It looks like the new Pensacola Bay Bridge will be named in honor of General Daniel ‘Chappie’ James, Jr.
That was the recommendation this week from a bridge naming committee, and legislation to that effect already has been filed.
“The public, in my view, has spoken,” said committee chairman Timothy Burr, hinting at his recommendation as he opened their fourth and final meeting Tuesday evening.
“The public has spoken with clarity. They’ve spoken with vibrancy and they’ve spoken substantially with one voice and one mind, and it’s a mind that I personally agree with.”
The Escambia County Commission and Gulf Breeze City Council established the committee. As noted by chairman Burr, the panel solicited community input and held a couple of public forums that yielded overwhelming results.
“We as a committee should recommend that the name of the bridge be called after Gen. James, the General Daniel ‘Chappie’ James Memorial Bridge,” Burr said. “Clearly, it metaphorically helps us to further the process of bridging gaps in our community.”
In addition to persuasive public testimony, a survey of the community resulted in over 800 submissions, including 359 in favor of Gen. James. The Pensacola native was a fighter pilot, flight instructor with the famed Tuskegee Airmen, and become the nation’s first African-American four-star general.
In second place with 65 votes was former State Sen. Phillip D. Beall, who helped to secure funding for the current span, which was dedicated in his honor after opening in 1960.
Against the groundswell of support for James, Beall’s grandson Kirke Beall traveled from Texas to put up an emotionally charged campaign to have the Beall name transferred to the new bridge.
“I wish his grandson was here today because I had a comment I wanted to make to him and how impressed I was with his ability to participate in this process with the level of emotions that he has obviously connected to it,” said committee member Lawrence Powell acknowledging the younger Beall’s effort. “And, by no means do I want him to take away from this that the citizens or this committee slighted him or his family. We just facilitated the process and I think that’s important for him to know.”
After comments from all the members, the vote by the bridge naming committee was unanimous; it signaled the consensus state Sen. Doug Broxson was waiting for.
“The committee’s vote represented both sides of the bridge,” Broxon said. “And, we’d already spoken to the city of Gulf Breeze about their position. And, they really wanted some definition also, and I think the committee provided that.”
With the city of Pensacola and Santa Rosa County already in support, Broxson filed legislation Wednesday to begin the official renaming process.
“We’re gonna have a new bridge. It’s gonna be a beautiful bridge and it’s gonna be named ‘Chappie’ James if I can persuade my colleagues to go along with me and I’m sure they will,” proclaimed Broxson, whose goal is to have the legislation considered during the 2020 Legislative Session.
“You could imagine, people would be coming off like this, right. And, they would be greeted by General James and an airplane,” said Cris Dosev in February as he explained his vision to erect a statue of Gen. James at the foot of the new bridge. “That would be phenomenal.”
The retired Marine and former congressional candidate first proposed naming the bridge in James’ honor one year ago.
“My whole team, I just felt as though we were a bunch of horses waiting for the race to get started, you know,” he explained of the wait. “Now, with this happening, the bell has rung, the gates have opened and we’re off to the races.”
Now that they have the name, Dosev is ready to start a fundraising campaign and says just this week he’s been talking with engineers, sculptors, and other individuals needed to make the James memorial a reality. He hopes they’ll be able to have it in place when the new $427 million bridge officially opens in 2021.