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SCAPE Seeks Input on Downtown Pensacola Waterfront


The future of Pensacola’s downtown  waterfront continues to be a topic for debate between community leaders and New York-based SCAPE Landscape Architecture.  The latest meeting was held Tuesday in downtown Pensacola.

As a part of the CivicCon project -- a joint venture between businessman Quint Studer and his wife Rishy, and the Pensacola News Journal -- the SCAPE team began work last summer on how to develop the city’s waterfront to its full potential. The public kickoff for the project was held Monday; on Tuesday, SCAPE and community leaders held a brainstorming session.

“We’re looking primarily at the waterfront downtown, from the Pensacola Bay Bridge to Joe Patti’s Seafood House,” said Gena Wirth, SCAPE’s Design Principal.

“We’re also looking at expanding the study area to the west, to really think about how to better connect the city from the east to the west, and have a linear public realm that provides places to be and places to recreate along the water.”

Wirth came to Pensacola in August for the CivicCon presentations, invited by the Studers to participate in the lecture series and discuss SCAPE’s work on waterfronts nationwide.

“When I came down here, I fell in love a little bit with Pensacola,” Wirth says. “It’s got this incredible, rich, maritime history; and to be in a place that has such a thriving, vibrant downtown connected with that ecology of the bay and the beach ecosystem, was really fascinating.”

Two facts, says Wirth, have emerged from their study of Pensacola – the enthusiasm of the community for the downtown waterfront, and the challenge of actually getting to the waterfront.

“The waterfront has great spaces, but it’s difficult to move between them,” said Wirth. “And it’s difficult to tie back into the city. And so, we’re really looking to learn more from the residents about what types of paths, what type of connections and what types of activities they would like to see.”

Credit SCAPE
Pensacola residents and SCAPE representatives discuss various proposals on the future of the downtown waterfront.

“Tying all from an ecological standpoint to a waterfront standpoint, you can’t do ad-hoc decision-making; it needs to be done the right way,” said former Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward, who gives thumbs up to SCAPE handling the project which began in the final months of his administration.

One of the firm’s major challenges will be balancing modern-day amenities with the historical aspect of the city.

“That whole fabric, you can tie those things in whether the new architectural vernacular on the west side of Pensacola to be the Dutch West Indies, colonialism, [or] whatever it may be,” said Hayward. “You can do it the right way, and Bringing in those [SCAPE] people who have had a proven track record, I think is a terrific opportunity for Pensacola.”

Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson joined the conversation over maps provided by SCAPE, which show the entire waterfront area and a number of development proposals.

“Can we find one of two wins in here that will help sustain the energy to do everything that we want to do on the waterfront,” said the Mayor. “I think Bruce Beach is that opportunity – that key piece that we can find a way, how do we turn that into being the catalyst, much the same as Maritime Park.”

One of the more controversial ideas for the waterfront in recent years has been construction of a fish hatchery. The $19 million project had been scheduled for completion in 2018, but never got off the drawing board. Robinson says, however, the door — or hatch — remains open.

“We’re talking with Fish and Wildlife; I have a meeting with them to talk about the Port [of Pensacola],” said Robinson. “We did reach out to them; we talked to them about the Port. You heard the discussion earlier today about the need to do more research. We want to find an opportunity how we could do more research here in Pensacola and northwest Florida. All of that would be a good thing for us.”

For now, more discussion on the downtown waterfront is on the agenda, and more meetings are planned throughout the life of the project. No formal timeline has been hashed out as yet. Work to develop the waterfront plan is the first major project of the Center for Civic Engagement, a community education and resource center.