The cities of Pensacola and Gulf Breeze are getting a new, wider Pensacola Bay Bridge. The Gulf Breeze City Council has used that game-changing project as a catalyst for developing a master plan for the future of its town of about 6,000 residents.
City Manager Edwin “Buz” Eddy said the plan was created as a way for the city to deal with the additional 15,000 trips a day that are expected on U.S. Highway 98 due to the expansion of the Pensacola Bay Bridge. He said the plan, dubbed the “Most Livable City Plan,” also aims to keep up the city’s momentum in regards to economic development.
“We’ve done a pretty good job with attracting the Andrews Institute to the community, encouraging Baptist to expand in the city, and AppRiver is a great asset to the city,” he said. “We need a plan for traffic and a plan for future economic development.”
Eddy said the plan, which has been in the works for nearly a year-and-a-half, “is not a prescription where we’re saying we have to do it here, from here and move it exactly like you see here,” but rather a vision for the future.
The master plan did raise some concerns when it was unveiled so the city council held last month a Master Plan Public Meeting at the Gulf Breeze Community Center to better explain how the plan was developed and its elements.
Three Catalyst Sites
A 10-member steering committee worked with VHB MillerSellen, a planning, design and engineering firm based out of Orlando, to develop the plan that identified three catalyst sites, which were selected for market potential, visibility on U.S. Highway 98 and potential for change, to serve as jumping off points for the plan’s implementation.
The sites were named East Gate, Bay Bridge Landing and Town Center. Dan Kopack, chairman of the steering committee, gave a presentation detailing the plan at the public meeting.
East Gate encompasses the eastern entrance into the city from the Gulf Islands National Seashore area. The catalyst site includes everything on both sides of Gulf Breeze Parkway from the Gulf Breeze Hospital to just past the Pensacola Beach overpass. The master plan calls for a new road running parallel to U.S. Highway 98 between McClure Drive and St. Francis Drive and the construction of office buildings and parking garages to increase jobs.
The Bay Bridge Landing site is the northwest entrance in the city. It spans from where the Pensacola Bay Bridge enters Gulf Breeze to near the location of the Breeze Mart Shell station on Gulf Breeze Parkway. The master plan calls for a new hotel and marina on this site as well as the construction of a breakwater wall on the west side of the bridge. Kopack said the plan also includes shifting the bridge’s alignment 10 feet to the east and reducing the median sizes from 30 feet to 25 feet, both of which would require the permission and cooperation of the Florida Department of Transportation.
“The reason is, is if we do that then we’re able to capture land [to the west] for parking, for flow-through traffic, and there will still be sufficient room left for picnic pavilions and what not,” he said.
The third catalyst site is the Town Center site, which covers everything from the intersection of U.S. Highway 98 and Fairpoint Drive to the intersection of U.S. Highway 98 and Daniel Drive. This was the most controversial part of the master plan because it called for the relocation of the Gulf Breeze High School football stadium and baseball fields off of Highway 98 to the site that currently has the Sailwind Condominiums on Shoreline Drive.
Moving City Hall
In response to concerns about the potential displacement of the current Sailwind property owners, Kopack stressed again and again that the plan was only a “vision” and said that the stadium relocation will only occur if it is beneficial to everyone affected.
“Some people have said to me it will never happen,” he said. “Really? Never? Never is a very long time. Will it? I don’t know. I just don’t know.”
Kopack said the steering committee felt that the relocation of the athletic fields “was really a lynchpin to the overall redevelopment of the city.”
In the event that the relocation does occur, City Hall and the public library will be moved down the road to Shoreline Park. This suggested move to what is currently a conservation area has also garnered some negative feedback.
“It can be done and it can be done well and it can be done with the preservation of that natural beauty over there and it can be enhanced,” Kopack said.
He also pointed out five acres of land east of the current football and baseball fields that could potentially be developed for residential use or a combination of residential and retail.
The plan also calls for the creation of a multi-use trail system on Shoreline Drive and Fairpoint Drive. Kopack said the paths would be open to pedestrians and bicyclists and would improve their safety.
He said plans for this site would take years to complete but the committee is confident they can be done. The stadium relocation in particular, was presented as being a long term goal that is at least 10 years in the future.
At the meeting, Eddy said the steering committee had done what it was asked to do and presented a well-thought-out plan for the future of Gulf Breeze. He said there was no need for concern, however, as the plan’s actual implementation is “to be determined.”
“The stadium doesn’t get relocated for example, as the city attorney pointed out at a council meeting the other night, unless it’s a beneficial prospect for everybody involved—the people at Sailwind want to see it moved, the people at the school board have decided that the stadium needs to be rebuilt and there needs to be a new location for the stadium—otherwise, it stays where it is,” he said. “We just asked these fine folks on the steering committee to come up with a vision and that’s exactly what they did.”
Eddy encouraged residents to leave comments on provided cards and also to email and call with any comments or concerns about the plan. He said the comments would be taken to the city council which will then determine whether to move forward with the plan as is or amend it. Comments from the meeting have been posted on the City of Gulf Breeze website, cityofgulfbreeze.com.