Tax bill for CMPA: $130,000
Parts of stadium now considered for-profit
Escambia Property Appraiser Chris Jones has good news and bad news for the cash-strapped Community Maritime Park Associates board.
The bad news: This year, he will send the CMPA board a property tax bill of about $130,000 on the $18 million stadium.
The good news: Of that, the board will only have to actually pay about $52,000, the portion of the taxes that go to the Escambia School District. The rest of the tax bill belongs to the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency, which is also the CMPA board’s financial backstop.
Still, the $52,000 is another expense for an agency that’s already running in the red and will need about $400,000 from the city to stay afloat this year.
CMPA board Chairman Collier Merrill remains optimistic about the park’s financial future in the long run, noting future revenue is on the way in the form of private development from the Studer Group and the Beck Property Co. on two of the nine commercial sites at the park.
Jones found that the “building” portions of the stadium — including the Blue Wahoos offices, locker rooms, weight rooms, Beach Berry Frozen Yogurt and the WSRE Learning Lab and Imagination Station — are subject to taxation because they are used for-profit activities over which the CMPA has little control.
He granted a tax exemption for the baseball field and bleachers because CMPA officials insist the public has year-round, limited access to both, though that’s a little-known amenity that has has never been promoted to the public.
Jones said that finding was based on a June 21 letter from Ed Spears, the CMPA’s executive director, which said the stadium is open most days to the public from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. and sometimes later if an event is taking place.
“As with any other public park facility, the public is welcome to enter the facility, sit in the bleachers, enjoy the views, walk the concourse, etc.,” Spears wrote.
“While we do not encourage the public to enter the playing field, there is nothing prohibiting that during the hours the stadium is open, as there are no locks on the gates leading to the field.”
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The stadium closes two hours in advance of a scheduled Wahoos game or ticketed event.
Jones said that demonstrates sufficient public access and use of the field and bleachers.
“If they’re going to give me that in writing, we can make that good faith leap that they are going to be utilizing it as a public area,” he said.
But he said tax exemptions must be renewed every year, and public access must remain in place if the park is to keep it.
Access to the baseball field and the bleachers — particularly the field — has never been clearly advertised, and Merrill said the board is set to discuss defining guidelines for public use in the coming months.
Unlike other parks in Pensacola, the bleachers and field are not known to host large numbers of regular visitors outside of baseball games and ticketed events, and an increase in users on the field could cause complications for the CMPA and its main tenant, the Wahoos, if the grounds are damaged.
Those rules could help define or narrow what kinds of activities park-goers can have on the field and spell out a process for them to reserve or rent the facilities for events, Merrill said.
CMPA to pay
The use agreement with the Wahoos states that should property taxes ever be levied, the CMPA will pay them.
The $18 million stadium is on the tax rolls for the first time this year and applied for tax exemption.
The building portion of the stadium amounts to about $4.5 million worth of taxable real estate, Jones said. The CMPA also has about $2.5 million in property inside the stadium that will be taxed, like concession equipment, Jones said.
Together, those total a tax bill of about $130,000.
Although an unwelcome expense, it’s far from the CMPA board’s worst-case scenario.
If Jones had found the entire $18 million stadium was subject to taxation, it could have generated a tax bill totaling more than $340,000 every year.