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Saving the Historic Coke Building Proves Too Costly

Sandra Averhart
WUWF Public Media

Keep Pensacola Beautiful has dropped plans to purchase and restore the historic Coca-Cola building on North Palafox Street near downtown.

The project fell through because it became too large and too expensive.

“Unfortunately, you know, it was just too big of a hurdle for us to tackle,” said Sigrid Solgard, executive director of Keep Pensacola Beautiful. “We were pretty disappointed about it, that Keep Pensacola Beautiful can’t be the ones to save this building.”

On Monday, just as the organization was wrapping up their community fundraising effort, they received the final assessment report that detailed the extent of damage to the 1930s structure and the cost to fix it.

“The timing wasn’t great,” Solgard said. “But, basically what the report said was that due to the neglect of the building for the last eight years and the unfinished modifications that the owner began doing to the building, there is just so much water damage, and therefore mold damage, that it would cost about $8 million just for remediation.”

According to Solgard, that amount of money would have just about tripled their overall projected budget of under $5 million for the five-year plan.

Additionally, the $8 million extra would have been required up front, before they could move in or start any renovation.  

“The amount of remediation that it would take would need to be done at one time, since the building is such a wide-open space. There’s not really a good way to seal off portions of the building to just remediate that,” said Solgard, adding that in this situation just turning on the air conditioner could be dangerous.

“For example, the mold spores would just be sent all over the place and you’d basically be duplicating your remediation work.”

In moving to purchase and restore the old Coca-Cola bottling plan, Keep Pensacola Beautiful planned to use a portion of the building as their new headquarters. Plans also included a 20,000-square-foot learning and community garden, an indoor/outdoor event space, coffee shop, and small business incubator.

In the process, the organization hoped to trigger a revival of the Northern Palafox Corridor, which currently has 13 vacant, blighted buildings in a mile stretch.

With the project now off the table, the question is ‘what’s next?’

“You know, we’ve kind of found this part of our organization that we intend to keep pushing at and keep working towards, that whole blight reduction, historic building revitalization,” Solgard explained of their plan to move forward with their mission of beautification.  

As for the building, she says they really don’t know what’s going to happen.

“I know there are some other organizations in the community who are about saving and preserving historic properties, so I hope there’s something they can do and Keep Pensacola Beautiful will obviously continue to advocate for the preservation of this building.”  

Although the decision to pull the plug on the project came down to money, it wasn’t because the community fundraising effort fell short of the $350,000 goal by October 1 for the down payment.

“Before we found out about the remediation needs, we had intended to keep moving forward, whether or not we got to our fundraising goal or not, we had some options that we were going to explore to continue working towards getting that building," explained Solgard. "But, with the mold and remediation costs, there was just no way for us to just float $8 million.”

The fundraising effort did generate just over $100,000 (cash) for the effort, in just three months, which Solgard is grateful for.

In the coming days, the staff will be reaching out to donors to find out if they want their money back or would like to put it toward another Keep Pensacola Beautiful initiative.

“What we want to do is start an endowment for our organization to kind of ensure the longevity and sustainability for our organization. So, we’re going to offer that as an option, as well as keeping their donations in a building acquisition fund,” said Solgard, pointing out that Keep Pensacola Beautiful eventually would like to stop renting and purchase a permanent home within the community, with the continued goal of finding a blighted property they can renovate and revitalize.

Sandra Averhart has been News Director at WUWF since 1996. Her first job in broadcasting was with (then) Pensacola radio station WOWW107-FM, where she worked 11 years. Sandra, who is a native of Pensacola, earned her B.S. in Communication from Florida State University.