Fulfilling a campaign promise to crack down on blight and improve neighborhoods, Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward today will join Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan in announcing an agreement between the owners of the old Blount School building on East Gregory Street for the City to purchase the property and demolish it.
The school building, a dilapidated structure that has been vacant for decades, has been an eyesore for the surrounding neighbors and for the community at large. Blighted structures like the former Blount School, as well as other closed school properties, tend to fall into disrepair over time, and become home to crime, structural dangers, and other community nuisances.
Hayward is announcing the deal as part of an intensive effort to revitalize city neighborhoods and crack down on property owners that neglect their property and hurt the value of surrounding homes and neighborhoods.
“Since 1982, this property has been an eyesore and a blight on a historic neighborhood that is trying to restore itself,” says Hayward. “I remember knocking on doors in the area during the campaign, thinking what a tragedy it was for that property to just continue to sit there and rot. One of my big priorities is to clean up Pensacola, and this deal will go a long way to helping these neighborhoods attract investment, increase their property value, as well as their potential for redevelopment.”
Sheriff David Morgan, who has been a vocal advocate for cleaning up abandoned properties throughout the County, states his support for the measure, and hopes the move would generate community awareness and support for further revitalization or renovation of vacant buildings.
“We all understand the realities of why schools get closed, but we also need to understand the impact these vacant structures can have on a community,” said Morgan. “These empty buildings quickly turn into virtual safe-havens for crime, drugs, and prostitution. Every taxpayer should know that just because these properties aren’t holding students anymore, they’re still costing us money in law enforcement, prison, and judicial costs, not to mention lost property values and the general decline of a neighborhood. This is a positive step in the reclaiming of Pensacola and Escambia County from crime and neglect. We support this progressive idea and believe that working together, we can invoke positive change in this community.” Morgan continued.
Over the past several years, the Gregory Street property alone has accrued over $50,000 in code enforcement liens from the City of Pensacola, for violating city ordinances governing upkeep of property, and is accruing liens of $250 per day. As part of the contract, the City will purchase the property for $225,000 from Blount Redevelopment, LLC, which purchased the property for $400,000 in 2004.
Once the sale has closed, the City will assume and forgive the liens placed on the property, which will continue to accrue until closing. Funds for the sale will come from federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds, and those CDBG funds will also be used for the demolition of the property, scheduled for later this year. Hayward said the City Council would need to approve the transaction, and he hoped that members of the Council would approve it quickly.
Hayward also notes that he would be presenting School Superintendent Malcolm Thomas and the School Board with a status report on the six other dilapidated school district properties in the City, as well as the negative impacts on the neighborhoods surrounding those properties.
“We can’t afford to wait another thirty years to do something with Spencer Bibbs, or Hallmark, or any of the other schools that are closing down,” states Hayward. “The citizens deserve better, and I look forward to working with the Superintendent and the School Board to find ways to make sure that these taxpayer assets don’t become liabilities for the very citizens who own them.”