Pensacola, Florida
Sunday December 17th 2017

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The Buzz 8/4/16

Argos Suit Up The University of West Florida plays its first football game on Sept. 3 in Naples, Fla. against Ave Maria University.

Dr. Judy Bense, UWF president, can’t wait.

“I had lunch with the head football coach, Pete Shinnick, yesterday, and he is raring to go,” Bense told Inweekly. “He’s counting the days until the players arrive, which is August 9 and 10.”

Dr. Bense became the fifth president of the university on July 1, 2008. She placed a priority on creating a full college campus experience at UWF, which had been considered primarily a commuter school before she took over.

“One of my number one goals has been to try to get the University of West Florida on the path to be a real university, like the ones many of us attended with student life and activities and a downtown presence and engaging the community,” she said. That needed to be done for a long time and I’m really glad that we’ve made a lot of progress.”

Adding a football program was important.

“Everybody’s gotten on board with the ‘real university’ concept, and football is just kind of the cherry on top,” said Dr. Bense. “I mean, you know, what’s bad about that? Nothing other than it took forever.”

In 2008, Inweekly published an April Fools’ Day issue that touted UWF was adding a football program with its first home game versus Notre Dame at the Community Maritime Park on Sept. 10, 2010. The school’s athletic department was flooded with ticket requests.

The newspaper was off by six years, and the Argos are playing Ave Maria, not Notre Dame, but the article sparked discussion.

“College football is something that people like and that they want to do it,” said Dr. Bense. “I know we’re not a typical college town, but by gosh, there’s a college in this town and it’s a great university and we’re the only ones that can bring college football to Pensacola, so like why not?”

She added, “I’m a true believer in trying to give people what they want and once you do that and have that attitude, a lot of things flow from that. I listened to people. We had focus groups and football was always at the top of the list.”

When some wanted to go immediately to Division 1 and play in the SEC, Dr. Bense told them, “That is down the road, but we’re by gosh going to start football.”

Construction Boom A year ago, Quint Studer thought he had an agreement with the City of Pensacola to invest $20-million in the Community Maritime Park for the UWF Center for Entrepreneurship and a conference center, only to have Mayor Ashton Hayward and Council President Andy Terhaar reject the lease agreement that had been approved by the CMPA board.

He’s optimistic that his proposed $14.4-million office building on Jefferson Street will not hit a similar snag. The final plans will be presented at the Aug. 18 meeting of the Architectural Review Board.

“We made about four adjustments based on the ARB’s feedback, and of course, we feel real positive, which allows you then to get financing,” said Studer last week on “Pensacola Speaks”.

The office building brings the Studer Family’s investment in new construction in downtown Pensacola to $80 million, which has led a construction boom in downtown Pensacola. Other new construction in downtown includes the Downtown YMCA, Holiday Inn Express , Bank of Pensacola, IHMC and Centennial Bank. ServisFirst Bank plans to build a new building on Garden Street on the old Capt. Fun’s site.

“It’s very exciting,” he said. “Not only does it create investment dollars, but it creates jobs. That’s what’s so vital. Both jobs during the construction process and the indirect jobs.”

He explained, “For example, I think for the apartment buildings, we’re buying $2.8 million of concrete and all of it’s being done, bought locally. All our bricks are being bought locally. All our wood, which is incredible, is all being bought locally. Not only do you have the direct jobs, but the good news is you have the indirect jobs.”

Studer did say that he was concerned whether downtown Pensacola’s aging infrastructure can handle all the new construction and renovation.

“I think one of the things the city’s going to have to look at is infrastructure,” said Studer. He questioned whether the city and utility companies are ready for the investments coming to downtown.

“I think one of the things Gulf Power’s going to have to look at now is how do they make sure all the grids and all the networks can support all the buildings rather than having giant five-foot transformers on every corner,” he said. “What you need from both the Gulf Power and the city is to create the infrastructure to make it an investment-ready city.”

Until recently, investing in downtown infrastructure made little sense since the growth in Escambia County was happening elsewhere.

“When you look out at The Bluffs and you look at the industrial parks or the airport, it makes sense to put that infrastructure in to support that growth to attract business,” said Studer. “Now we’re to the point though, what comes first, the chicken or the egg? I’m sure you’ll get pushed back on why spend that much money on infrastructure if there’s no investments, but that’s not the case today.”

He said, “Today, for the good fortune of a lot of hardworking people, we’re in the biggest building boom that anybody I’ve talked to can remember in Pensacola, Florida.”

Gentrification Coming Over the past decade, Escambia County has become more diverse, while the City of Pensacola has headed in the opposite direction.

Escambia County has picked up 14,990 registered voters since June 30, 2006. The majority of those voters are African-American, 6,868. Minority voters–those listed as Black, Hispanic or Other–outpaced the new registered white votes by better than a three-to-one margin.

As of June 30, 2016, minority voters made up 27.6 percent of the county’s registered voters. Ten years ago, they only accounted for 23.6 percent.

Meanwhile, the City of Pensacola has picked up 994 voters and lost 199 African-American voters since June 2006. More white voters have moved inside the city limits: 710 more white voters vs. only 284 minority voters.

What has happened since 2006? The Escambia County School District has closed several schools in the African-American neighborhoods. Downtown Pensacola has become more vibrant since the completion of the Maritime Park in 2012, attracting investment in downtown and west of Palafox.

More whites are moving to downtown, Belmont-Devilliers, and west Pensacola. For example, District 7 – the city’s westernmost district had only 1,599 white voters in June 2006. Today, it has 1,920.

The shift in demographics inside the city could make it more difficult for the city officials to draw boundaries for the council’s seven districts in 2020 and maintain at least two or three districts with a majority of African-American voters.