Over the past several months, there has been some confusion and incorrect information about the OLF-8 project, job creation, and Triumph funding. Hopefully these myths vs. facts will help to clear up any misunderstandings going forward.
UPDATE: As with every project that DPZ and its consultants manage, we are always open to suggestions and input. After receiving some additional suggestions from stakeholders, we have made some changes and added some additional context to this document. We hope this provides more clarity on the issues surrounding the project.
Vision for OLF-8
The OLF-8 master plan team is not listening to the wishes of the County Commission.
The Master Plan team has gone to great lengths to hear from the Commissioners individually about the OLF-8 project. Outreach has included written questions, offers for in-person briefings, online surveys, and public presentations at Commission meetings.
Of the five Commissioners, one has never met with the consultant team at all. One commissioner met with the team early in the process, and the other three commissioners have met with the team at least twice. There have been ample opportunities for the Commissioners to provide specific feedback on the project, and there are still several questions yet to be answered by the Commissioners. We look forward to having that conversation with them and creating a master plan that everyone can be proud of.
The OLF-8 master plan should reflect the combined wishes of the County Commission, the Beulah community, and the taxpayers.
The scope of work negotiated by the County Commission requires the master planners to take into account many factors, including job growth, the wishes of the Beulah community, and the highest and best use for the taxpayers. In fact, the RFP for the master plan states:
The master planner will determine and balance the highest and best economic use for the property with uses that enhance the quality of life for those who live or work in Beulah, while maximizing the creation of jobs with wages higher than the Escambia County median income.
Thousands of citizens participated in the OLF-8 public outreach effort. More than 600 citizens left comments, suggestions, or took surveys about the project. The most recent community input indicates that 82% of the participants want some kind of mixed-use plan with commerce, retail, residential, and recreational options.
UPDATE: The contract approved by the County with DPZ did NOT include the development of an economic impact analysis of possible job creation on OLF-8. Some have rightfully argued that such an analysis is important to get the full picture of the potential of OLF-8, and we agree. However, it is not part of the DPZ scope of work. That being said, the DPZ team is currently working with the Haas Center to develop that analysis and we look forward to providing that to the County and the public in the coming weeks, along with the other market analyses conducted.
Jobs & Commerce Parks
Developing a single-use commerce park at OLF-8 is the best way to create jobs for the community.
There are lots of ways to create jobs for Escambia County. Not every job needs to be in a commerce park, and many high-wage, high-tech employers don’t want to be in a traditional commerce park setting. Creating jobs at OLF-8 is a top priority, but it is simply not true that this is the only place where economic development can happen.
To date, there are hundreds of acres (public and private) available at commerce parks advertised by the county economic development agency, FloridaWest. There are thousands of acres set aside for further commerce park development throughout the county. These include The Bluffs, with more than 2,500 acres available for use, and the vacant Downtown Tech Park, which has 10 acres directly across the street from IHMC, a global leader in robotics and artificial intelligence. Finally, the Midtown Commerce Park is planned for 87 acres right on I-110.
While some of these commerce parks are geared towards specific industries, it is important to understand that the county does have available land and options for commercial development. This also creates an opportunity for OLF-8 to be a unique and innovative setting for economic development and community enhancement.
UPDATE: Due to its location near the I-10 interstate, with a proposed interchange north of the site, the OLF-8 property provides unique opportunities for job creation as well as amenities that are attractive to employers. Most commerce parks in the county do not have those benefits. Through the Master Plan process, the County and its economic development agency can and should develop a strategy for targeted industries that create significant economic impact but also are compatible with the surrounding area.
The best way to create jobs is to create a place where employers want to be.
Twenty years ago when a commerce park at OLF-8 was first conceived, there was no Netflix, no iPhone, and a global pandemic was the thing of movies. Times have changed, and so has our economy. The workers of today and tomorrow want to be in places where they can live, work and play, and high-wage, high-tech employers go where they can find the best workforce.
A vibrant, mixed-use plan for OLF-8 is one of the best ways to create jobs and secure a resilient future for Beulah and Escambia County. With clear design guidelines and a flexible master plan, this can be done in a way that enhances the area, creates high-paying jobs and economic impact for the community, supports the needs of Beulah, and responds to the needs of the future, all in one place.
We don’t need a huge commerce park to create thousands of jobs.
Navy Federal Credit Union can support 10,000 employees on their 150-acres of developed land. The new ST Engineering facility, which works on large cargo planes, will host 1,300 employees on just 65 acres of land.
UPDATE: A smart allocation of land on OLF-8, including targeted high-wage jobs, related retail and service businesses, and possibly some residential development, will support a wide range of job types. This can provide opportunity for all segments of our population, and raise overall incomes for the region.
The DPZ team’s analysis of different sector job densities/acre clearly revealed that 1,000 jobs can easily fit on a minimum of 16 acres and a maximum of 72 acres. The question to be answered is, what type of employers are targeted for OLF-8, and what type of environment are they attracted to?
UPDATE: During a recent public forum it was noted that the OLF-8 Master Plan could implement design standards that would require commercial buildings to meet an aesthetic standard. This is exactly right, and it means that even warehouse-type buildings, should they be built on the site, could have architectural design, facade, parking, and landscaping requirements that would enhance the overall site and surrounding areas, not detract from it.
Housing on OLF-8 will only create more traffic in the Beulah area.
Our transportation analysis indicates that mixed-use development on OLF-8 may actually reduce the number of trips and smooth traffic flow in Beulah. People will have the opportunity to live, work, and play on the site, which actually keeps traffic on the site, reduces the number of trips back and forth around Beulah, and prevents crushing traffic jams at peak hours from on the surrounding roads.
A walkable mixed-use development can further reduce the need for car trips in Beulah overall. Residents will be able to come to OLF-8 for everyday needs, such as a grocery, a bank, medical checkups, prescriptions and entertainment venues all on site, without having to travel on or cross Nine Mile Road. Any development on OLF-8 will create more traffic. The question is, how much of that traffic can be confined to the OLF-8 site, and how much of that traffic can be distributed throughout the day, versus crushing rush-hours in the morning and evening.
Medium-density housing on OLF-8 will compete with the private sector.
The goal of OLF-8 is not to protect private developers, it is to generate jobs and create value for the taxpayers. The type of residential development envisioned on OLF-8 is completely different from the traditional single-family subdivisions currently happening in Beulah.
With smaller homes, townhomes, small rental flats, lofts, and duplexes, this type of smaller-scale development on OLF-8 will attract and support more private sector investment, not compete with it. It will also support attracting employers to the site as well as help to sustain a thriving retail town center.
Preventing housing on OLF-8 will stop the residential development in Beulah.
Beulah continues to be a desirable place to live for many people. Because of this, the area will continue to attract more residential development. In fact, over 2,000 new residences are projected in just the next few years. For those who oppose any residential development on OLF-8, it must be understood that new housing will go elsewhere in Beulah, likely in the form of the conventional suburban subdivisions that will continue to erode Beulah’s rural character. The OLF-8 housing proposals demonstrate a better way for residential development to happen in Beulah and preserve the future of the area.
Creating 1,000 jobs and getting millions of dollars in Triumph funding for OLF-8 is even easier now since Navy Federal has promised to create 300 more jobs.
There is no guarantee that the Triumph Board will fund any projects on OLF-8, and the commitment by Navy Federal to create jobs may not qualify for Triumph funding. Triumph dollars are not retroactive, meaning, they can only be used to fund projects not developed yet. The commitment of additional job creation by Navy Federal was not part of a Triumph grant request, so those jobs likely cannot be used as part of the 1,000 job Triumph goal.
UPDATE: There are multiple opportunities to secure Triumph funds for job creation on OLF-8. It remains uncertain if the 300 jobs promised by Navy Federal can count towards a Triumph grant. Those jobs would have to be a part of a specific Triumph application, submitted before they are created. Those jobs would also likely be required to exist on publicly-owned land at the OLF-8 site, not on the Navy Federal campus. However, the proceeds from that land sale likely can be used as a local match for Triumph funds. There may also be some exceptions made for the Navy Federal jobs, should the Triumph board decide to count them towards a 1,000 job goal. This issue remains to be determined.
Triumph dollars have nothing to do with what Master Plan option is chosen.
Triumph funds are linked to job creation, not land use. What attracts Triumph dollars is a commitment of private-sector jobs that pay more than the average wage of the community. Each of the master plan options can easily support a minimum of 1,000 high-wage, high-tech jobs on site. While Triumph dollars must be used for projects on publicly-owned property, there is no requirement that those jobs be located in a commerce park, an office, a factory, a research building, or any other specific land use or building type. Learn more about Triumph grants here.
UPDATE: It is important to remember that the OLF-8 Master Plan is a land use plan. It is not an economic development plan. The county has an entire agency dedicated for job creation (FloridaWest). The DPZ team has attempted to coordinate with Florida West to include the site, space, amenity, and infrastructure most needed by targeted employers. The Master Plan will not create those jobs, but it will make it easier to attract high-wage employers. It is the responsibility of groups like FloridaWest and private-sector businesses to create the jobs on OLF-8.
Triumph Funds are “free money” that can be used to pay for developing OLF-8.
Triumph dollars have several requirements and strings attached for local governments. Projects/assets funded with Triumph dollars must be publicly owned, create a specific number of jobs at a specific salary range, in a specific timeframe. Triumph funds also require matching funds of at least 40%, meaning that taxpayers or businesses must pay at least 80 cents for every dollar of Triumph money. If any of these criteria are not met, taxpayers will have to pay back those funds, even after they are spent or used to develop the project.
UPDATE: It may be possible that the County’s land acquisition costs for OLF-8 can be used as “credit” towards matching funds for a Triumph grant. If the Triumph board accepts the land costs as part of a matching fund, that would create additional value to leverage more Triumph funds to support job-creating projects on OLF-8. In addition, proceeds from the sale of OLF-8 parcels for retail, mixed-use, or residential development could also be used as matching funds for Triumph dollars, or to support jobs projects without Triumph funds.