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Blue Wahoos helped spark downtown Pensacola resurgence

Pensacola blue wahoos
Pensacola Blue Wahoos

In part two of our look at 10 years of Pensacola Blue Wahoos baseball, we look at the team’s impact on the area, including the other uses for Bayfront Stadium.

“They’ve created a certain amount of vibrancy that we have in our downtown,” said Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson. “I think when people look at it, they come in and see what’s going on. We have a number of things that are happening; even outside of when the Wahoos are playing. But we probably would have never had that without starting somewhere.”

Some people argue that two of the best things ever to happen to downtown Pensacola were Hurricane Ivan in 2004, which led to major rebuilding, and the vote to develop the Trillium property in 2006 — the latter in turn leading to the Blue Wahoos.

“There were double things that were going on,” said Robinson, who served as Escambia County Commissioner at the time. “We were having some real struggles coming out of Ivan recovery. I think that also helped us realize that we had to do some things differently. One of those was we had to rethink about we were doing downtown; people stepped up, they voted for [Maritime Park], and it’s been a very positive history for the city of Pensacola.”

And while the Wahoos are Bayfront’s principal tenant, the venue has been used for other events, both sports, and non-sports.

“It allowed us to jumpstart UWF football,” said the mayor. “We got a national championship out of that. Now UWF is going back [to play on campus], but it was great to have them there for a while. We had a number of other events that happened during COVID. How many events did we have at Community Maritime Park because it was open that we really couldn’t have had [indoors] in the last two years?”

With the installation of artificial turf on the playing surface, the mayor believes that opens the door for additional events when the Wahoos are on the road.

“Two reasons: the Miami Marlins want us to play on the exact thing they have on their fields (and) the other part is it would certainly allow us to be flexible,” the mayor said. “The Wahoos and Quint Studer embrace having community things there, they really have. And they’ve gone out of their way to help make sure that we can have the events there.”

Part of the groundwork, says team co-owner Quint Studer, was local accounting firm owner Mort O’Sullivan’s meeting with city officials and studying tax projections.

“We felt that, if we did this downtown stadium and take this toxic soil and make it livable and walkable,” said Studer. “It’s sad to have a downtown with all this waterfront no one could get to, really. We said if we build the stadium, it’s going to create our tax base and it will be a great thing for the community.”

Support was voiced in a number of areas, including the Pensacola News Journal and most of the city council. At that point, Studer says the negativity began showing up.

“One city council member, Marty Donovan, just got really, ‘I’m going to stop this thing.’ And [opponents] go a referendum and sadly, something that could have been opened up much earlier didn’t open up until 2012. It was a rough time.”

One of the allegations that got under Studer’s skin was that the team would be using Bayfront Stadium for free.

“We pay $700,000 a year to be here,” Studer said “So in the last nine years we paid over $6 million,” Studer said. “Yeah, [the allegation] was very difficult.”

Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson adds that those making that accusation were off base.

“For 10 years they have helped financially the Maritime Park pretty much exclusively [and] we’re looking to changing that over,” said Robinson. “By the time we hit year 20 on this, there will be other people finally coming in and pay the freight and assist the community financially, but also really create more vibrancy.”

Under the dictates of Major League Baseball, affiliate contracts are now 10 years in length, rather than the three to four years of the old setup. This is the first year of the Wahoos’ deal with the Miami Marlins. Another 10-year lease keeps the team in Bayfront.

“While we’ve had a little challenge getting quite the same thing on the field, it’s just good to have people there and a place to go and they’re going to turn it around on the field and get a lot of W’s and we’re excited about that as well.”

Co-owner Quint Studer has the last word, and that word, or words, are “stadium maintenance.”

“Just trying to continue to get better; we just gutted our season ticket holder lounge area and it’s being redone,” he said. “We have new lights, new paintings. I’ve seen too many facilities not be kept up, and then eventually going into a death spiral. So our goal is to really continue to keep Blue Wahoos Stadium a pristine place to be.”