City Prepares for Bruce Beach Project
by Jeremy Morrison
Pensacola’s urban core lives on its waterfront, with Pensacola Bay shimmering on the southern horizon. Municipal plans to improve public access to this waterfront edged forward this week with a pair of public input sessions for a project designed to provide better public access to Bruce Beach and connect the natural oasis to more developed stretches nearer downtown.
The Bruce Beach project — involving a site north of Maritime Park that has in the past served as a shipyard, as well as a public beach and pool area for the local Black community during the segregation era — is a component of a larger city effort to improve downtown waterfront access and walkability that also involves a streetscape project dubbed Hashtag. The projects are funded with approximately $18 million the city secured through refinancing bonds associated with Maritime Park.
“It’s going to energize downtown; it’s going to energize the Tanyards,” said District 7 Pensacola City Councilman Delarian Wiggins during a public input session at Maritime Park’s amphitheater.
Laid out across tables on the amphitheater’s stage were renderings of what is currently planned for Bruce Beach. Improvements include a boardwalk through a preserve of oaks and palms, a bridge linking the area to Maritime Park, a restroom facility, as well as natural and historical interpretive exhibits, a picnic area, a sand volleyball court, a kayak launch, lawn terraces and overlooks, a bus drop-off and shade structure.
As with the Hashtag project, the Bruce Beach improvements were mapped out a couple of years ago by New York City-based landscape architectural firm SCAPE. The firm based its designs on a series of public visioning sessions for the overall walkability-connectivity effort.
The plans for Bruce Beach presented this week represent SCAPE’s vision laid upon the landscape of reality.
“SCAPE’s concept was the 30,000-foot level view,” said David Forte, city capital improvement projects manager. “Now we’re on the ground.”
To do the ground-level work, the city has brought aboard HDR Engineering.
“We are tasked with taking SCAPE’s concept and making it real,” said Allen Vinson, project manager with HDR.
HDR’s team and representatives from the city meet regularly with SCAPE’s team back in New York City to ensure that the plans align with the original vision for the project. During 2019’s public input sessions, that original vision took shape, and Forte says, has remained relatively intact.
“It’s been a really neat collaboration,” Forte said.
Changes or adjustments to the project mainly involve engineering-workarounds, such as a need to shift the kayak launch location. Another change from SCAPE’s vision is the absence of an African American historic facility, in which the story of the local Black community would be relayed; at present, that telling will be limited to historical exhibits on the property, with an open area reserved for a physical facility once funding for that aspect of the project can be secured.
“This is the time for us to get this right and tell that story,” said Councilman Wiggins, who represents the area around Bruce Beach.
At this time, the Bruce Beach planning process is about 30 percent complete, with the finish line set for the end of this year. The project is split into two phases — essentially an eastern and western half — but Forte is hoping to run the construction portion of the projects somewhat in tandem.
Once the Bruce Beach improvements are realized — as well as its sister project, Hashtag — Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson believes it will energize downtown and boost the overall region.
“What happens good here spins off,” Robinson said at the public input session Wednesday night. “It’s not just about Pensacola, it’s about all of Northwest Florida.”