Reprinted from the June 9th Panama City New Herald, Ali Helgoth, News Herald Writer.
PANAMA CITY — Panama City’s plans to redevelop the downtown marina include bringing private enterprise to help invigorate the area’s economy. But, before city officials can try to convince businesses to locate there, they have to convince state officials to allow it. Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) Director William Whitson said he is hopeful discussions will go well and the issue will be resolved this summer, keeping the project on schedule.
“The state talks about wanting economic development, so here’s a real opportunity to help create jobs and to partner together, and that’s what we’re hoping we can achieve out of this process,” he said.
The marina property was built up more than 50 years ago and leased to the city for public use. Commercial enterprises are not considered public purposes, so before the project can be a revenue generator, which is a goal, the lease must be changed.
In a letter written earlier this week to Whitson, William Harrison, an attorney hired by the city to represent its interests in the process of changing the lease, outlined the recent history of the lease.
In December 1991, the state leased the marina property “only for public purposes,” and in January 2011 renewed the lease through 2018 for operation of the marina and boat ramp with an upland commercial marina, he wrote.
Harrison is waiting for a determination from the state about whether a change in the lease is needed before the first phase of renovations can begin.
Phase one, which is still on schedule, includes rerouting parking for those who use the boat ramp, seawall repair and the lighthouse park, which will include a splash pad and an amphitheater, among other features. It is estimated to cost $3.92 million. The total cost of the project is estimated between $11 million and $28 million. The difference is attributed to questions about the extent of work needed to repair or replace the seawall. Changes to the submerged land lease likely would be needed before construction begins on the second phase. It includes improvements to the city park, the area between City Hall and the civic center, and at City Hall. There are pads identified for potential commercial use, and Mayor Greg Brudnicki has advocated relocating City Hall to allow the area to be used for commercial purposes. He has spoken in support for a major attraction, like an aquarium.
During a CRA meeting at 4 p.m. Tuesday, Harrison will give an update on the process of changing the lease and explain the different avenues for commercial development on the marina. In his June 4 letter, Harrison wrote the city has two paths to reaching its objectives: be the developer or sublease specific locations for private development.
Harrison recommended “the CRA as sub-lessor be given serious consideration.”
Whitson said he’s not sure which way the CRA board, which is comprised of city commissioners, will want to go.
“I don’t know yet,” he said. “I think it’s kind of early yet to figure out exactly how we’re going to approach this.”
Panama City Marina
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