Sunday, December 7, 2014

Fish House, Deck Bar on public-owned property


Originally posted on Wednesday, July 16, 2014
I have spent the last few months carefully researching the history of the property leased from the City where the Fish House, Deck Bar, etc. are presently located.

The City of Pensacola issued a lease, called the Pitt Slip Marina Lease Agreement, on September 18, 1985 to the Florida Sun International, Inc. (Mr. Cahill of Orlando), filed in the Escambia County Courthouse on 7/18/1985 Instrument # 1985467093. The terms of that lease were that Florida Sun International, Inc. pays a very small lease amount of approximately $15,000 a year or approximately $1,250 a month for acres of waterfront property. Florida Sun International, Inc. had proposed to build a marina at this site. That project failed.

The lease was for 30 years but was amended, on October 17, 1985, (Instrument # 00148189) to be 27 years due to:

WHEREAS, Lessor and Lessee desire to amend a particular provision of the
aforesaid Pitt Slip Marina Lease Agreement in order to conform the term
of the agreement to the term of that certain Lease Agreement, dated
May 18, 1983 between Lessor and the Board of Trustees of the Internal
Improvement Trust Fund of the State of Florida for a portion of the Pitt
Slip property. . .

It appears that the City of Pensacola (Lessor) had received a large amount of money from the Board of Trustees of the Internal Improvement Trust Fund of the State of Florida regarding this property and some restrictions were attached to that money. I have not been able to discover the details of that transaction.

The deal with Florida Sun International, Inc. (Lessee) seems to be another “special deal” where a company can lease acres of public-owned waterfront property for 27 years at the very small price of $15,000 a year.

This plum lease was passed through, or assigned to, several businesses with the approval of the Pensacola City Council; one was foreclosed on. It appears that when the property was foreclosed on, the leasing business’s license was revoked and the property returned to the possession of the government, that the lease was ended.

City Officials apparently did not see it that way, as the lease is still active today.

At the Pensacola City Council Meeting of October 10, 1996, in the Report of the Committee of the Whole, item 2. SUBJECT: Assignment - Pitt Slip Lease Agreement, the Committee recommended “That city council consent to the assignment of the Pitt Slip Marina Lease Agreement to Pensacola Marina Properties, Inc., under the terms and conditions of the 1985 Lease Agreement as amended, and authorize the city manager to execute the assignment documents upon Pensacola Marina Properties conclusion of the purchase.”

This item was approved with City Council Member Doug Halford abstaining (because he was an owner of the business receiving the lease).

There are several problems with this item. If you check sunbiz.org, you will see that no business is or has ever been registered as Pensacola Marina Properties, Inc. The actual business the City Council transferred this lease to was South Florida Marine Investors, Inc., whose owners were Mr. Ray Russenberger, President, Mr. Doug Halford, Vice President, (a sitting City Council Member) and Mr. Johnny Mathews, Vice President.

According to Escambia County Court Records, on October 30, 1996, City Officials assigned the lease from the Trillium Corporation to the South Florida Marine Investors, Inc.

On September 30, 1997, South Florida Marine Investors, Inc. changed its name to Seville Harbour, Inc., with the same President, Mr. Ray Russenberger, and the same Vice President, Mr. Doug Halford. Seville Harbour is still active with its last annual report filed on April 26, 2010.

In 1999, Mr. Russenberger proposed to build 30 residential condominium units within two buildings within the Pitt Slip development. This never materialized.

In April, 2000, Mr. Russenberger and Mr. Halford subleased the majority of this property to the Merrill Land, LLC, with the approval of the Pensacola City Council. The Merrill Land, LLC, established the Fish House, the Deck, etc. on this property. As in the past, no money was paid to the public for the reassignment of this lease. Mr. Russenberger kept any money paid to reassign the lease to the Merrill’s.

This lease expires in 2012. Since the notice required to discontinue or renew this lease is one year, work should begin immediately on advertising this property for lease and get a lease for this public-owned property that will reflect its real worth and bring in real money to the people of the City.

Previously, it seems that only those in the “in crowd” or one of the “good ole boys” or one of the members or friends of what appears to be illegal power cartels were aware of this astonishing lease and had a chance to compete, in secret it appears, for assignment of this lease to their business.

As I stated above, this available lease should be advertised with the bidder with the best reimbursement to the public winning the use of our property but for only 3 or 5 years with review or releasing to assess the value due the public.

This might appear to be a novel concept to the City Council and City Officials as the use of these acres of waterfront property for 27 years at a cost of $ 15,000 a year has brought the public only $405,000.00 in almost three decades. City Officials and the Pensacola City Council should not be giving the use of our property away at such low rates especially since we are such a poor City.

Some City Officials and members of the Pensacola City Council should abstain from any involvement in this process, as it would be a violation of the Florida Sunshine Law and a violation of Conflict of Interest Laws.

One example is Mr. Brian Spencer, the new representative for my district, District 6.

Mr. Spencer is affiliated, by business ownership, with Mr. Russenberger, Mr. Halford and the Merrill Land, LLD, all of whom are currently involved in the lease described above.

The South Palafox Annex, L.L.C. is a business registered in the State of Florida, entity # L03000045515. Its owners are Brian Spencer, Ray Russenberger, Doug Halford and Neal Nash.

Mr. Brian K. Spencer is the registered agent, with the State of Florida, for Mainstreet Crossroads, L.L.C., entity # L9900004506, whose owners are Merrill Land Company, Pensacola Realty Investments, L.L.C. (Mr. Neal Nash) and Northport Properties, Inc. (Mr. Brian K. Spencer).

Under the Florida Sunshine Act and under the Conflict of Interest Laws, Mr. Brian Spencer should abstain from discussion and voting, in an official capacity, on any item connected with these business interests or any of the dozen or so businesses he is in.

The City Council and City Officials should immediately discontinue these “special deals” which appear to illegally enrich “special friends” while depriving the public of the proper return for the City’s assets, paid for and owned by the public.

The apparent policies of the City Officials and the Pensacola City Council regarding these “special deals”, hiring friends or relatives of the “in crowd” or the “good ole boys” or the “illegal power cartels” as City employees, paying some City employees obscene salaries with astonishing benefits, staffing boards with members or friends of members of these groups who make questionable rulings, and on and on, appears to be destroying our City.

Our City cannot flourish under these conditions. We should all try to turn this around. I am hoping that our new Mayor, Mr. Ashton Hayward can and will do this. I know I have tried for over a decade to awaken other members of the public and government officials to these tough but fixable problems. No success so far but I, for one, plan to keep trying, as this is my hometown, the hometown of my late husband, our children and our grandchildren.

As always, I have hard evidence to support my statements.

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NOTE:

The following is information on the official Foreclosure cited above:

BancFlorida foreclosed on this property on July 25, 1990, (Instrument # 1990814930) the Pensacola Marina Ltd went out of business and ownership reverted to the government (Escambia County Clerk). The Escambia County Clerk issued a Certificate of Title for this property, approved by City Officials, to Pensacola Service Corp, owned by W. Fulton Hamilton III on September 25, 1990. Evidently, City Officials appeared to pretend that the lease, granted September 18, 1985, was still valid even though responsibility/ownership had apparently passed to the Escambia County Clerk.

On August 4, 1994, City Officials assigned the lease from Pensacola Service Corp, to the Trillium Corporation, a Washington Corporation. The court records show that the transference of the property was from the Escambia County Clerk to Pensacola Service Corporation.

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