Pensacola, Florida
Saturday December 16th 2017

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Outtakes—Infrastructure: the Best Incentive

Downtown Pensacola has had a renaissance since the Community Maritime Park was completed. The private sector has invested in Palafox Street, and another $100-millions worth of projects is being considered. The key to their completion will be infrastructure—particularly stormwater management and parking.

The Corrine Jones pond project will make a difference, but the city still needs a solution for the Long Hollow Stormwater Pond that flooded the surrounding neighborhoods in 2012 and most of downtown Pensacola in 2014.

Parking may not be an issue today, but it will be very soon. Develpment is gradually being replacing downtown’s parking prairies. The new downtown hotel, Bear Levin Studer YMCA, Daily Convo apartment complex and the Vince Whibbs, Sr. Community Maritime Park need structured parking.

I’ve talked with several urban planners about downtown Pensacola. Most said that the retail and commercial development usually follow an influx of residential developments. Warehouses are converted into affordable loft apartments. Old houses are renovated. Retailers see an opportunity and open locations nearby. Banks, attorneys, stockbrokers soon open offices, too.

Downtown Pensacola has done it backward. The retail shops, restaurants, bars and other commercial spaces have led the wave of redevelopment since 2011, and now they need more residents living within walking distance to sustain their businesses.

Those residents need to be diverse—retirees, empty-nesters, Millennials, business owners, professionals, and office and retail workers. To achieve that diversity, the rents and purchase prices must have a wide range. Luxury condominiums and million-dollar homes are nice, but few can afford them.

Studer Properties has a waiting list of over 500 people for its proposed apartment project on Romana and Jefferson streets, so we know there is a demand for downtown housing if the price points are affordable. The hold-up is how to build a parking garage and key the rents in the necessary range.

I don’t know if state lawmakers will work out a solution to extend Economic Development Ad Valorem Tax Exemptions (EDATE), but that may only help the Studer project.  What about other developers who seek to build housing downtown with a similar range of rental rates?

That is the challenge for Mayor Ashton Hayward and the Pensacola City Council. The best solution may not be to develop unique incentive packages for each developer because that will lead to favoritism. Only those who are liked by city hall will get them.

No, the solution is to focus on infrastructure—stormwater drainage and parking. If done properly, the playing field will be open for all to develop their projects and for the public to enjoy.