Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson welcomed about 100 students from high schools around the city, to his weekly news conference at City Hall on Monday.
Meeting in the City Council chamber instead of the Hagler Auditorium, Robinson fielded questions from the students on a wide range of issues, from economic development to preserving local historical landmarks to homelessness. On the latter, he told them he’s looking forward to following up on the “Homeless Summit” held earlier this month.
“We had a good discussion with some of our partners, because this is not something that local government can take on by itself,” Robinson told his young audience. “We’re going to need the participation of local partners. We’ll sit down with them and look at what we can do, and what may be better for the government to take on and then move from there.”
Once a direction is hammered out, the Mayor says both the city and county can move as one with some type of joint ordinance.
“We want to find ways to help people; if you’re truly needing help we want to find a way to help you,” the Mayor said. “But, we want you to work within the framework of what we’re trying to do with help. Those are all important as we move forward, and that’s what I think you’re going to see us do.”
Another student-raised topic was the prospect of a limestone-crushing facility at the Port of Pensacola. Incoa Performance Minerals sought to move into Warehouses 9 and 10 at the Port, and acquire 6.5 acres of adjacent land for development.
“I met with the group probably about three months ago,” Robinson said. “And I told them that I did not see the limestone crushing and the train traffic that was going to go through downtown as necessarily being consistent with all the great things we’re doing downtown.”
Robinson says the city is still very much committed to the Port and what can be done there. He also offered an alternative for an Inco operation.
“If they wanted to come here and bring their ships [to the Port], unload onto a barge and take the barge somewhere else – like, say, the shipyard over where the scrap is on Bayou Chico and they wanted to crush there,” said Robinson. "[Inco] did not come back with anything. We moved on; we have a couple of people that are interested in that port warehouse. By saying ‘no’ we might have actually gotten an opportunity to see a better opportunity for us.”
The Mayor also took a turn at addressing workforce development, saying the kids in the gallery and elsewhere are the future of Pensacola.
“Pensacola’s only going to be as good as you are willing to take it; not where I am. I’m headed off into the sunset of my career soon,” said the Mayor. “Much of what’s going to happen with what’s going on and what the community is, is really dependent upon ya’ll.”
And the key to that future, he told them, is education.
“I hope you go out and get skills either at a college, a trade school or join the military,” said Robinson. “I hope you learn things, see things, and then come back to Pensacola and find a way to do them here. I think that’s what we need more than anything else.”
To that end, the City of Pensacola plans talks with the Escambia County School board, on ways to use the city’s recreational facilities for more academic purposes. Robinson says they won’t get involved with day-to-day school issues, but….
“We have a community center almost within a mile or so of everybody within the city,” said Robinson. “What we could do is start doing more academic pursuits there. We could get with a number of different groups much like the MESS [Math, Engineering, Science and Stuff] Hall that does things with STEM-related [programs]. We could be doing those kind of things at our community centers.”
The city plans to explore other ways to augment and help the Escambia School District, and Mayor Grover Robinson says it all boils down to – workforce.
“Where it used to be important that communities were near natural assets, the future will be communities and their ability to attract and retain talented individuals,” said Robinson. “That’s why you see what we’re trying to do with quality of life programs; walkability, a variety of things that we’re trying to do so that the best and brightest will want to come back to Pensacola.”