The popular monthly Gallery Night event and Pensacola’s annual New Year’s Eve celebration could be coming to an end after the city’s Downtown Improvement Board voted this morning to ends its involvement in both.
Barring some other group or agency taking over the event, the final Gallery Night will be in September. DIB chairman John Peacock said Tuesday that the event has largely accomplished its original goal of bringing people downtown, and that Gallery Night in its current form — which costs about $8,500 per month to put on — simply isn’t self-sustaining.
“Gallery Night was originally designed to highlight the fact that we have a downtown entertainment district, and you can argue that it’s succeeded,” said Peacock. “Pick any Friday or Saturday night, any weekend, even most weeknights, it’s pretty crowded downtown. So it gets harder and harder from a cost standpoint to justify doing there when there’s not as much incremental benefit anymore.”
Over the past two decades, Gallery Night has grown from a semiannual art-focused event to a monthly “street party” event which now draws thousands — if not tens of thousands — to downtown Pensacola. But with downtown Pensacola’s growth, the large crowds once seen only on Gallery Night are now commonplace. Meanwhile, some residents and businesses have also complained about Gallery Night’s shift away from an arts focus and about the public safety issues that often come with high alcohol sales and consumption, and some businesses which previously paid to officially take part in Gallery Night no longer do, said Peacock.
Peacock also said that it’s time for the DIB to refocus resources elsewhere and expand its focus beyond Palafox Street. “The DIB is tasked with enhancing and beautifying 44 blocks,” he said. “You could argue that we’ve done a pretty good job on Palafox from Garden to Main, but the other 40-ish don’t look as good. We have a lot of work to do.”
While Gallery Night in its current form may not continue, Peacock says that the DIB will look to move forward with other special events throughout the year. “We’ve already tasked the special events committee to come up with some ideas,” he said. “We’re excited about a new direction for downtown.”
Pelican Drop in doubt
The Pelican Drop event, on the other hand, has simply grown too big for the DIB to manage, said Peacock. The annual New Year’s Eve party has continued to grow year-over-year and now attracts 50,000 people or more to downtown Pensacola each December.
Originally staged by the City of Pensacola’s Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA), the DIB took over the Pelican Drop event in 2012, with the city agreeing to provide some funding through the 2014 event. In order to stage last year’s event, Peacock sais he “begged and pleaded” with the Escambia County Commission, which eventually provided some funding, though the DIB still lost about $16,000 on the event, he said.
“This is really a community event, not a DIB event,” said Peacock.
As of now, the DIB does not plan to move forward with a Pelican Drop event for 2016. Peacock said Tuesday that it’s possible another agency such as the City of Pensacola or Escambia County could decide to take one or both of the events, and that he’s spoken with both Mayor Hayward and Escambia County Administrator Jack Brown about the possibility.
In a statement released Tuesday afternoon, Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward called Gallery Night “a driving force in the renaissance of Downtown Pensacola.”
“Pensacola is a creative place with innovative people and we look forward to new opportunities for a new downtown experience,” said Hayward. “The Gulf Coast is built on a creative economy, especially in Pensacola. We look forward to the next generation of events that attract creative investments to our downtown.”
Reaction from the public, however, has been overwhelmingly negative, with many patrons taking to social media to call on the DIB to reconsider the move.