Woodland Heights Center: Commitments not fufilled

By Sammi Sontag

The Woodland Heights Resource Center is tucked away off Fairfield Drive near Pensacola Village. The center was built in 2013 to bring cultural and creative outlets to African-American neighborhood. Five years later, the center has fewer arts programs than expected.

“The city promised to help us,” said Walter Wallace, president of the Woodland Heights Neighborhood Association. “But we’re here being neglected. I’ve talked to my district representative (Councilman Gerald Wingate) about it because (the resource center) has never transpired into what it was supposed to be.”

Wallace remembered how optimistic he felt when the center opened. He spoke with a number of children who were excited to have the opportunity to explore art and culture. There was finally a place for young people to immerse themselves in something new. He saw potential.

A PNJ article written by Troy Moon (“Neighborhood Showpiece,” Oct. 30, 2013) validates Wallace’s memories of the high expectations for the Woodland Heights center.

Moon interviewed Thomas Brame who was the center’s first supervisor. He said the new center wouldn’t just be a neighborhood showpiece, but a community showpiece.

“We want to reach out to Pensacola with this center,” Brame said in 2013. “We’re going to bring in the Belmont Youth Band and other organizations. We really have a unique facility here and want to take advantage of it.”

The building has a stage, dressing rooms, a gym and other amenities. However, it has not received the appropriate attention, according to Wallace. The recreation center has fallen to the wayside, and the arts and cultural outlet for the kids has disappeared.

“It’s become nothing but a babysitting center,” he said. “We built it to be an art and culture center.”

Recreation Supervisor Reba Smith said the center doesn’t host youth basketball games because it isn’t regulation size and doesn’t have seating. She said,”It was built for art, but it hasn’t gone that direction.”

Smith said there have been no complaints about the lack of programing since she’s been supervisor, but if people would like to increase after school and summer programs and performances she’s open to anything.

“Our jobs here aren’t to necessarily promote the art side of the center,” she said. “I’m not an art and drama instructor, I’m just a recreation supervisor. So as far as advertising I don’t have an instructor for those programs so they don’t happen.”

She continued, “It’s not a lack of funding, but this is a predominately black neighborhood, and I would encourage the neighborhood to embrace or try something new, but we just don’t have instructors for that.”

When the resource center first opened, Smith was told there were a number of performances there that were put on by people outside the community. But recently, no one has come forward to ask to utilize the space.

“We do have a number of dance teams who use the facilities they come in and take advantage of the space,” she said. “And as far as drama and things like that, since I’ve been here, there hasn’t been anyone who come forward to say they want to do something that highlights the stage area because we do have a nice sound system and can put up chairs”

Brian Cooper, the City Parks and Recreation director, was not available to be interviewed for this article.

Note: The mayor’s office never presented an operational budget for the proposed $8.6-million Bayview Community Center.  The city council wasn’t given a memorandum of understanding regarding the Pensacola Rowing Club running the boathouse at the center.


4 thoughts on “Woodland Heights Center: Commitments not fufilled

  1. I agree. And given that fact, any ordinary, observant person can conclude Ashton Hayward’s entire staff is just as inept as he is. Pensacola really needs one of the five folks running for his seat, and it doesn’t matter which one, to replace him.

  2. Is anyone surprised that the Mayor touted this as an investment in the African American community and didn’t keep his promise? Name one he has kept?

  3. When I was a City Council District 1 candidate in 2016, I attended the full duration of every meeting, hearing and workshop. Some of the things aid were shocking but never reported in the media because the City Council does not want its meeting documented by verbatim meeting transcripts prepared by a certified court reporter so the public and media can know what is said or not said and done or not done. One of the most shocking things I heard was a comment by Councilman Wingate about how the kids who live near this community center were not allowed to use it because it was being used by people who contracted with the city to use it provide for-profit services. After the workshop, I went up and asked Wingate to give me more details. I was shocked. I then did some digging and found that much the same thing was taking place at the Gull Point Community Center in District 1. Cooper is the guy who told our neighborhood association that it was not fair that city residents had access to so many parks. I think he might live in Cantonment.

  4. Interesting quote from the center director – they can’t host basketball games because the court isn’t regulation. Who designed that? How was that approved. Guess they really have been short-changed. Wow!!!

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