Carl Wernicke: Take A Permanent Pensacola Staycation

Jul 31, 2015

Over the years, especially when I was living on Pensacola Beach, I was an advocate of the staycation.  That is, when you live in a place that people spend thousands of dollars to visit, you might as well act like a tourist yourself, but for less money, since you are already here and have a place to stay.

What it does is give you a greater appreciation for where you live. That’s important, because living here day to day leads you to take for granted those things that visitors find fascinating, like the beach, Fort Pickens, the Naval Aviation Museum and, in increasingly in recent years, downtown Pensacola.

Recently I was invited to speak to the Pensacola Newcomers Club, and the result was something of a staycation. I was asked to speak for about 15 minutes, which at first blush seemed a huge challenge. In part that’s because I have been trained to think in much shorter lengths. My column at the Pensacola News Journal, which I wrote for many years, was about 600 words. These radio commentaries run about 500 words, which works out to less than 5 minutes on air. I was looking at triple my normal range.

So I waded through my collection of Pensacola history books in search of enough material to fill out the talk. But by the time I was through, the problem was cutting enough material to stay within 15 minutes.

Pensacola really has a fascinating history, even before 1559 and Spain’s attempt to establish the first European colony in North America. That history runs through the American Revolution, the Civil War, the birth of Naval aviation … I had to cover a lot of history in a hurry.

Because just as exciting is Pensacola’s present, which in future speeches might be cast as something of a Golden Age. Downtown is undergoing a cultural and economic rebirth, the Community Maritime Park appears on the verge of fulfilling all the promise some people predicted for it, and while it seems like just a few short years ago gloom was the dominant perspective, people now perceive the local economy as being on the upswing.

For someone like me, who returned in the late 1970s to find a moribund downtown losing ground to the malls and suburbs, the rebirth of downtown is little short of a miracle. Especially since it doesn’t seem to be coming at the expense of elsewhere, but alongside it. Just look at how University Mall has rebounded from the empty shell it had become, and the revitalization of Cordova Mall.

As for the Newcomers Club, I didn’t know what to expect. What I found was a vibrant crowd of more than 100 people. I also discovered that not everyone in the room was a newcomer; it seems that people join the newcomers’ club and stay. It’s an active mix of newcomers and former newcomers, and even some oldtimers who have been here longer than I have and probably never qualified as newcomers.

But they all seem to share one thing: they believe Pensacola is a great place for a permanent staycation.