by Jeremy Morrison, Inweekly
Pensacola officials are currently mulling over how best to spend $18 million in the downtown core. A suite of four potential projects focused on walkability and connectivity were presented Pensacola City Council members during a meeting Monday night.
Councilwoman Jewel Cannada-Wynn said she thought all four projects would benefit downtown—or, more specifically the Urban Core Community Redevelopment Agency, which encompasses the downtown area—and was particularly interested in the project aimed at transforming Bruce Beach into a waterfront destination space.
“I’m excited. I wish that we had the money to it all,” Cannada-Wynn said. “Every project is something that’s needed. Every project is something that’s going to improve our city.”
Last summer, the city council voted to refinance bonds associated with the Community Maritime Park to get $17.8 million, now $18 million with interest, to use for improvements within the downtown CRA. They did so shortly after hearing a pitch for two separate downtown projects from New York City-based landscape architectural firm SCAPE, whose design work downtown businessman Quint Studer financed.
The SCAPE projects — both on the list of potentials presented Monday — include the Bruce Beach improvements, as well as walkability and connectivity improvements along the waterfront and within a cluster of downtown streets dubbed the ‘hashtag.’ The remaining two projects under consideration involved the construction of a municipal marina at Community Maritime Park and a reimagining of an area off of East Garden Street, as well as a road diet along Jefferson Street. According to outside consultants hired by the city, the four projects together total north of $21 million.
“I believe these are all transformative and catalytic projects,” said CRA Executive Director Helen Gibson.
During her presentation on Monday, Gibson noted that all four potential projects stem from the 2010 Urban Core Plan. She listed off other recommendations from that plan that the city had already tackled.
“We have been taking bites of this elephant to consume it one bite at a time,” said Gibson.
She acknowledged the total price tag for the collection of projects might require working in phases: “We can’t eat the whole elephant at one time. What kind of bites can we take our of it?”
Mayor Grover Robinson told four city council members in attendance that he thought the city could likely be able to secure the lacking funds to complete all four projects via grants.
“I wouldn’t worry about everything to the penny,” Robinson said.
According to the consultants, the total estimated cost for all four projects is $21,655,260. The Hashtag Waterfront Connector project is the most expensive at more than $10 million. The Bruce Beach project would run an estimated $8.6 million. The CMP marina is expected to cost nearly $1.6 million. The East Garden District/Jefferson St. Road Diet project, which involves a public-private partnership with a developer, costs about $1.3 million.
Proposed by SCAPE, the Hashtag project concentrates on better connecting downtown Pensacola to its waterfront, and also improving the walkability of the city’s urban landscape. The project has been divided into three phases.
Phase one of the Hashtag project includes a Complete Streets revitalization of Main Street between Alcaniz and Baylen streets, as well as traffic calming components, bike lanes, bioretention features and urban landscaping.
The second and third phases of the Hashtag project involve Complete Streets related improvements along Cedar Street, between Bartram Park and Spring Street. This portion of the project would also see better pedestrian connectivity between Baylen and Port Royal Way, as well as near the Port of Pensacola. Also, a ‘woonerf,’ or shared street concept would be employed along a stretch of Cedar.
The other project proposed by SCAPE aims to tie Bruce Beach, to the north of CMP, into the rest of downtown and also capitalize on the beach’s presently underutilized urban waterfront. Like the Hashtag project, the Bruce Beach project was presented as a phased effort.
Phase one of the Bruce Beach project includes the construction of terraces and a pedestrian bridge, as well as a kayak launch—estimated cost $1.99 million.
The second phase involves the addition of sitting walls, an overlook area, exercise equipment, as well as parking and a marsh trail—estimated cost $1.96 million.
At $1.94 million, phase three would include an entry plaza, a learning garden and water feature, as well as shade structures and cultural exhibits. And finally, phase four, would consist of more cultural and educational exhibits, and other site amenities and run $1.98 million.
The proposed day marina at the CMP would have 49 slips. The facility would not feature electricity or running water.
Some of the work needed ahead of the actual marina has already been completed. The city did the dredging in 2010 for $600,000 and constructed the breakwater in 2015 for more than $1.8 million. The marina is expected to cost about a million and a half.
East Garden District/Jefferson St. Road Diet
The East Garden District would be a public-private partnership with local developer Chad Henderson, founder and CEO of Catalyst HRE. The project entails overhauling the area of downtown near the intersection of Garden and Jefferson, adding retail, residential, a restaurant, a hotel and parking garage.
Around 20,000 square feet of existing buildings would be repurposed. There would be about 30,000 square feet of new mixed-use development, and 175,000 square feet of hotel and parking garage space.
While the city expects to put in a bit more than a million dollars, there will be an estimated $40 million of private investment in the project. The city projects the project will add $247,000 to the property rolls, generate $2.2 million in sales tax and $368,000 in bed tax.
City council members did not comment publicly on the projects during Monday’s meeting. They will decide later this month if these four project will be what the $18 million will be spent on.
City Council Vice President and CRA chairman Jared Moore did offer some insight into his thinking, as he viewed architectural renderings of the projects.
“I think this is great, man,” Moore said, adding that he felt these projects further completed Pensacola’s revitalization puzzle. “These catalytic projects seem like big pieces.”