Why do nine out of 10 Pensacola residents believe the city is moving in the right direction? Some can point to the strong-mayor form of government and they would be partially right. However, I believe it’s the new Maritime Park that is the primary driver of increased optimism.
In 2008 when the Better Pensacola Forum commissioned Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, Inc. to conduct the first Quality of Life Survey, only about one out of four
Pensacola voters thought the city was headed to better days. Pollster Larry Harris said that the city lacked any tangible results to claim as significant economic developments. We were a community without many wins.
The Maritime Park is the tangible result—that win—for which Pensacola has hungered. It’s an accomplishment that citizens can point out with pride. They built it and this summer they fully enjoyed it.
The Pensacola Blue Wahoos played 40 home games before sellout crowds. The team ended the season with total attendance of 328,147—the only franchise in the 10-team Southern League to draw more than 300,000. The Cincinnati Red’s affiliated Double-A team averaged 4,825 fans in 68 home dates, which equates to 95.8 percent of the facility’s capacity, according to team officials.
Last week, Baseballparks.com, a website that annually reviews baseball stadiums, recognized the stadium as the top new stadium in all of professional baseball. Past recipients of this award include AT&T Park in San Francisco, PNC Park in Pittsburgh and last year’s winner Salt River Field in Arizona.
While people still grumble about the bayfront stadium’s cost of $18 million, $2.25 million of which the Studers paid, the cost is far less than the price tags of the two larger stadiums that the park beat out for the award—Marlin Park ($634 million) and Fort Myer’s JetBlue Park ($77.9 million). The Salt River Field that is used by the Diamondbacks’ Rookie team cost $100 million.
But you can’t measure the impact of the Maritime Park in dollars and cents. Jim Hizer, Greater Pensacola Chamber CEO, says that the park has helped create a buzz about Pensacola among corporate site selectors. He calls it a quality of life enhancer that has put the community on the same par as Jacksonville, Mobile, Montgomery and Birmingham, cities that have teams in the Southern League.
When the Maritime Park was first discussed in early 2005, the basic premise was the community needed a win, something to make it believe in itself. It has taken us seven years to get that win, but we have it.
It’s okay to pat yourself on the back.