A battered timber leans against the wall of Michael Carro’s NAI Halford office, names and professions of love carved into the grain. This piece of wood is a piece of Pensacola history. It was plucked from Trader John’s—the landmark bar that once drew droves of thirsty sailors to the block south of Government Street.
The bar closed a decade ago, taking the thirsty sailors with it. Now, Carro, a commercial real estate broker, hopes to bring people back.
He and his business partners purchased the building and lot adjacent to Trader John’s about a year ago.
Now, they plan to develop the property into a dining destination like nothing Pensacola has seen before.
They already have a restaurant lined up for the building. They hope it will open by Nov. 1. For the lot, Carro envisions a sort of outdoor food court, which will be lushly landscaped and anchored by four converted Airstream trailers, which will be named “Alfresco.”
“I think it’s going to be reminiscent of an oasis in our downtown area,” he said.
He said they plan to break ground on the project sometime in July. He got the idea from the Gulf Coast community of Seaside, Fla. While there for a charity event, he saw a collection of six Airstreams converted into restaurants.
He said he hoped the project would encourage pedestrian traffic and draw people south of Government Street.
“That’s really what we need in a downtown area,” he said.
“Right now all the restaurants tend to be [north] … between Garden and Romana. There’s really nothing down here [except Jaco’s].”
Carro said he felt Pensacola was moving in the right direction.
“A vibrant downtown sets the pace for the community,” he said. “Over the past eight years, it has been progressively building toward what we have today, and that is a lot of downtown development, of people that are taking chances and risks, and that is the key to bringing people to the area.”
“Everything I would like to see happen appears to be happening,” he said. He noted the proliferation of restaurants and shops downtown and the success of cultural events like Gallery Nights.
He said he was also excited by the Blue Wahoos.
“I could care less about sports,” he said, “but I’m becoming a baseball fan because I go to tons of Wahoos games.” He said he likes the energy and the environment.
“Our stadium is so beautiful. It’s just a treasure.”
He is also optimistic that the stadium will become an economic driver for the rest of downtown.
“You’ve got 70 times a year that thousands of people who weren’t gonna be downtown are downtown,” he said. “All of these things drive people from the outer community to the core.”
“We’ve got a champion in Mayor Hayward,” Carro said. “He’s really promoting the downtown area.”
Carro called commercial real estate brokers an informal early economic indicator. “When our phones start ringing off the hook, it’s an exciting time,” he said.
And the phones have been ringing.
“This is the most exciting time,” Carro said. “Pensacola is at a tipping point.”