Quint Studer’s stalled $50 million mixed-use redevelopment in downtown Pensacola is set to moved forward again, barring an unlikely veto from Florida governor Rick Scott.
For the city’s downtown housing market, that’s a good thing indeed.
In the coming days, the governor is expected to sign off on House Bill 7099, an omnibus tax bill. The move would approve the revision of an economic development ad valorem tax exemption, or EDATE, for certain enterprise zone businesses. Studer’s project, under development by his company Daily Convo, would be built on the site of the former Pensacola News Journal headquarters and is located in an enterprise zone in downtown Pensacola.
If built, the entire project is expected to add more than 250 residential apartments in the downtown core, along with retail space, offices, and a public/private parking garage. Quint and Rishy Studer purchased the property in 2013.
In January, the project came to a halt as Studer sought to clarify the validity of the multi-million dollar tax break needed to move forward with the project’s development. Andrew Rothfeder, a partner with Studer Community Development Group, said that without the tax breaks, the project “cannot work.”
In December, when Daily Convo’s tax incentive/tax break went before the city council for approval, Studer warned that without approval, the project would have to “start over” with lenders, suffer delays, and likely see an increase in proposed rental rates. Eventually, both the Pensacola City Council and Escambia County Commission granted the project the EDATE.
However, the fate of the more than $3-5 million incentive has been uncertain due to questions about the tax exemption’s legality. The state enterprise zone program, under which the incentive was awarded, expired at the end of 2015. The development only qualified for the EDATEs under the enterprise zone program, and when the program expired there was uncertainty as to whether they were still viable. Daily Convo sought the legal opinion of Attorney General Pam Bondi, who deferred the decision to the courts.
To get the project back on track, it took a bill sponsored by Florida State Rep. Matt Gaetz to get the enterprise zone EDATE for the project grandfathered into law. The provision is part of a $129 million statewide tax cut package that was one of the final bills pushed to the governor’s desk before the legislative session ended this month. The Senate approved the bill by a 35-4 vote, while the House voted 105-9 for the legislation.
Last week, the city of Pensacola’s Architectural Review Board approved the final design of the development. Daily Convo continued to seek approval for the designs without yet knowing if the bill would pass so that when financing of the mixed-use apartment project is secured, construction can begin immediately.
The final design, which includes renderings of the development from Romana, Jefferson, Tarragona, and Intendencia streets, is shown in the images below. The design of the building, which was undertaken by a community focus group, features inspiration from historic Pensacola architectural landmarks, such as the Blount Building, the T.T. Wentworth, Jr. Florida State Museum, and the San Carlos Hotel.
The development will include more than 250 studio, one, two, and three bedroom rental residences, of which more than 600 people have expressed interest in renting. Also included in the mixed-use project will be a more than 500 space parking garage, along with several retail shops, restaurants and offices on the first floor of the development.
Residential amenities within the project include a roof-top patio and event area, a swimming pool and courtyard, and dedicated parking within the interior parking garage.
Studer said he’s not positive of when the project will finally break ground, which was initially planned in January. “I believe right now [the groundbreaking] would be an end of April start date, however like any date, it’s very subject to change,” Studer said.
In January, Birmingham-based Doster Construction was hired on as the general contractor. Atlanta-based Niles Bolton Associates is the architect.
Since demolition began last year of the former Pensacola News Journal headquarters, Studer Properties, along with the Gannett Company, spent over $1 million to clean up and remove pollution from the site.
Adjacent to the development south of Intendencia Street, a new 51,000 square foot YMCA is under construction, set for an opening in late 2016. The YMCA will utilize spaces in the parking garage within the mixed-used development.