Pensacola, Florida
Monday October 14th 2019

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Outtakes—A Hard Lesson

By Rick Outzen

This past week, I had the opportunity to interview the director of the Center for Civic Engagement, Terry Horne. During his first tour of Pensacola as the publisher of the News Journal from January-September 2014, we never met. The town was dealing with ice storms, floods and a jail explosion. Both the PNJ and Inweekly had their hands full.

Horne has since retired from Gannett and returned to Pensacola with his wife. He has marveled at how much the town has changed in the past five years as private investment and philanthropy have risen.

“The downtown seems to have more energy to me now than when I was here just five years ago,” he shared. “There more people in the shops, more people in restaurants. You go out to eat, it’s crowded, even on weeknights. It just shows a successful community.”

Horne added, “There seems to be a stronger sense of place. I sense now that more people realize that they’re in a special place.”

For an hour, we discussed CivicCon and the center. One of his comments has stuck with me.

He said, “A hard lesson that we’ve all learned is when you got something that shouldn’t ever have been built in a place, it’s tough to plan around it.”

For decades, downtown Pensacola was held back by the Main Street Sewage Plant four blocks west of Palafox Street. The facility physically cut off the west side from downtown, but its noxious, foul odor also made dining outside nearly unbearable.

The plant was built in 1937 on Main Street because the site was the lowest point in town, the sewer lines were gravity driven, and the effluent could be dumped into Pensacola Bay. Plus, the federal government paid for its construction.

During the first five years of our newspaper’s history, we fought for the plant to be relocated. We were told it was too expensive and the smell really wasn’t that bad. Then Hurricane Ivan struck, and raw sewage was dumped everywhere. FEMA put up $150 million, and the plant was moved to the Cantonment area.

Since the Emerald Coast Utilities Authority opened the Central Water Reclamation Facility in December 2010, downtown has blossomed. We have housing being built from Ninth Avenue to Pace Boulevard. Much of the development has happened over the past five years, and more projects are breaking ground.

The Main Street Sewage Treatment Plant was a hard lesson that indeed was tough to plan around. What we do over the next few years will show how well we learned that lesson.