Pensacola, Florida
Tuesday September 30th 2014

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Outtakes—A Long Time Coming

By Rick Outzen

The American Planning Association has designated Palafox Street—from Wright Street to Pensacola Bay—as one of its 10 Great Streets for 2013.

APA’s Great Places in America program names 30 exemplary streets, neighborhoods and public spaces to highlight the role planning and planners play in adding value to communities, including fostering economic growth and jobs.

Palafox, the main drag for downtown Pensacola, was recognized for its European influences, mix of Spanish Colonial and Chicago School architecture, wide medians and sidewalks, and its planning, especially the conversion of the street back to a two-way thoroughfare.

The rebirth of downtown Pensacola was anything but an overnight success. Many of those in city hall had little to do with changes that have led to the Palafox renaissance.

Retired banker E.W. Hopkins deserves credit for the European flavor of south Palafox. His savings and loan, First Mutual, made many of the loans that encouraged property owners to renovate with balconies. Deborah Dunlap, who owns much of the east side of the 100 block, carried on that look on her buildings that surround the Saenger Theatre.

It wasn’t that long ago that south Palafox was not only one-way, but it also was serpentine, weaving through downtown. Planners and city leaders spent nearly a decade straightening the street, paving the sidewalks with bricks.

Several businesses closed as the street work drove away customers. Maybe you remember these Palafox businesses:  Art Bar, Ordon’s, Page and Palette, Liza’s, Pearson & Sons Outfitters, Palafox Trolley Restaurant, Frank Bennett’s, Fattahi Art Gallery, Civil War Museum, Le Bistro and Victorian Tea Shop?

In October 2008, the Pensacola City Council voted to open Palafox to two-way traffic. The change helped make Vinyl Music Hall, Bodacious Olive and Carmen’s Lunch Bar possible and improved the business prospects of all the restaurants and retail on the street. The same council also voted to demolish the old Bayfront Auditorium and replaced it with Plaza de Luna.

Kim Kimbrough, former executive of the Downtown Improvement Board, brought
Palafox Market to north Palafox. According to the city hall, the market is one of the country’s most-celebrated year-round farmers markets.

The Urban Redevelopment Advisory Committee, chaired by Brian Hooper, pushed for bollards downtown to close off Palafox to traffic during Gallery Nights and festivals. With the help of DIB board member John Peacock and the Escambia County Commission, those bollards were installed last month.

And these are just a few of the people, businesses and decisions that have made Palafox a great street. It was truly a team effort by several, civic-minded visionaries.