Triumph Gulf Coast, which is handling distribution of BP oil spill settlement funds, is out with a pre-screening form for a new project at the Port of Pensacola.
The Northwest Center for Dynamic Ocean Technologies (CDOT) would be housed at the Port’s Warehouse Four. Assistant City Administrator Keith Wilkins says it’s part of the overall plan to develop Pensacola’s Bayfront.
“We’ve been approached by several different parties about reusing that building and re-purposing the building for different things,” said Wilkins. “Most recently we were approached by the [Institute for Human and Machine Cognition] and what they could do there.”
The total price tag for such a project is placed at $23 million. The city is asking Triumph Gulf Coast for $15 million, while providing the land and building, valued at two million, to the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition.
“The city just sits as the landlord; IHMC would be the tenant and deliver their programs out of the building,” Wilkins said. “As landlord and owner of the building, it needs a roof; it needs asbestos removal, and cleaning up.”
Julie Sheppard, General Counsel for IHMC, says it has always wanted to expand into marine technology. About a year ago, the Institute hired a scientist who holds about 35 patents in undersea technology.
“We started discussions about how could we make this happen, and found out that there was actually the abandoned warehouse at the Port that would be a great facility,” said Sheppard. “It’s been a discussion that’s been a long time in the making. We probably have about 12-15 months trying to create a collaborative program.”
IMHC is not going this project alone. It has a number of partners in the public-private partnership.
“The City [of Pensacola] is involved in re-purposing the Port facility,” said Sheppard. “Escambia County’s Natural Resource Management Department does a lot of work in estuaries, Center for Bio-Remediation at the University of West Florida. So we think we’re bringing together a great partnership.”
The City of Pensacola’s Keith Wilkins says IHMC is currently in discussions with potential partners in research activities, such as the Navy and Air Force, in areas such as robotics, artificial intelligence, and unmanned marine vessels.
Such a facility at the Port, according to Wilkins, would also be expected to have a multiplier effect, both directly and indirectly,on future job growth in the region.
“If you look at downtown St. Petersburg, they have the Marine Research Institute on the Bayfront,” said Wilkins. “So as we’re the ferries in, the ferry docks right there from the beach, and Fort Pickens are fight there. I really think that would enliven that whole area for other activities.”
Right now, initial job creation through the Center is projected at 25; focusing on research, education and technology. Salaries would range from $60,000-$150,000 per year. IHMC’s Julie Sheppard says along with the jobs and the research, they will also engage in talent development at the high school level.
“Pensacola State College has got an incredible advanced manufacturing facility,” said Sheppard. “Washington High School has a wonderful marine biology program; West Florida High School has an incredible program in aquaculture, and in aerospace engineering.”
Work on the project is already underway. Besides environmental assessment, consultants are identifying the cost, with data from both going into the application for Triumph funding. If the green light is given by the end of this year, construction and renovation on Warehouse Four could begin in January.