Maritime Park is Crucial to Redevelopment of Downtown

Pensacola News Journal

If city officials are starting to get anxious over pushing through with the Community Maritime Park because of property tax reform efforts in Tallahassee, it is time to get back on track.

The project is too important not just to downtown, but to the entire city.

If downtown is to redevelop and regain its power as a tax-generating revenue base for the city, waterfront redevelopment is going to be a key ingredient. That makes the Community Maritime Park a crucial anchor for downtown redevelopment.

Traditionally, downtowns were the economic center and tax base of cities. As suburbs expanded, the tax center shifted, putting more burden on residents. Redevelopment of downtown, with a commercial/business focus, can shore up the commercial tax base of the city and help hold down the burden on residential real estate. Just as important, it can energize downtown as a job creator.

Given the amount of time it has taken to get to this point, starting over would push waterfront redevelopment years into the future. It would mean more years of looking at a weed-filled lot.

Worse, the pressure to do something might lead to an expedient decision that serves the interestes of some developer or development group more than the city as a whole.

If that happens, full public access to this strip of waterfront could be lost, or at best put on hold for years to come.

The Community Maritime Park project was as thoroughly debated as anything in modern city history. The debate was capped off by a vote of city residents, and by a comfortable margin -- more than 55 percent -- they approved the project.

We understand the worries about what the state Legislature might do in terms of property tax reform. The Community Redevelopment Agency, which is targeted to provide the city's share of park funding, is an agency based on property taxes. So any significant change will have an impact.

But barring something truly irresponsible by the Legislature, the anticipation should be that if the state goes so far as to radically change the property tax system -- such as replacing it with something like an added sales tax -- there will still be a dedicated revenue stream.

Any legislation will have to deal with CRAs, which exist across the state; many of them have bond obligations, pledged to property tax revenues, that would have to be honored by any change in the tax system. Pensacola's CRA currently is carrying a small bond obligation through 2013.

Visiting urban planners and elected officials from more agressive cities, such as Mayor Joseph Riley of Charleston, S.C., immediately appreciate the value of Pensacola's waterfront, and wonder why the city has failed to take advantage of it.

Now that the city is poised to do just that, it needs continued leadership to make sure it happens.

Pensacola News Journal

If city officials are starting to get anxious over pushing through with the Community Maritime Park because of property tax reform efforts in Tallahassee, it is time to get back on track.

The project is too important not just to downtown, but to the entire city.

If downtown is to redevelop and regain its power as a tax-generating revenue base for the city, waterfront redevelopment is going to be a key ingredient. That makes the Community Maritime Park a crucial anchor for downtown redevelopment.

Traditionally, downtowns were the economic center and tax base of cities. As suburbs expanded, the tax center shifted, putting more burden on residents. Redevelopment of downtown, with a commercial/business focus, can shore up the commercial tax base of the city and help hold down the burden on residential real estate. Just as important, it can energize downtown as a job creator.

Given the amount of time it has taken to get to this point, starting over would push waterfront redevelopment years into the future. It would mean more years of looking at a weed-filled lot.

Worse, the pressure to do something might lead to an expedient decision that serves the interestes of some developer or development group more than the city as a whole.

If that happens, full public access to this strip of waterfront could be lost, or at best put on hold for years to come.

The Community Maritime Park project was as thoroughly debated as anything in modern city history. The debate was capped off by a vote of city residents, and by a comfortable margin -- more than 55 percent -- they approved the project.

We understand the worries about what the state Legislature might do in terms of property tax reform. The Community Redevelopment Agency, which is targeted to provide the city's share of park funding, is an agency based on property taxes. So any significant change will have an impact.

But barring something truly irresponsible by the Legislature, the anticipation should be that if the state goes so far as to radically change the property tax system -- such as replacing it with something like an added sales tax -- there will still be a dedicated revenue stream.

Any legislation will have to deal with CRAs, which exist across the state; many of them have bond obligations, pledged to property tax revenues, that would have to be honored by any change in the tax system. Pensacola's CRA currently is carrying a small bond obligation through 2013.

Visiting urban planners and elected officials from more agressive cities, such as Mayor Joseph Riley of Charleston, S.C., immediately appreciate the value of Pensacola's waterfront, and wonder why the city has failed to take advantage of it.

Now that the city is poised to do just that, it needs continued leadership to make sure it happens.