Keep Pensacola Beautiful is seeking to trigger a revival of North Palafox Street in the downtown area by purchasing and restoring the old Hygeia Coca Cola Bottling Company building.
The non-profit organization has big plans for the historic building, but needs community support to make it happen.
The former Coca-Cola bottling plant has a long history in Pensacola. Regional distributor Coca-Cola United shares some of the history on its website in the form of correspondence from the Coca-Cola Archives in Atlanta, Georgia, dated December 11, 1936. The letter referred to the facility as "the finest and most practical, as well as most beautiful bottling plant in existence."
The building, between Mallory and Moreno streets, housed the bottling company until 1967. Over the decades, it’s had multiple owners and uses. But, like some other properties in the area, it has been unoccupied for the last several years.
“This certain stretch of North Palafox, where our office is currently, has 13 abandoned, vacant, blighted buildings in a mile stretch,” said Sigrid Solgard, executive director of Keep Pensacola Beautiful.
The non-profit organization is looking to change the rundown landscape and fulfil their mission with a new plan to preserve and enhance the corridor, located just north of downtown.
“Our goal is to purchase the Coca-Cola building and really bring it back to life, and have that be the spark that ignites the revitalization of the entire stretch,” Solgard declared.
Already, there have been discussions about changes to North Palafox Street, such as narrowing the roadway to two lanes and adding on-street parking to create an inviting environment for people to walk and bike.
Keep Pensacola Beautiful would be at the center of the area’s transformation by restoring the old Coca-Cola building and moving their offices into it.
“But we also want it to be a space for the community and a destination,” said Solgard, referencing plans for a 20,000-square-foot learning and community garden, an outdoor/indoor event space, and a coffee shop.
“Eventually, down the road, we like to do a package-free, bulk food store. So, you’d come in, fill up your containers with your dry-good groceries and that we eliminate packaging. We’d also love to do a non-profit and small business incubator.”
“We are behind them 100 percent; we’re so excited,” proclaimed Melanie Nichols, president of the North Hill Preservation Association.
Even though the location of the old “Coke” plant is just outside the boundaries of the North Hill preservation district, Nichols and her neighbors feel they have a stake in how the property is used and are fully onboard with plans to restore and preserve it.
“When we saw their plans and met with them, our board of directors, we just had tears in our eyes because we’d always hoped that could happen in that space,” said Nichols before recalling their opposition to previous plans for the building.
“You know, we were very active five years ago with the state, of saying “No” to the probation and parole ‘mega-center’ because of the impacts that it would be on all the single-family homes that are near there.”
Keep Pensacola Beautiful is in the process of purchasing the Coca-Cola building, currently under contract with the owner to buy it for $850,000. Solgard says they’re now looking for help in raising a $350,000 down payment by October 1.
“Currently, we’re about a fourth of the way there. We have had partners come on like Coca-Cola (Coke United), the local distributor. Navy Federal has participated. Baniakas & Associates, our CPA firm, has contributed,” Solgard explained of some of their big contributors. “But, right now, September 1, we launched it to the public and now we’re looking for public contributions and support, otherwise, this will literally not happen.”
As of this Wednesday afternoon (Sept. 11), contributions totaled over $96,000.
To generate more community interest and financial support, Keep Pensacola Beautiful is holding a 1940’s Big Band Bash on Saturday, September 21, from 6:30-9:30 p.m. at the Museum of Commerce, 201 Zaragoza St., in Historic Pensacola.
All money raised will go toward the $350,000 needed for a down payment by Oct. 1.
“This is about saving this historic building and we’re afraid that if we don’t buy it, it will get torn down, piecemealed out,” Solgard said of her concern of what the current owner might do to get the most return on his investment in the property.
If Keep Pensacola Beautiful is able to generate enough funds to purchase the building, the plan is to renovate and restore the structure to its original state and seek listing on the National Register of Historic Places.