish, but also to use it as an outreach opportunity. We want this development to be an amenity to the public.”
To improve pedestrian access to the site, a 10 foot wide, 94 foot long wood deck pedestrian bridge crossing will be built over Washerwoman’s Creek, allowing access from the Community Maritime Park.
Project architects said the bridge will be illuminated and accessible at night, along with walking trails throughout the property to experience the active wildlife along the waterfront. The beach shoreline of the property will also be restored to allow for waterfront access by kayakers and other small vessels.
“We really enjoy how much the site has been made publicly accessible,” said McRae. “This site is beautiful — once you get to be able to see it.”
While the nearly $19 million project has faced delays due to project planning, state officials said this week that the project is still on track and is expected to be open to the public by 2020.
“The project is still on track,” said FWC spokesman Katie Purcell. “We commenced construction within the 3-year window and plan to complete construction within the next 3-year period.”
Read Studer’s letter to Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward and the City Council:
See project plans of the facility: