PENSACOLA, Fla. - After an emotional speech from businessman Quint Studer, the Community Maritime Park Associates board on Wednesday voted unanimously to approve an agreement from Studer and his wife, Rishy, to contribute a total of $2.25 million to park improvements.
CMPA attorney Ed Fleming said publicly last week that he believed the Studers committed to two gifts for the park - $2.25 million and $2.05 million - totaling $4.3 million. But the Studers maintained their total commitment was always the $2.25 million they pledged in the park's master lease agreement signed in 2006. Fleming's contention that the Studers made a second gift arose out of comments one of the Studers' attorneys, Bob Hart, made on Jan. 31. At that time, Hart said the Studers authorized him to say that they were contributing "an additional $2,050,000" to help pay for some $5 million in multi-use stadium enhancements to accommodate the Studers' newly purchased Double-A baseball team.
"This came about over some very silly terms. Somebody said 'additional,' Mr. Studer said it was the same money, and in my opinion it was one gift," CMPA Chairman Collier Merrill said at Wednesday's special meeting, called when the controversy came to light last week. "It was very obvious that somebody said 'additional' and somebody took it out of context. I appreciate the gift. I have not seen anybody else step up and do that."
At the meeting, the Studers presented the CMPA with their $2.25 million check. They also signed an agreement for how proceeds from the stadium will be split between the baseball team, named the Blue Wahoos, and the city - an agreement whose signing had been held up by the dispute.
Fleming did not speak at the meeting, and the board did not ask him to give his legal position on the matter.
A number of the Studers' friends and employees at their health care consulting company, the Studer Group, filled the meeting room to near capacity. A renowned motivational speaker, as his business offers seminars across the country, Studer gave a lengthy talk in which he at one point bordered on tears. He first focused on his continued recovery from alcohol addiction.
"Today will not be a bad day. Number one, I won't drink, and if I don't drink it will be a good day," he said.
He said his family has been hurt by mean-spirited comments about him from some people in the community and online comments to a news story about his and his wife's role in the park project and the amount of their contribution.
He said his daughter recently said she "doesn't want to live in this town because of what people are saying," and his son was "afraid to say his last name because he was afraid he might get teased." He almost cried as he told Rishy, who was at the meeting, that he was sorry she "had to go through all of this."
Studer talked about coming here from Chicago, the properties he and his wife have purchased in Pensacola, their investments in those properties, their many contributions to local charities, and the role the Studer Group plays in the community.
"Since we have been in this community, if autism called we tried to answer. If the Council on Aging called, we tried to answer. If the PACE Center for Girls called, if Pathways for Change called, we tried to answer, and I think if you look at the hundreds of thousands of dollars we have tried to give in this community, I think you will find that we have delivered on all of them," Studer said. "If I thought there were two gifts (to the park), I can guarantee you that I would do everything I can to make sure it comes through."
He said he always intended his contribution to be only the $2.25 million obligated in the park's master lease agreement signed in 2006. "An additional $2.25 million" meant additional to the $52 million to be spent on the park project, not to the $2.25 million previous commitment, he said.
Applause for Studer
His speech was met by a prolonged standing ovation from the standing-room-only audience. Board members overwhelmingly spoke in favor of the Studers, saying they did not believe the couple were obligated to give anything more than $2.25 million.
Jim Reeves was the only board member who questioned whether the board should discuss the two contribution amounts.
He asked what might happen if the board said the Studers owed $4.3 million. Merrill said he thought it could result in a lawsuit and the loss of the Blue Wahoos.
Several board members then made comments agreeing with Studer on the matter and thanking him for his donation. "There is nobody who has done more in the history of this community than Quint and Rishy Studer," said CMPA member John Merting, a lawyer. "I think there is no legal obligation and not even a moral obligation for the Studers to pay more (than $2.25 million). If there is anybody on this board who wishes to overreach to do it, I will not be a part of it." Board member Juanita Scott said, "If we take more than a few more minutes on this issue, shame on us for wasting time."
Added board member Audra Carter, "Enough is enough. We are going to have a park. I want Pensacola to move forward. I am saying, you guys, let's just move forward and not fight about this anymore."
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.