In a reversal of comments made before and after his 2015 purchase of the property, Pensacola developer Quint Studer said Thursday that he is “land-banking” the 19-acre Main Street site formerly home to an Emerald Coast Utilities Authority wastewater treatment plant.
Studer’s comments came at a Pensacola Association of Realtors luncheon held Thursday at New World Landing.
“He said unequivocally that he was land-banking the property,” said Vicki Campbell, who attended the meeting and also serves on the ECUA board.
The Oxford Dictionary of English defines land-banking as “the practice of buying land as an investment, holding it for future use, and making no specific plans for its development.”
Studer purchased the property, which occupies six city blocks, in March 2015 for $5.2 million in cash.
Travis Peterson, a spokesman for Studer, said the term “land-banking” could mean one thing to one person and another thing to another. Reached Friday morning, Peterson declined to speak to Studer’s comments, saying only that he believes Studer has acknowledged some concerns with the site in its current condition. “Right now, the majority of the property lies six to eight feet under elevation,” Peterson said. “To do anything you have to bring in a bunch of dirt to raise it up.”
The property, which sits just 200 yards from Pensacola Bay, is vulnerable to flooding. Prior to its urban development in the 19th century, a prominent freshwater stream called San Gabriel Creek flowed through the middle of the property up towards Spring Street. The property severely flooded during Hurricane Ivan in 2004, shutting down the treatment plant and releasing raw sewage into downtown Pensacola.
After purchasing the property last year, Studer reached an agreement with the City of Pensacola to fill approximately half of the 19-acre property with fill dirt from the excavation of the stormwater retention pond at Pensacola International Airport.
Multiple calls and emails to Studer and Andrew Rothfeder, president of Studer Properties, were not returned.
Scott Remington, Studer’s attorney, spoke to NewsRadio1620 in November 2014 about Studer’s plans for the property. “I think Quint and Rishy’s main goal is to get the property vibrant and rejuvenated as quickly as possible,” said Remington. “That looks like constructing support buildings for athletic fields, soccer fields, lacrosse fields, basketball courts and trying to turning it into sort of a healthy living and healthcare hub in downtown.”
Remington went on to say, “the goal is to … start as quickly as possible putting this property back into the hands of the public and making it available to the public. We’re hoping we can get started very quickly.”
“I think you and everybody sees Quint and Rishy’s burning desire to improve the quality of life in downtown Pensacola and the fact that this property will be utilized to improve the quality of life and not just as a profit-center for a developer,” Remington added.
Speaking to the ECUA board in 2014 about his plans for the site, Studer said, “the first phase is just to make this vibrant just as soon as possible.”
“That would include public restrooms and a concession stand to really open this up to the community as quickly as possible,” Studer added. “We think it’s important to bring the community down to this property and make it as vibrant as possible. We have the best grounds crew in minor league baseball right across the street from this property, and they’re very anxious to make this a showplace just like we have the [Blue Wahoos] field,” Studer said.
“Sports fields aren’t the long term plan, but we don’t want it to sit stagnant,” Studer told the Pensacola News Journal.
City officials confirmed Thursday that the only permits requested or issued for the site relate to the placement of fill dirt on the property and its use as temporary parking for Blue Wahoos games.
Rob Brooks, a Pensacola realtor, also attended Thursday’s PAR meeting. Brooks said someone in the audience had asked Studer what his plans are with the former ECUA property. “Studer immediately said he’d land-bank it,” said Brooks. “He said he’s putting in $150,000 to look underground for what I presume is soil testing.”
“He said he’s trying to work on cleaning up the property and trying to sell it,” Campbell said. Campbell and Brooks added that Studer said he had already been approached with several offers for the 19-acre property.
When ECUA sold the property to Studer’s Old Stinky, LLC 10 months ago, Campbell served on the board that brokered the deal to Studer.
“Our task was to get the property sold and put it towards our debt,” said Campbell. “We had a responsibility to the rate-payers to sell the property and he bought it as-is.”
Studer’s purchase of the 19-acre property came after a previous offer on the property fell through. Texas developer Aaron Wiese offered $7.6 million for the property in 2013, but the deal later died when questions arose pertaining to the developer’s finances. “We gave a counter offer and the buyer walked,” said Campbell.
John Griffing of NAI Halford served as ECUA’s real estate agent for the transaction. “We have not had an offer like this that offers the value that it’s offering to ECUA, but also the value that it’s offering to the community,” Griffing told the ECUA board.
Both Wiese’s offer as well as Studer’s eventual $5.2 million purchase fell short of the ECUA’s asking price of $8.9 million.
Last month, Studer announced that his plans to build a new candy store in downtown Pensacola just a few blocks away from the former ECUA site had been called off.
Studer originally estimated the project would cost about $1.3 million to build a one-story building at the corner of Baylen and Main streets for what would be called “Bubba’s Sweet Shop.” Last month, Studer said the actual cost would be closer to $2 million. As an alternative to the standalone candy store, Studer has opted to build out a downsized store in an existing space at 412 South Palafox Street between Main and Zaragoza Streets.