Park Plan Raised

Written by Sheila Ingram

Public excited for what the future holds.

Retired Vice Adm. Jack Fetterman was almost giddy.

As giddy as a career Navy can get as he watched his vision for Pensacola's waterfront taking shape last week on a screen at Pensacola City Hall.

Fetterman has worked behind the scenes since 1998 on a plan for a maritime museum on the waterfront that also would serve as a teaching and research facility for the University of West Florida.

Now, after countless hours and endless meetings, Fetterman's vision is in sight -- even bolder and more broad in scope than anyone ever imagined.

The museum is part of a 27.50-acre community maritime heritage park plan that includes a multiuse stadium, at least 18 acres of open park space, restaurants, retail shops, and marinas and piers.

"This really expands beyond the footprint of the park. This will change Pensacola," Fetterman said, after seeing a revised park layout designed by a team of architects and urban planners led by Ray Gindroz of Pittsburgh.

"I didn't think it was possible, but this answers all the concerns that I've heard," Fetterman said. "i wouldn't change anything."

Fetterman, president of the Naval Aviation Museum Foundation, has pledged to raise more than $11 million toward the museum.

Fetterman, Pensacola Pelicans baseball team owner and health-care consultant Quint Studer, and University of West Florida President John Cavanaugh formally submitted the proposal to the Pensacola City Council in January. The plan was approved by the board earlier this month.

The Gindroz team used a conceptual layout developed by Pensacola architect Miller Caldwell and the Studer-Fetterman-Cavanaugh group as a starting point, then took comments from the public to streamline the proposed design.

The new layout for the park shifts the locations of the buildings away from the southern end of the property, to open up views of the water. Gindroz separated the maritime museum into several buildings, including an aquarium, a restaurant that uses Navy memorabilia from the now-closed Trader Jon's bar and a conference center with an overlook connecting to a quaint, old-style stadium.

He designed a network of shaded areas that are sprinkled throughout the park, including covered breezeways and a plant-covered arbor outlining the outfield area that can be opened up for festivals or used as a shady walkway.

"Finding shade is a big problem here... How long does it take for a live oak to grow?" Gindroz said.

The collection of public uses and ratil outlets includes tax-generating developments so that the park becomes an integral park of the city's economic development strategy.

A Haas Center for Business Research and Economic Development study on the park plan released last month estimates the $70.4 million park will generate about $51 million a year in new economic activity for the area. That includes about 767 new jobs and $24.1 million in labor income a year.

Initial project development and construction economic impacts are estimated at $124 million in the two-county area, along with 1,694 jobs and $51 million in labor income.

Gindroz improved links from the park to the rest of the city by extending DeVillers Street into a wharf that includes docking areas for water taxis and boats, and by extending Spring Street into the property and then toward the west, through a natural preserve area.

The stadium will be home to Studer's minor league baseball team -- the Pelicans. He is committing $11.2 million, including $2.2 million in cash, and an additional $9 million in cash and lease commitments, to the project.

Studer also will move his 80-employee health-care consulting firm into offices at the complex and will return any profits to the park.

The property -- known as the Trillium site -- has been a political nightmare for council members since voters rejected a council-endorsed $40 million waterfront park/auditorium in a 2003 referendum.

Since then, the weed-infested land has sat vacant.

The community maritime park plan includes about $40 million in public funds and about $30 million in private donations and grants.

Gindroz, a nationally recognized urban planner, was unruffled in last week's public input sessions when discussions veered off-course.

Residents seized opportunities to discuss other controversies and downtown sore spots, including the Port of Pensacola, the lagging library system, a shortage of meeting and hotel space and a growing perception that huge blocks of governmental buildings are hogging prime downtown public space.

Pensacola resident Gail LeRoy pointed out that the waterfront site can't solve all of Pensacola's problems.

But it's a start, she said.

"We cannot possibly build every dream of every person on that parcel of land," LeRoy said. "We deal with it as best we can and look to the future. We need to connect with one dream for this piece of property -- not every dream."

LeRoy said the Gindroz designs answered many of her concerns, such as questions of whether adequate open space and water access would be available and whether the development would connect to other areas of downtown.

"I think it's masterful," she said.

Pensacola resident Oliver Darden, 60, a native of Detroit and former American Basketball Association player who moved to the area about 15 years ago, said the ballpark and museum will be a place for families to interact and connect.

"A baseball stadium is part of Americana," Darden said. "I think this park will be a catalyst for many things to happen," he said. "It's very appropiate, very necessary."

Pensacola resident Gene Franklin, president and CEO of the Florida Black Chamber of Commerce, is excited about the new park.

"I think this process has been fair and open," Franklin said. "We can't get everything we want on that one piece of property."

Franklin said the park will put Pensacola on par with other waterfront cities that already have taken advantage of their locations.

"It's extraordinary," Franklin said. "It's totally outstanding. I'm anxious to visit there with my grandbabies."

DeVilliers Street resident Connie Acevedo also wants to visit the area with her grandchildren.

"This is a great and wonderful idea," Acevedo said. "I just want something to happen there. We have to start somewhere."

Resident Ray Oldenburg, author of "The Great Good Place," a nostalgic look at the role public gathering spots such as cafes, coffee houses and hair salons play in our society, thinks that the maritime park can become a "great, good place," for Pensacola.

"This is what Charleston (S.C.) Mayor Joe Riley talks about when he says you need the maximum amount of activity in the minimal amount of space," Oldenburg said. "The key question is whether locals will go to the park, when they just have nothing to do," he said.

"Hopefully, they will, and it will be a vital area."

A look at what's planned at the park

A martitime museum and teaching/research facility in partnership with the University of West Florida. Classroom space for UWF marine biology, archaeology and history education programs. A parking garage and a conference center for public uses that overlook the stadium and a restaruant and an aquarium as part of the maritime museum. A 3,500-seat, multiuse stadium that would be the home of the independent baseball league Pensacola Pelicans and would be used for graduations, concerts, fireworks displays and other events. An extended wharf from DeVilliers Street with docking areas for boats adjacent to the maritime museum buildings and a nature preserve on the east side, adjacent to an extension of Spring Street. A fishing pier and beach area for sailing regattas and kayak events. Open park space that is nine times the size of Seville Square, which is almost 2 acres. Retail and commercial space for shops and businesses, such as coffee shops and eateries.

What's next?

Pittsburgh urban planner Ray Gindroz returns to Pensacola on April 7 to present final adjustments to the design of the community maritime park.