Recently I spoke to the Five Flags Rotary Club about the current state of our community. Some may have felt my evaluation would be negative, especially considering the recent issues at Pensacola City Hall, Greater Pensacola Chamber and Escambia County Commission.
However, I think we have to separate the momentary miscues by these entities from what is really happening in this area. I’m very optimistic about our community. In a very tough economy, this area is exhibiting the signs of a healthy recovery.
Navy Federal Credit Union is a success story that has almost single-handedly raised the median household of our area. It currently employs 2,800 people at its Beulah campus. Navy Federal CEO Cutler Dawson announced in April a $200 million expansion that will include two new buildings on its Beulah campus by the end of 2015 and a minimum of 1,500 new jobs. The long-range expansion plan is to create a $1 billion campus with another 4,700 jobs by 2020.
Under the leadership of Dr. Judy Bense, the University of West Florida has become a major university and is developing into another economic engine for the region. With all eyes focused on developing a skilled workforce for the future, Pensacola State College, under Dr. Ed Meadows, is at the forefront of job training.
And then there is the unprecedented renaissance of downtown Pensacola. In a very tough economy, the downtown area is booming, much of it due to the development of the Community Maritime Park. Weeknights and weekends are filled with people enjoying one of the most beautiful and historic downtowns in the state. Few cities can boast that.
It wasn’t that long ago that we all dreaded walking downtown because of the odor drifting from the Main Street Sewage Plant. Today we with dozens of others enjoy eating outside and playing in downtown parks. I can’t wait to see how that site will be redeveloped. If done correctly, we could see the successes on Palafox Street expand to the west.
The next step for downtown Pensacola is more residents. If Rishy and Quint Studer are able to complete their purchase of the News Journal property, we might see housing that will be affordable for many of those working downtown. Such a project would truly be transformative and could be the catalyst for retail downtown.
I am very bullish about the greater Pensacola area and see way more positives than negatives. Yes, problems exist, but there is movement to finally address them in a meaningful way.
We can’t lose sight of the positives, and let the political melodramas overshadow our successes.