A pen, a phone call and a little over 2 hours.
That’s all it took for Gulf Breeze Mayor Matt Dannheisser, his City Council and the Florida Department of Transportation to agree on a purchase price for a strip of land at the foot of what will become the new Pensacola Bay Bridge.
At Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, in the city’s chambers, a packed room waited as the council, mayor and FDOT District 3 Secretary Tommy Barfield went back and forth on what they thought the price of the piece of public land was worth inside Wayside Park that FDOT would be utilizing during the entire construction project.
FDOT needed to acquire the land, along with other private plots of land around the public park, before moving forward with the Pensacola Bay Bridge project, which is slated to break ground at the end of this year.
The city had a firm asking price of $13 million up until Tuesday night’s meeting. FDOT, who is not required to pay for public land, had been firm on offering the city $2.2 million. The figure would have allowed FDOT to acquire the public land for 5 years during the construction of the bridge
But FDOT and the city could not come to a common ground on the price of the piece of land. A piece of land that councilmembers argued was “priceless” to its citizens and visitors since it is a public park.
For the past several weeks, the bidding war seemed to be going nowhere. That was until Councilman David Landfair threw out a number.
The number: $5.9 million.
The $5.9 million figure came out of a conversation Landfair and Barfield had last Thursday.
Little did Landfair know, that $3.7 million increase would be the lucky number the two agencies would on agree less than a week later.
After two hours of back and forth deliberation during the Tuesday night meeting between the city and FDOT, the city and Barfield were at a standstill on the price.
So the city took a 5 minute break. During the break, Barfield pulled out his cell phone and spoke with FDOT Secretary Jim Boxold. During their conversation, which lasted less than five minutes, Boxold agreed to give the city the additional $3.7 million as requested by Landfair. But with one stipulation.
“The secretary was clear that I come away with a signed deal tonight,” Barfield said as he approached the podium after the break. “It has to be signed tonight.”
Councilmembers were hesitant when Barfield held up a contract. A contract that city councilmembers and the mayor were unaware that Barfield had brought with him that night to Gulf Breeze.
On it, there were a few blanks. Blanks that had to be filled in in order for the two entities to seal the deal. One one line, the mayor had to put his John Hancock to seal the deal. On another line, the magic $5.9 million number.
“My deal with the secretary was clear. I come away here tonight with a signed deal,” Barfield said.
City councilman Joe Henderson was firm on getting a proper appraisal for the property, which FDOT had not done for the city, despite a request from the city last year.
“It just boggles my mind when there’s a process to be followed and a phone call gets us more money,” Henderson said. “We’re just trying to follow protocol. We don’t know if the land is worth more without an appraisal.”
Henderson’s digress was met with a word of advice from the city’s financial advisor and former city mayor Ed Gray.
“Councilman Henderson, you’re right. But be careful what you ask for. Are you going to appraise it as a recreation area with picnic shelters and a fishing pier, or are you going to appraise it as a potential condo site that’s going to be looking at an elevated bridge in front of it? What’s that worth? How would an appraisal evaluate that?” Gray said as he faced the mayor and the council. “Things can come back to haunt us. I think the 5.9 number may turn out to be better than any appraisal number that may come later.”
Barfield stated that there was one stipulation to the additional $3.7 million, and that was, the city would have to agree to let the state agency get a wider portion of Wayside Park, which will be used for construction staging, for seven years instead of five.
“We will have your check (to you) in 30 days,” Barfield said.
The council ultimately voted 4-1 to sign the deal with FDOT, with Henderson being the only councilmember to vote against the deal.
In a historical moment, Barfield and Mayor Dannheisser signed the contract in front of those gathered inside the chambers after the vote, allowing the project to move forward.