A new public plaza and park will soon become the newest addition to downtown Pensacola’s historic district.
University of West Florida President Martha Saunders and the UWF Historic Trust Board of Directors hosted a groundbreaking ceremony for Museum Plaza, a historic preservation and education project that university officials said will help tell the story of Pensacola’s rich history.
“The UWF Historic Trust is committed to providing both visitors and neighbors of this city an authentic interpretation of history that is unique to Pensacola,” said UWF President Martha Saunders. “This is a groundbreaking both literally and figuratively – we will actually be moving dirt today, while celebrating through this symbolic gesture the evolution of new things to come, new assets for the region, and a new cultural activity center for the enjoyment of the public.”
Located behind the T.T. Wentworth Florida State Museum, the plaza will include an outdoor education center featuring a covered stage and seating area ideal for presentations, performances, lectures and other educational activities focusing on history, archaeology and architecture, as well as an exploration playground. The area is currently occupied by a lawn and flood-prone parking lot.
The University of West Florida Historic Trust, which owns and manages much of the historic district, is building the plaza as part of a master plan unveiled in 2015.
The master plan is being implemented in phases and is envisioned as a new opportunity to explore new ways of sharing the history of Pensacola and West Florida. The entire plan, estimated to cost between $10 to $15 million, could take several years to come to fruition.
Last fall, Historic Trust officials unveiled the Commanding Officers’ Compound, a covered outdoor exhibit which will be incorporated into the new plaza. Several other enhancements and additions have been completed or are underway throughout the Trust’s 8.5 acre campus, including installing glass doors on the Museum of Commerce, adjusting museum hours to maximize visitation, and installing new lighting at the T.T. Wentworth Museum that will illuminate the former city hall at night.
Once constructed, the plaza will serve as a central connection point between the Trust’s properties, including the Wentworth Museum, the Pensacola Children’s Museum, the Voices of Pensacola multicultural center, and the Historic Village.
“Connecting the TT Wentworth Jr. Florida State Museum with the rest of our historic properties is just one goal,” said Rob Overton, COO of the Trust. “The main goal is interpreting the archaeology of the forts that lie beneath the ground on this site to allow visitors to better understand our city’s history.”
Overton said the project will be a much-needed improvement over the current parking lot and vacant lawn that currently occupies the site.
“The overall goal of creating Museum Plaza is to better connect all of our assets more closely and cohesively,” said Overton. “The surface of the plaza will be a mixture of grass and pavers, a porous surface that will allow for proper water drainage. The markings on the new surface reflect the archaeology beneath.”
“The project will add shade and seating, which will encourage visitors to spend more time downtown,” Overton added. “This project will also create an outdoor classroom allowing us to better engage with people and share our stories.”
It’s estimated that more than 60 parking spaces will be sacrificed for the plaza project in a downtown core that is already feeling the pressure to find solutions to parking and transportation.
Two key donors for the outdoor education center and exploration playground were recognized during the groundbreaking ceremony. Quint and Rishy Studer also gave $150,000 to the project in support of its alignment with the Studer Community Institute’s efforts to make Pensacola the country’s first Early Learning City. David and Emily Walby gave $100,000 to support the creation and construction of the Linda Evans Memorial Education Pavilion in memory of Linda Carol Evans, a UWF alumna and charter class member who devoted her life to teaching elementary school students.
Marquis Latimer + Halback, a St. Augustine-based landscape architecture firm, designed the plaza and Pensacola-based Wescon Corportation is the general contractor.