As work progresses steadily to develop and build a state-of-the-art marine research center in downtown Pensacola, the state agency behind the project has revealed preliminary design plans for the facility.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, or FWC, is spearheading the plan to build the Florida Gulf Coast Marine Fisheries Hatchery and Enhancement Center. The long-planned research facility will be located on one of the few remaining vacant parcels along the downtown waterfront overlooking Pensacola Bay.
Baskerville-Donovan and Sam Marshall architects presented the conceptual plans for the development Thursday, detailing the design and layout of the $18 million facility.
First conceived in 2011, the facility is part of a larger vision held by the FWC to build a network of marine research labs around the state over the next 15 years to help restock depleted fish populations in coastal waters.
“FWC envisions this as an opportunity to expand our presence on the Gulf Coast and in Northwest Florida,” said Gill McRae, Director of the FWC Fish and Wildlife Research Institute.
The project is being funded with $18.8 million from Natural Resource Damage Assessment funds paid by BP in the wake of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster 100 miles off the Gulf Coast.
The project site has been home to a myriad of uses throughout its history. As far back as 1919, the Bruce Dry Dock Company operated at the site, acting as an industrial repair dry dock for larger commercial ships.
In the years following the Great Depression, the property became a public beach of sorts, becoming known as Bruce Beach. Historical documents show the beach was utilized by the large African-American community of the Tanyard and Belmont-DeVilliers neighborhoods. Up until the latter half of the 20th century, African-Americans were banned from most public beaches throughout the Pensacola area.
For much of the past half century, the waterfront site has remained undeveloped and littered with debris and waste. During construction of the Community Maritime Park, dredging at the Port of Pensacola, and other projects, dirt and other material was dumped at the Bruce Beach site.
“There doesn’t look to be an issue with contaminants,” officials with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection said. “Investigations of the property showed us that we would not have any issues with contamination on site.”
Project engineers say much of the site work has been done to ensure the property is ready for development. Plans call for the facility to be built atop existing fill dirt up to 15 feet off sea level to ensure the structure is protected from floods and storm surge.
The two-story, 24,000 square foot building will house both a research and public access component.
The first floor will primarily be home to FWC’s aquaculture labs to raise various fish native to the Gulf Coast. Various species of fish — which haven’t yet been announced but could include species such as redfish and speckled trout — will be brought to the facility for research and hatchery production. Produced fish will eventually be released primarily in the panhandle, according to FWC. No fish will be released directly from the facility itself into Pensacola Bay.
On the second floor, a classroom will be built to allow students and visitors to partake in experiments and lessons on marine science.
Additionally, the public will be able to see fish within the aquaculture labs and have access to interactive displays. Plans call for cameras to be setup in the saltwater tanks that will then be broadcast to live monitors throughout the facility.
An observation corridor will also be located on the second floor, offering panoramic views over Pensacola Bay.
“When we designed the building we knew it had to do a number of things,” said architect Mike Marshall with Sam Marshall Architects. “The primary function of the facility is to grow fish, but also to use it as an outreach opportunity. We want this development to be an amenity to the public.”
To improve pedestrian access to the site, a 10 foot wide, 94 foot long wood deck pedestrian bridge crossing will be built over Washerwoman’s Creek, allowing access from the Community Maritime Park.
Project architects said the bridge will be illuminated and accessible at night, along with walking trails throughout the property to experience the active wildlife along the waterfront. The beach shoreline of the property will also be restored to allow for waterfront access by kayakers and other small vessels.
Final plans for the facility are expected to be completed by the end of year, with construction on track to begin in spring or summer 2017 and a completion date sometime in 2018.
“We really enjoy how much the site has been made publicly accessible,” said McRae. “This site is beautiful — once you get to be able to see it.”
See preliminary plans of the facility: