For decades, businesses and visitors had to deal with the odiferous Main Street sewage treatment plant that sat like a fat toad on the west side of downtown blocking any real growth. Outdoor dining on Palafox was a diner-beware gamble where patrons had to scoff down their meals before the wind direction changed.
Then came Hurricane Ivan. Federal officials deemed the ancient facility, that dumped daily 20 million gallons of treated sewage into Pensacola Bay, an environmental risk because it was too close to the bay. The Emerald Coast Utility Authority, which had fought relocating the facility, saw the light, accepted the federal dollars and built a state-of-the-art plant in the central part of the county.
The city of Pensacola agreed to give ECUA $19.5 million for the relocation and demolition of the Main Street plant that the utility had begun to call “Old Stinky” in its press releases. Last year, the demolition was completed and green sod placed over the 19 acres.
Now the question is what will happen with the property—High-rise condos? Office buildings? Retail? Affordable housing? RV park?
ECUA plans to put it on the market in March. Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward said in his 2012 State of the City address that he was exploring the purchase of the huge city block.
“Given its size, and proximity to the Community Maritime Park and waterfront, its successful redevelopment is critical,” said the mayor.
However, the city of Pensacola doesn’t need to own any more vacant land. The Maritime Park, Downtown Technology Park and the commercial areas at the Pensacola International Airport need tenants. For a financially strapped city, the purchase of the 19 acres makes little sense. Besides, the city has shown itself to be a terrible developer.
Instead Mayor Hayward should reconsider the creation of the Government Center District that would allow the city to establish an overlay district that could specify the acceptable uses for the property. He had recommended such a district in January 2012, but the city council balked and tabled the amendment to the city’s land development. The amendment never got off the table and the mayor has yet to bring up it again.
Time is ticking on the issue. If ECUA starts accepting offers for the land, then it will be too late for the city to establish the overlay district. The “Field of Dream” will become someone else’s dream, not his.