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Mayor Hopeful About Covid, Future of Port

via Facebook

Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson rolled out a laundry list of topics for his weekly virtual news conference on Monday, including a glimpse into the future of the city’s port.

As is the case each Monday, first up were the local numbers from the coronavirus pandemic.

“With regards to COVID-19 there are now 9,508 positive cases in Escambia County; 8,615 are residents,” said Robinson. Our last state update showed 18.8% positivity rate for Aug. 8; this follows a 25% positivity rate and a 20% rate on Aug. 7 and a 20% on August 6.”

After some positive trending down, there’s been a bit of a spike upward. The mayor says it’s not known if it’s data-driven or not, but it is a challenge.

“The number we follow the most is certainly hospitalizations; as of [Sunday] we were down to 187 in the hospital,” Robinson said. “This follows 193 from Aug. 8, 200 on Aug. 7 and 197 on Aug. 6.”

The best actions to take, said Robinson, are the actions already being taken: hand-washing, social distancing -- and masking up in public.

“Even Escambia County is saying, ‘Yes, you need to wear a mask;’ the fact that they don’t want to pull up any other way [to enforce it], that’s the way they’ve looked to deal with it,” the mayor said.

The Escambia County Commission last week voted 4-1 to reject an ordinance mandating face coverings, but on the next vote did pass a resolution encouraging their use. The proposal mirrored that of the Pensacola’s mask ordinance, which according to code enforcement is enjoying extensive cooperation.

“We’ve looked at education as a means of enforcement; I know that whenever we’ve gone to businesses,” said Robinson. “I talked to [code enforcement chief] Steve Richards; they’ve gone to businesses [and] Steve’s position has been ‘We’ve never had to go back to another business.’ They’ve generally complied.”

On another front, Robinson discussed the future of the Port of Pensacola, including a proposed lease of space by the custom boat maker Streamline Performance Boats. A proposed 10-year lease is in limbo because of a lawsuit against the Pensacola owner – Woody Dillard -- alleging fraud, and for more vetting by the city.

“We were much more focused on making sure downtown was not going to be adversely impacted, and I really think the lease shows a real focus on that,” said the mayor. “I think it’s a much better lease, a much better idea of where we are going forward.”

If and when it’s up and running, Streamline Performance is expected to create a yet-to-be-determined number of jobs.

Credit City of Pensacola
Port of Pensacola

“At this point they’re looking to be around 45, but I think their ultimate goal is to get up around 100,” Robinson said. “We certainly don’t want to limit them to what they do as they move forward, but we think it’s something that can be very good for the port. Our expectation at the port is hoping to be able to expand opportunities with people like Blue Origin and Offshore Inland.”

The key to the port’s future, contends Robinson, is to diversify.

“We’re even talking to some people right now about things that we can do,” said the mayor. “We’ve put out a group of land on the north end [of the port] that we would even move the fence line and do non-traditional port things there. We’ve got a hotel that was talking to us.”

That’s one of the ideas of “non-traditional” uses for the port that are being studied by the city – but the mayor says there’s at least one common thread among them.

“They’ll bring in income, they’ll bring in jobs; and they’re all compatible with our downtown uses,” said Robinson. “We’re excited about the prospects of the port and we think the port can be a much bigger player in our economic future in a lot of different ways. It may not be the traditional ways that the port has done it; but that doesn’t mean we can make it a real engine for what we do going forward.”

And Robinson had an update on the city’s effort to secure federal funding from the CARES Act – aimed at providing help with COVID-19 related financial problems. Escambia County’s $57 million share is controlled by the county commission, with the city seeking at least $10.4 million.

Dave came to WUWF in September, 2002, after 14 years as News Director at the Alabama Radio Network in Montgomery, Mobile and Birmingham and a total of 27 years in commercial radio. He's also served as Alabama Bureau Chief for United Press International, and a stringer for the Birmingham Post-Herald.