Time is running out for area residents to weigh in with their suggestions for naming the new Pensacola Bay Bridge. The joint naming committee, formed by Escambia County and the City of Gulf Breeze, will be taking suggestions until the close of business this Monday, June 3.
The naming committee has been accepting proposed names for the newly constructed span for the past month or so, and thus far, has received an abundance of recommendations.
“It’s been quite impressive, overwhelming in some sense, the amount of suggestions coming from the public,” said Fred Davis, the naming committee appointee representing Escambia County’s district one.
“Some of the suggestions are named after some individual, but also names that are occurring that are not even named after a person, but rather something to do with our city or our county. So, there’s [sic] interesting names. Obviously, there are some folks that want to have it named after some person that they would like it to be named and others would like someone else’s, so we’re getting a lot of group voting, if you will, or group suggestions in that regard. And, all of it’s very good.”
Ultimately, the Florida Legislature will have the final say in the matter.
However, in the interim, Escambia County and the City of Gulf Breeze Bridge formed a joint committee to consider names from the community. This step by the two governmental entities was taken after the City of Pensacola and Santa Rosa County endorsed a proposal to name the bridge after Air Force Gen. Daniel “Chappie” James, Jr.
Cris Dosev, when he was a candidate in the 2018 congressional race, first pitched the idea to name the span for Gen. James. He argues the new bridge should have a new name and that James is deserving as a Pensacola native and military hero; the first African American to achieve four-star rank in the U.S. armed forces.
“Became a Tuskegee Airman, served during three wars, fought in two, 180 combat missions; then stared down Muammar Gaddafi because he wanted to take over that base in Libya; became a four-star general and the commander of the North American Air Defense Command.
If Daniel “Chappie” James, Jr. is chosen as the name for the bridge, Dosev also envisions a monument to the general.
But, the current span, which opened in 1960, now bears the name of former State Senator Phillip D. Beall Sr., and his descendants are fighting to keep the name.
In January, when the issue was gaining public attention and momentum, grandson Kirke Beall traveled from Texas to advocate for transferring the Beall name to the new bridge.
He noted a senate resolution passed on Aug. 10, 1962, stating that it was that legislature’s desire to perpetuate Phillip D. Beall’s name by naming a bridge connecting Pensacola and Gulf Breeze on Highway 98 in his memory. Thus the span was designated as the Phillip D. Beall Memorial Bridge.
“Looking for precedent, I found another bridge in Florida that kept its designation even after it was completely replaced,” Kirke Beall said. “It is on Highway 71 between Wewahitchka and Port St. Joe.”
Bridge naming committee member Fred Davis says the plethora of suggestions pouring in have now extended beyond Sen. Beall and Gen. James, but many of them are similar in nature.
“There’s obviously some strong military folks that through the years have done so much for our community that have been certainly suggested. And, also the leadership, whether it was state, local or any other level, those names, too, are coming to the fore,” said Davis of the noted governmental leaders, who served the community.
Additionally, as Davis pointed out earlier, at this point just about everything is on the table now for consideration, and not just people’s names.
Davis said one couple suggested the bridge be named after the Navy’s famed flight demonstration squadron the Blue Angels, “I said well that’s a pretty good idea, sounds pretty good, but, there’re probably a lot more names, too, that could be suggested.”
For example, he noted the fact that Pensacola is widely known as home of the first settlement in America.
“I wish we could have a “First City Bridge” or perhaps a “First Settlement in the United States Bridge,” but that may too long of a title,” Davis proclaimed with a chuckle.
Although the number of supporters, or votes, for each suggested name will matter in determining a final recommendation, that won’t be the only consideration.
Davis said he’s pleased that all his fellow committee members have committed to keeping an open mind and carrying out a very thoughtful process.
“We’ll take all that input and say ‘hey, these folks over in Santa Rosa County really want this name and these people over in Escambia County might want this name,’ and we’ll have to discuss it and come to some agreement about which name it should be and here’s the reason why,” Davis explained.
To propose a name before the 5 p.m. (Monday) deadline, send suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org – one per email address only.
The bridge naming committee will review the suggestions and put forward a name for public input at meetings set for Tuesday, June 11 at the Escambia County Commission Chambers, 221 S. Palafox Street, and on Wednesday, June 12 at the Gulf Breeze Community Center, 800 Shoreline Drive.
A final meeting for the panel to propose a name has been tentatively set for July 9 in the commission boardroom.