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Pending final approval from the Pensacola City Council next week, a key piece of downtown real estate will return to the tax rolls after nearly 40 years of city ownership.

The $900,000 sale of 16 South Palafox Street, a two-story brick building that’s currently home to The Wine Bar on Palafox and Play, closed on December 27. The buyers — through their Cat-Den, LLC — are Kevin and Catalina Lehman, owners of nearby Fosko Coffee Barre and Pure Barre.

“Our principals are both residents and shopkeepers in downtown Pensacola and have a vested interest in making sure that the downtown area prospers and develops in a manner that is beneficial to the community as a whole,” said business manager Denny Wilkins. “They made this investment to ensure that the community well-being was properly considered in the future.”

The ground floor breezeway at 16 South Palafox is home to The Wine Bar. (Drew Buchanan/Special to The Pulse)

Despite the sale, the buyers say that neither Play nor The Wine Bar are going anywhere soon. Both businesses have current leases running through 2020, with an additional five-year option beyond that.

“There are two wonderful tenants already in the building, and we hope to continue with these tenants on a business as usual basis,” Wilkins said.

While there aren’t any big changes coming, the new ownership is contemplating some improvements to the century-old building. “We’ll discuss the possibilities of building enhancements with the existing tenants and will see if there is joint interest in upgrading a few aspects of the building together,” said Wilkins.

The Keyser Building in 1943. (UWF Archives/Special to The Pulse)

The building, which was appraised for $790,000, was originally part of the turn-of the century Keyser Building, which stretched from 16 to 26 South Palafox. Over the years, the building has been subdivided and facades changed to the point that it barely resembles its original appearance.

The sale caps a ten-year effort by the city to unload the property, which was declared surplus by the city council in November 2006. The city acquired the property for $27,500 in 1978, in the darkest days of a downtown in decline after anchor stores decamped for new suburban locations in the 60s and 70s. Prior to 2007, the building was home to the marketing department for Energy Services of Pensacola, the city-owned natural gas company.

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