Meeting with their new lobbyist in a public meeting for the first time, the City of Port St. Joe laid out a clear list of priorities for the state’s upcoming legislative session.
A new city hall complex, a much-awaited sports facility and stormwater solutions topped the city’s asks.
And while these are large projects that require millions in funding, the lobbyist, Clark Smith with The Southern Group, felt hopeful that they could gain some traction with the area’s legislative delegation, so long as they are broken down into more digestible chunks.
“There’s a path to any of it, right, but it’s just figuring out (how to break it up),” Smith said. “I think if you go down there, and we’ve got $40 million in requests up there, it doesn’t bode well, and it makes Jason (Shoaf) and Corey (Simon)’s jobs harder.”
“… I will always go back to breaking these down and looking long term. Where are we going to go next year? Where are we going to go the year after?”
The lobbying group will represent the city’s interests in Tallahassee, which includes, Smith said, advocating for Port St. Joe’s projects to be heard by legislative committees and working closely with the local legislative delegation, State Sen. Corey Simon (R — Tallahassee) and State Rep. Jason Shoaf (R — Port St. Joe).
The city began working with The Southern Group last month, after amending their purchasing policy to allow for the hire.
For Commissioner David Ashbrook, the move represented an important step for the city.
“I’m excited we’ve finally done it,” he said. “We’ve been needing to do it for a long time.”
A new city hall complex
Port St. Joe is months into negotiations with The St. Joe Company after having been sold a contaminated parcel of land the city had initially hoped to build their new city hall complex on. But now, negotiations for a land swap with the St. Joe Company have hit a small roadblock.
“We’ve been assured that the swap is going to happen,” said Buzzett. “The one caveat for making the swap, which will be an even swap, is that (The St. Joe Company) wants to make sure that we’ve basically got a shovel ready project.”
“They want to know we won’t hold on it for 10 years and go ‘oh golly, we’re not really going to do it,’ and then we sell the property to somebody.”
But without funding, the city is unable to make these assurances, and without the land, it has been difficult for them to secure funding.
They asked Smith to look into ways they could break down the project’s $8 million price tag in the hopes that it will help them secure the capital to get the ball moving.
“My knee jerk reaction is, you know, can we get land deals done and build an $8 million complex between now and next January?” Smith said. “I would bend toward breaking it down some. Let’s just do our fire and police or our shelter. And then next year, we come back to phase two, and we’re gonna do our admin complex and go that direction.”
A sports and recreation complex
The City also asked for Smith to look into ways to secure funding from the state to help construct a $10 million planned sports complex, which they have been working on for more than a decade.
The city earmarked $1 million for the project in April of last year.
“If we can get a member (of the legislature) to make that a priority, it stands a better shot.. You do have Cory Simon, who is a sports nut,” said Smith, referring to Simon’s former professional football career and efforts to promote youth sports.
“There may be an angle there. So then my suggestion would be to cut the $10 million number down, and let’s figure out what we could do over the next cycle to get ready for the next phase.”
The city has already made a $2 million request for funding from the state through Shoaf. City Manager was unsure of the status of that request at the time of the city’s meeting with Smith.