By John Peacock, Downtown Improvement Board chairman
The City of Pensacola is an amazingly wonderful place to live, work and play, and the downtown area is quickly becoming a destination for businesses and visitors alike. Palafox Street was recently named one of America’s Top 10 Streets. Thanks to the wise decision by the County Commission and Visit Pensacola to support additional Holiday lighting and decorations, downtown was the talk of the town – and the region – as a destination to shop, dine, visit, and ring in the New Year with the Pelican Drop. New businesses are opening monthly it seems, and we are poised to bring hundreds of new residents to downtown.
However, this progress did not happen by chance. It is the result of decades of investment by entrepreneurs, investors, and the selfless decision of property owners in downtown Pensacola to voluntarily levy additional taxes on themselves to pay for improvements such as lighting, sidewalks, landscaping and bringing more visitors to downtown Pensacola. These committed citizens saw the potential of our urban core, and took much financial and economic risk to support that vision.
The current Board of Directors of the Downtown Improvement Board – all volunteers and all property or business owners in the taxing district – share a vision to continue the growth and improvement to our downtown area. While Palafox from Garden St. to Main St. is looking better than ever, we are responsible for 44 blocks. We have a long way to go to make the rest of the Downtown Improvement District look like Palafox. Our work is not done. Rather, we are just getting started.
So, one can imagine the frustration of hundreds of business owners, property owners, and downtown supporters who read Councilman Charles Bare’s suggestion that the Downtown Improvement Board should be disbanded and that the work of the DIB was complete. Nothing could be further from the truth.
While we still have work to do improving our internal operations and making downtown a place where everyone feels comfortable, our parking program is producing revenue used to clean sidewalks, beautify the area and support local businesses. Bare may forget that just 8 years ago the CIty of Pensacola couldn’t get the DIB to manage downtown parking quickly enough.
Our community is moving in the right direction, and I believe downtown Pensacola is leading that movement. However, we still have one-third of our population living in poverty and almost half of our minority youth don’t graduate high school. Our city has infrastructure, safety, and economic issues that need urgent attention and energy. As an example, in the past year, over $50 million dollars in private investment were lost due to action (or inaction) of City leaders at the former Hawkshaw property and the Community Maritime Park.
I would hope that Councilman Bare, as the At-Large member of the City Council, would focus on these challenges and work to address them, as opposed to complaining about the DIB and downtown Pensacola. We can all improve, so let’s work together to make all of Pensacola better, not tear it apart. By embracing the vision and continuing the work of downtown Pensacola’s early investors and entrepreneurs, our future can be as rich as our past. Let’s make that our focus for 2016.