HarborTown?

The Downtown Improvement Board revealed a 138-page retail strategy yesterday. I missed the press conference and hoped the PNJ would have something about it on its website this morning. No, I see they covered the reinstallation of the crawfish sign at Joe Patti Seafood.

I did review the presentation materials. Like every consultant, tourist and visitor that comes to this area, Eichelbaum opened his talk with slides about the high potential this area has. Here are some of the issues he identified:

Study assessments:

-a puzzle of many good pieces thrown on the table with parts not fitting together!

-likely the only city in America with white sand beaches and the local population gravitating away from them.

-assuredly the most unknown great tourism and retirement spot.

-a downtown of one way streets whisking potential consumers past low visibility retailers

-a community that has ceded development and tourism opportunity to Destin…to Orange Beach….to Southern
Alabama…to the detriment of local economic growth

-a downtown with thousands of church attendees every Sunday and only two spots to even have brunch after.
I do review the presentation materials. Like every consultant, tourist and visitor that comes to this area, Eichelbaum opened his talk with slides about the high potential this area has.

So much of what was presented sounds like my old Outtakes columns:

– Lack of focus on downtown has contributed to the growth of competitive areas.
– Destin inherently has no more attractions than Pensacola yet has managed rapid growth through
development and creative marketing.
– Gulf Shores and Orange Beach marketed their beaches, entertainment/retail diversity to high tourism
numbers.
– Pensacola shopping areas are rather ordinary with no major differentiation of product from other cities.
– Lack of perception of Pensacola as a regional hub, even though people are drawn to its medical, facilities, airport, festivals, etc.
– Other competitive areas have had growth due to lack of a compelling alternative put forth by Pensacola even though it has more natural features.
– Lack of connectivity of the waterfront and downtown
-The pedestrian walking environment is disjointed and disconnected due to blank walls, breaks in the pedestrian environment (parking lots, vacant buildings, etc.)
-The location of the larger/newer office buildings to the west have created a sprawl from the downtown spine of Palafox
-Government offices either break the pedestrian environment with imposing structures

Here are some of the recommendations?

• Redefine the Palafox business district, calling it “HarborTown.” From the presentation: “The identity permits a way, with market integrity, to reintroduce the district…re-energize the marketing of retail and entertainment downtown…negate past negative perceptions….and allow a necessary more immediate “re-start” time. It importantly will link downtown and the waterfront, an essential asset to so many urban retail resurgences.”

• The Palafox median north of Garden presents an opportunity to create a high energy open-air
market/festival/entertainment/exhibition area.

• Change Palafox to two-way from Main to Garden

• Add more shade trees and canopies as part of the overall amenity improvements and to create an atmosphere for strolling

• Encourage expanded glazing/glass (12 to 14 feet) on store and office fronts fortransparency/better product and activity exposure and evening lighting effect

• Standardize retail store hours until at least 6 PM Monday through Thursday and 8:00 p.m. on Friday, and Saturday and potentially longer between Thanksgiving and Christmas for retail specialty and entertainment units

• Restrict future first floor uses on Palafox to retail or entertainment

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