The vacant Pensacola lot previously home to W.A. Blount Junior High School is inching closer to redevelopment, with the city council voting Thursday to move forward with a request for proposals.
Closed in 1982, the school sat vacant for three decades, falling into disrepair and becoming an eyesore. The two school buildings, erected in 1915 and 1937, were finally demolished in 2012 when Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward opted to use federal Community Development Block Grant dollars to purchase the school and tear it down.
“The city council and I believe that all residents deserve clean, safe neighborhoods of which they can be proud,” Hayward said in 2012. “In order to compete for jobs and talent, we must invest in our neighborhoods and create a safe, attractive, and inviting city for people to live, work, and play. The demolition of the former Blount School is a great opportunity for a neighborhood that is full of promise and possibility.”
At the time, Hayward said his staff was “exploring options for the redevelopment of the property, including the establishment of incentives for the development of high-quality, mixed-income housing opportunities.” The city held a neighborhood meeting about the project in the summer of 2013, but since then there’s been little news about future development of the 2.5-acre site, which occupies a full city block bounded by Gregory, Chase, C, and D streets.
City administrator Eric Olson told the council in October that a plan would be coming forward soon, noting that the city hoped to facilitate the development of 15 to 20 homes on the site.
That plan — cosponsored by Hayward and city councilwoman Jewel Cannada-Wynn — came forward last week, and was unanimously approved by the council Thursday evening. The city will use what’s called a request for proposals, in which the city essentially dictates what the development will include and asks developers to submit proposals that meet those specifications. The city’s redevelopment plan for the Blount site calls for single-family, market-based housing, along with a “parklike amenity” and stormwater enhancement.
“Design of the homes will be developed to fit the character of the neighborhood but enhance the housing product and provide for increased private sector reinvestment,” the agenda item reads in part. “Closure on the sale of the property could be held until a mutually satisfactory design is developed.”
Hayward outlined his affordable housing agenda in an October viewpoint, though he didn’t mention the Blount School property specifically.
“Affordable housing is an integral component of regional economic development and we cannot afford to ignore the issue simply because it is a complex problem that requires multiple programs and multi-agency cooperation,” Hayward wrote. “What we propose is not a return to the large, distressed public housing complexes of yesteryear. Instead we are seeking to spur the development of innovative, aesthetically pleasing housing that preserves the character of neighborhoods.”
The establishment of a “housing initiatives fund” was also approved by the council on Thursday, along with the sale of three small surplus city-owned properties. Proceeds from those sales will be placed in the fund, which will supplement existing and future city housing programs.
The Blount School plan approved by the council Thursday doesn’t include a timeline, and it’s unclear when a winning proposal might be selected, much less when construction could begin. City officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.