The recent controversy over food trucks in downtown Pensacola has brought to the surface a problem that city officials and the Downtown Improvement Board (DIB) have avoided discussing publicly. Downtown restaurants and nightclubs are struggling.
Three months after the Mayor Ashton Hayward celebrated Palafox being one of the “10 Great Streets in America,” owners along the street are sharing with the Independent News that 2013 was not a very good year for them. We have been told that revenues were either only slightly up or they were down 10 percent for the year.
Most blame the influx of new restaurants and bars along Palafox over the past 15 months. They argue that the “pie” is only so big, and the new competition is making their “slice” smaller and smaller every month. And as we published recently (Independent News, “Ch-ch-change,” Jan. 16), more establishments are coming.
The food trucks are being fought because they are seen by some of the restaurant owners as the possible “death blow” to their future on Palafox. They say that Pensacola isn’t Austin, New Orleans or Tampa. Our city, specifically, doesn’t have the population to support food trucks and “brick and mortar” eateries, according to them.
I see the issue differently. Instead of restricting competition, city hall should be trying to grow the “pie,” and direct the DIB to spend more of its budget on marketing downtown.
The mayor appoints all DIB members. The board is funded with an assessment charged to all property owners inside its district. The time has come, or maybe the better words are “has returned,” for that board to focus on marketing — not parking, property values and infrastructure.
Nearly half a million residents live within an hour’s drive of downtown Pensacola —
more than enough to support downtown Pensacola businesses.
Events like Gallery Night and Wine Walks are simply vitamin shots for the downtown businesses that keep them alive until the next event, but those too will become less effective over time. Such events should only be a part of a more comprehensive and consistent effort to draw customers to downtown.
The DIB should pull off the shelf the Retail Strategy Plan developed in 2007 by Marketing Developments, Inc. The Palafox Market was one its recommendations, but there were more that could attract more people to downtown on a regular basis.
This area has more than enough potential customers to support downtown Pensacola. Mayor Hayward, DIB and the downtown business owners need to work together to go after them. Grow the pie.