A massive residential and commercial development is being planned in downtown Pensacola at Garden and Spring streets, the block that’s currently home to multiple historic buildings within one of the city’s historical review districts.
Jim Reeves, whose name has been behind a multitude of developments in Pensacola over the past half-century, is planning a five-story mixed-use development that could include around 300 residences, up to 100,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space, and a 450-space parking garage.
Reeves is partnering with Pensacola developer Ed Carson on the project. It was reported this summer that developer Quint Studer has also joined the development team. Studer is developing the $50 million Southtowne mixed-use complex nearing completion downtown.
In September, the Escambia County School Board approved the $3.4 million sale of the 4.9 acre property. The sale remains under contract as the school district awaits approval from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection after the recent completion of contamination remediation of a former fuel station at the corner of Garden and Spring streets.
In their plans, the developers are proposing to demolish multiple buildings within the block, including the 1940s former USO building and former Escambia County School District headquarters, citing “compelling reasons” to raze the historic structures. The nearly century-old buildings are among the last remaining historic structures in the Governmental Center District, which encompasses most of the Tanyard neighborhood.
“According to recent real estate appraisals and professional analysis, the “highest and best use” of the property would entail demolition of all of the existing structures on the property, to allow for a unified mixed-use development,” the developers said in their request to the Architectural Review Board (ARB). “Though two of the existing structures on the property are considered “contributing structures” in the Governmental Center District, there are compelling reasons to remove both of these structures for a more compact urban concept.”
Proposed to be built within in the Governmental Center District, the developers will first need approval from the ARB to alter or demolish any of the buildings currently on the site. Within their demolition proposal, the development group proposed three options. One option includes the demolition of all buildings currently on the site, another proposes demolition of just the school board building and retaining the USO building, while another retains both buildings. The proposal does not, however, address the other structures on the site between the USO and school board buildings.
While the developers did not provide any specific documentation to support their claims for demolition, they did cite structural and foundation issues with the former USO building on Spring Street in supporting its demolition. Additionally, they stated the layout of the building is not supportive for retail or office use.
In proposing the demolition of the former school district building, the development groups states that “oversized corridors and load-bearing walls” make the building “not easily converted to office or residential use.”
Contrary to the development proposal, in the city’s 2010 Urban Core Community Redevelopment plan planners stated the school board and USO site “present an infill redevelopment opportunity that would serve as a gateway from Garden Street to the Community Maritime Park.”
The plan envisioned providing infill office development, mixed-income residential development, and structured parking. Conceptual drawings proposed “adaptive reuse of School Board office building as multi-family residential” and “adaptive reuse of existing USO building as retail or a restaurant.”
The development partners said the concept of the project is to provide a mixed-use project very similar to the Southtowne development off Palafox Street, providing retail, restaurant, and office use on the ground floors facing Garden and Spring streets, with residential units above and on ground level facing Romana Street.
According to the project plans, there would be structured parking screened by the building so that it would not be visible from the streets, also similar to Studer’s Southtowne project. An interior courtyard with a swimming pool would also be built according to the conceptual design.
The demolition request will go before the ARB on December 21.