Pensacola, Florida
Thursday September 21st 2017

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Blount Redevelopment on Fast Track

By Duwayne Escobedo

In 2011, Mayor Ashton Hayward announced his plans to transform the W.A. Blount Junior High School site. He planned to turn it from the rundown building, built in 1930 and empty for nearly three decades, into workforce housing.

Six years later, two development groups have submitted proposals to convert the formerly blighted city block into 30 single-family homes, with prices possibly in $199,000 range.

That’s fine with Robin Peagler. The 54-year-old, who works with individuals with disabilities, and lives in a bright purple house on the corner of Chase and D Streets across from the former school. The property is also bordered by Gregory and C Streets.

“I wanted a nice park with a luxurious pool where I could go over and chill out,” she said laughing. “It doesn’t look like my dream will come true. I’m all for it if it looks attractive and brightens up the area even more. It’ll bring my property value up.”

The Blount redevelopment is one of the first major projects as part of Mayor Hayward’s neighborhoods initiative that seeks to improve low-income areas. His idea is to make sure that police, educators, and others can afford quality housing that is less than 30 percent of their gross income.

Hayward and his administration have received a lot of scrutiny over the lack of public input into the redevelopment of the Blount property, not to mention the six years it took to request proposals.

“By moving city-owned property back into productive use we can create more opportunities for families to live in the city where they work and play,” Hayward wrote in an Oct. 6, 2016, viewpoint. “Instead, we are seeking to spur the development of innovative, aesthetically pleasing housing that preserves the character of neighborhoods.”

The neighborhood around the former Blount school is spotty from house to house. Two homes near the site look like they might collapse with a good shove. Another corner is vacant. An abandoned couch, used tire and other debris litter the area.

After the City Purchasing Department solicited bids, the city received only two proposals for the project, an 112-page proposal from the ParsCo development team and another 3-page proposal from Gunther Properties.

ParsCo would create “The Cottages at Five Point.” The development includes 30 two-story, two-bedroom and two-bathroom homes. The 1,216-square-foot floor plan has a porch and balcony. It would create a greenspace in the center of the homes that could be developed into a park, community garden, playground or common area.

Based on a median household income of $60,220 for Pensacola, ParsCo priced its homes at $199,000.

ParsCo also proposed paying the city $240,000 for the property.

Meanwhile, the Gunther Properties team would also build 30 single-family homes and said it would pay the city $320,000 for the land. It did not submit plans or drawings for its proposed houses, and it did not name a sales price.

Both plans are based on the original 1906 subdivision plan for Maxent Tract that called for 30 homes.

The city was scheduled to hold a selection committee meeting at 3 p.m. Tuesday, May 16 at City Hall’s sixth-floor conference room. The bid is set to be awarded Thursday, May 25. The contract will probably come before the Pensacola City Council in June or July.

ParsCo developer Amir Michael Fooladi and Gunther Properties Fred Gunther spoke with Inweekly.

“We feel like our design is technically pleasing,” Fooladi said. “It has an open floor plan, and we are not using cheap materials.”

Meanwhile, Gunther is relying on his experience in similar past projects since 2005 that he has delivered to the city.

For example, he pointed to the Lofts on the northeast corner of Reus and Intendencia streets. He noted the price range was $162,500 to $175,000 and sold to residents that met the city’s criteria for income restrictions.

“I’m confident,” Gunther said. “We will work with the mayor, council, and neighborhood and build what they want there.”

The city paid $225,000 for the 2.65-acre site on Sept. 20, 2011, to Blount Redevelopment, a company held by John M. O’Neill III, Donald Moore, and Dr. Sunil Gupta.

The city completed the demolition of the Blount school in late 2012 at a total cost of $466,700. Escambia County contributed $200,000 in Community Development Block Grant dollars toward the project to demolish the buildings.

Neither proposal comes close to reimbursing the city for what it has already invested in the major redevelopment project.

Fooladi said he is willing to negotiate with the city on the price for the site and other costs if needed to make the Blount redevelopment worthwhile for all the entities involved.

The city did meet with residents in June 2013 about their expectations but have not met with them since then. Suggests ran the gamut including a park, senior center, recreation center with swimming pool, museum, and regional campus for the University of West Florida or Pensacola State College.

Peagler, a nearby resident, said she felt the ParsCo suggested sales price of $199,000 was fair.

“That’s excellent,” she said when told by an Inweekly reporter about the project.

Chris Lee, who recently moved into the neighborhood, said he liked the plan for more housing. On his morning walks with his dog, he can’t help but notice the quality of housing and the debris strewn on some lots.

“Anything would be better than what it is,” the 30-year-old Lee said of the former Blount school site. “I don’t see kids playing outside. But I haven’t had any issues in this neighborhood thus far.”