Last month, the NBA’s New Orleans Pelicans announced that Pensacola is a contender for their new minor league affiliate team, along with four other cities: Mobile, Ala.; Jackson, Miss.; and Baton Rouge and Shreveport in Louisiana.
If there’s one thing Pensacolians have learned, it’s that bold steps are worth taking when the stakes are high. When thousands of citizens voted to set aside $40 million to build a world-class multi-use sports facility and public park on formerly vacant, contaminated wasteland overlooking Pensacola Bay, naysayers were heard wide and far. In the end, when the Community Maritime Park was built, we saw a wave of private investment in downtown Pensacola. It proved that forging public-private partnerships could be a catalyst for economic growth in a city that had been put through the ringer — surviving through catastrophic hurricanes, the Great Recession, and the worst environmental disaster in American history — all within the same decade. Like New Orleanians, we Pensacolians know a thing or two about resiliency.
With Pensacola’s unprecedented growth in recent years, it would be easy to simply rest on our laurels and maintain the status quo — but we’ve only begun to tap into our city’s enormous potential. An NBA team establishing a presence in downtown Pensacola would raise our city’s profile, strengthen our position within the region, and open the door to new possibilities.
Do you agree that Pensacola should be the new home for the New Orleans Pelicans affiliate team? Sign the petition to Mayor Ashton Hayward, the City Council, and our local officials to make your voice heard.[emailpetition id=”2″]
The Pelicans have invited city officials to submit a proposal outlining why Pensacola is the best choice for the new minor league team. Here are our reasons why the New Orleans Pelicans and the NBA should choose to invest in Pensacola:
1. Pensacolians truly do love their local sports teams
Anyone who doubts the potential of the Pelicans to draw fans needs only to look at the statistics from attendance at Pensacola’s Blue Wahoos baseball games. In less than five years, nearly two million fans have packed their way into the park for the chance to see baseball in Pensacola, with the Wahoos ranked only second in attendance behind the Birmingham Barons, who encompass a metro area nearly three times the size of Pensacola.
Comparatively, the other cities in the running for the Pelicans’ affiliate team are far behind Pensacola: Last year, the Blue Wahoos had more attendees than both the Mississippi Braves and the Mobile Bay Bears combined.
New Orleans and Pensacola have another thing in common: Prior to the establishment of the Blue Wahoos in 2012, it was the Pensacola Pelicans that called the City of Five Flags home. The Pelicans played from 2001-2011 at Jim Spooner Field at Pelican Park. While it’s not likely the New Orleans franchise would retain the Pelicans name for their minor league team, we’re happy to come up with some suggestions — they couldn’t be worse than the Baby Cakes.
But the success doesn’t stop with the Wahoos. Despite playing in an arena that could use a few modern updates, the Pensacola Ice Flyers semi-pro hockey team has continuously been one of the top performing and highest attended teams in the league, winning three President’s Cup championships in three of the past five years.
2. Growth of downtown Pensacola is unprecedented
Of course, we know that we’re the superior city. One glance at downtown Pensacola’s Palafox Street, and you’ll see how much Pensacolians love their city. On any given day, you can see the streets packed with locals and visitors amidst the surge of new downtown development bringing hundreds of new apartments and condos, new office towers, and countless new bars and restaurants.
With the exception of New Orleans, Pensacola is the largest metro on the Gulf Coast between Houston and Tampa. We have an unmistakable cultural and historical connection to the Crescent City and the nearly half a million people who call Pensacola home would love to open their doors to our neighbors down the coast.
3. Pensacola is a great city to be an athlete
With all that Pensacola has to offer, we certainly wouldn’t have any trouble attracting players to come play here. With the city’s great nightlife, amazing food, and beautiful beaches, what else could a young athlete want? We’re also a leader in world-class sports medicine for athletes with the Andrew’s Institute. The Pelicans could easily assemble an all-star squad just by pitching the city’s perks.
Speaking of attracting athletes, it’s a secret no longer that Pensacola is an American treasure. From being recognized as America’s first European settlement to being home to one of the most visited National Park sites in America, we make a pretty good recruitment tool for athletes. But don’t take our word for it, here’s just a few of the honors bestowed upon our little piece of paradise.
4. Unfinished Business. We loved the Tornados
Pensacola was once home to semi-pro basketball at what was then known as the Pensacola Civic Center in the 1980s and early 90s. Bringing the sport back to town would give us more chances for success.
They may not have ever won a national championship, but the Tornados did win quite a bit. Clearly, we proved basketball in Pensacola had plenty of potential, so why not allow that success to be realized?
5. It could be a catalyst for renovating or replacing an aging arena
Let’s face it: the Pensacola Bay Center has seen better days. Built in 1985, the arena is more than three decades old and needs to be either renovated or replaced. Its lack of modern amenities has made it harder for the facility to attract top-tier events, making it even more of a burden on taxpayers.
In the past year, some local groups have suggested replacing the Bay Center with a multi-use sports complex; however, that could prove to be a big flop now that nearby Foley, Ala. has built its own sports complex just 30 miles to the west.
Instead, it might make more sense to upgrade the existing facility with modern amenities: new arena seating, a modern LED video scoreboard, new concession areas, and maybe even the addition of a mixed-use hotel development with structured parking in the place of the current surface parking lot. Such a plan would take millions in both public and private investment, but it’s a whole lot cheaper than tearing it down and starting over. Let’s prove to the Pelicans how serious we are about growing our city.