Nicholas Alford – The Corsair
Marty Donovan has been tirelessly walking the neighborhoods of rural Pensacola for almost three months now. He knocks on doors, makes phone calls and visits local businesses, rain or shine, to circulate his petition among the people of Pensacola. If he doesn’t get 3,805 voters to sign his petition by Aug. 20, the stadium that he describes to be a “terribly egregious abuse of the taxpayers,” will continue construction uninterrupted.
Donovan is one of the founding members of the Park Yes Stadium No petitioning committee which he, along with former City Councilman Jack Nobles, filed an affidavit for with the city on June 18, 2010. According to the new Pensacola charter, any citizen has a right to petition against any city council decision and have it overturned by way of referendum vote. All they have to do is submit a formal affidavit, and wait for the city to supply the petition.
When Donovan’s affidavit was returned to his committee by the city attorney two days later with the petition, they would now have 60 days to acquire signatures of ten percent of voters registered within the city limits. And with only a few days left, Donovan says they still have a long way to go.
Donovan himself was also a member of the city council from 2001 – 2009, and stood apart from the rest of the council in supporting the Maritime Park contract which was approved by majority vote in 2006. This isn’t the first time Donovan has tried to stop construction of the park. After the initial approval for the park, Donovan formed a committee called Save Our City in opposition of the project. During that time the city charter mandated that 15 percent of the voter’s signatures were needed and gave him 90 days to get them. Donovan and his associates were able to get the required signatures in time and bring the decision back to a referendum vote, but public opinion was still bent toward keeping the park the way it is and voted in favor of continuing the project.
So, what is the position of committee? To put it simply: Donovan and his associates believe that the people of Pensacola were tricked into backing a large loan to build a private baseball stadium and an extravagant commercial plaza on what is supposed to be public land. According to Donovan, not only was Community Maritime Park Associates deceitful in the way that the park was planned, it is also a huge waste of money and could potentially turn into a huge liability for the taxpayers of Pensacola.
“The citizens of the City of Pensacola have been victimized by a vicious ‘bait and switch’ scheme,” said Donovan, “they were sold on something four years ago, voted on that, and what is actually going to be built is very different.”
According to Donovan, the original plans showed a much larger area for a public park, while the new plans show the majority of the land being allocated for commercial development and the stadium complex. The park has been pushed down to a small corner of the 32 acre lot which Donovan says is not adequate to serve the public.
Edward Spears, Interim Director of Community Maritime Park Associates (CMPA), disagrees, saying that nothing is different from the original plans except a few minor details.
“Show me what I switched,” said Spears, as he compared the initial site plans to the final site plans. “Let’s go down the list of amenities and you show me what’s different: very large public park, multi-use athletic facility, maritime museum complex. ”
According to Spears, this is exactly what the city voted on, and he insists that little has changed from the original site artwork.
“Artists are conceptual,” Spears said. “Architects are literal; the original plans weren’t drawn exactly to scale, but the difference is minor.”
When asked what will happen if Park Yes Stadium No succeeds in their goal of attaining the required signatures for the referendum vote, Spears said, “in my opinion, nothing will happen. In short: The city council has a right to approve or not to approve of the contract, but they don’t have the right to change it afterwards. The CMPA entered into an agreement with a private contractor and the city is not a party to that contract; they didn’t sign it. The government cannot make a law retroactive that would impact a legally entered into contract. So you can’t send in a petition and retroactively say no to something you’ve already in good faith approved. The city used their rights, and their rights ended when the contract was made.”
“It’s like ringing a bell,” Spears continued, “you can’t ‘unring’ it”
According to Spears, any revenue made outside of operational costs of the park will be put into operational reserves which will cover things like storm damage and normal wear and tear. Any profits made outside of that will go to charity.
But Marty Donovan is convinced that this park will be a drain on the city, saying that the Pensacola Pelicans is a “sub-minor hobby team owned by a millionaire.”
“It’s been a trend for sports teams to get cities and counties to build them stadiums on the false argument that it will be an economic stimulus,” Donovan said. “The day that stadium is finished, it becomes a financial liability on the backs of the taxpayers until the day it is demolished.”
But Spears adds that this is not just a baseball stadium for the Pensacola Pelicans, but a multi-use facility able to host concert performances as well as football and soccer games.
“The revenue from the stadium will go back into operation of the stadium and park itself.” said Spears. “By agreement, the park has to be maintained by the CMPA, not by the city.”
Marty Donovan only sees this park as a gamble with the city’s money to fill the pockets of a few rich people.
“We want a park,” says Donovan, “that’s what we were promised, that’s what we put up our land for, that’s why we borrowed the $45.6 million. And now we find out, between the baseball promoters and commercial developers, our park is being denied us.”
Marty Donovan can be contacted through his website, parksyesstadiumno.com. You can also visit communitymaritimepark.com for more information about the project itself.