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Pensacola’s city council voted Monday to spend $25,000 to hold “facilitated community workshops” in hopes of jump-starting the development of the so-called Hawkshaw property in downtown Pensacola.

The 5-2 vote came as council members sat as the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA), the city agency which owns the property. Council members Larry B. Johnson and Charles Bare voted against the expenditure, citing concerns about the cost and the rushed nature of the proposal. An agenda was released to the public just hours before the afternoon meeting.

“I think that we are wasting the taxpayers’ dollars with this study,” said Johnson. “I believe what we should do is put a ‘For Sale’ sign on this property and let the market decide.”

The 2.2-acre Hawkshaw property, located at 9th Avenue and Romana Street just a few hundred yards from Pensacola, has remained vacant since the mid-1990s, when the Aragon Court housing projects were demolished. Over the past ten years, Pensacola’s city council has tried — and failed — to develop the property at least three times. Last August, council members voted abruptly to reject three development proposals for the site.

“What’s happened in the past we need to put behind us,” said councilman Brian Spencer. “I’d like us to start anew and consider the opportunities to put this on the tax rolls and to restore confidence in the development community.”

The council’s vote Monday means the CRA will spend $25,000 to hire Pittsburgh-based Urban Design Associates to facilitate two community workshops in April. The firm previously developed the Pensacola Historic District Master Plan in 2004 as well as the conceptual plan for the Community Maritime Park. After conducting the two workshops, the firm will develop a memorandum and summary document detailing public feedback and “key urban design considerations” for the site.

Johnson held firm to his opposition, citing past city studies which have largely indicated that additional housing units are needed downtown. “I’m not going to vote to waste our taxpayers’ $25,000 on something I think that I think we already know what the answer is,” said Johnson. “And the answer is more housing opportunities.”

Several council members said they agreed with Johnson’s argument but they wanted to move forward after last year’s failed RFP process. “This board voted no, not to move forward [with proposals last year] for no valid reason,” said CRA chairwoman Jewel Cannada-Wynn. “It met the zoning, we didn’t even go through the process. So now we’re trying to go back through and create a process that gives confidence to people that this board actually really wants to go through something.”

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