With downtown Pensacola redevelopment in full swing, a group of developers is hoping to capitalize by aggressively reshaping and rebranding several near-downtown neighborhoods.
Many of those developers have united to form the Gentrification and Redevelopment Acceleration Board, or GRAB, which will lobby city and county officials to make it easier for long-established neighborhoods to be destroyed, remade, and renamed.
“To be honest, the city’s complete lack of protections for historic neighborhoods works in our favor, and we appreciate the help of Mayor Hayward and his staff to undermine the few protections that do exist,” said Pensacola attorney and real estate investor Charles Liberis. “But we need government to go a step further — not just to get out of our way but to actually incentivize gentrification.”
Liberis is best known for spearheading the demolition of the historic 1901 John Sunday House last year, which he accomplished by side-stepping the city’s historic review process and obtaining a court-ordered demolition permit. Instead of building a promised development, Liberis later flipped the property for a substantial profit, selling the land to Mobile, Ala. developer Dean Parker.
“Fortunately, most of the Tanyard’s old-timey architecture and outdated single-family houses have been systematically destroyed over the past several decades, leaving us with basically a blank slate,” said Parker, who plans to build a 23-unit luxury townhome development on the site. “It’s a developer’s dream. We don’t even have to deal with pesky historical markers blotting the landscape. It’s like that other stuff was never even here.”
“People want to think about the future, not about the past,” Parker added. “Apparently they used to call this neighborhood ‘The Tanyard,’ but no one even knows what that even means. We’re calling it, ‘Downtown West’ now.”
Parker’s Girard Place development, inexplicably named not for Sunday but for a Philadelphia historical figure with no connection to Pensacola, would bring a decidedly suburban flair to downtown Pensacola, replacing on-street parking with driveways and single-car garages.
“We’re going to make this an ideal place for wealthy folks that want to live in an urban environment but don’t want to deal with the urban, uh, people,” Parker said. “Our residents will be able to lock their doors from their smartphones and will have their own private walking path to the Ever’man grocery store so that they’ll never even have to make eye contact with neighborhood residents.”
Located just minutes from the downtown core, the historic Belmont-Devilliers neighborhood is next on many developers’ list of targets. Pensacola-based A Door Properties hopes to build a remarkably out-of-place 25-unit townhome development just a block from historic landmarks like Blue Dot Barbeque and the Gussie’s Record Shop building, which now houses the Five Sisters Blues Cafe.
“One of the reasons this area is so attractive to developers is that there are no rules whatsoever,” said A Door executive Steven Sebold. “We didn’t have to make any effort whatsoever to fit in with the neighborhood’s architectural style, and that saves us a ton of money. The City of Pensacola deserves a lot of credit for bravely placing developers’ interests first, instead of kowtowing to neighborhood old-timers.”
But Sebold said he hopes city officials will step up again to help A Door rebrand the neighborhood, a process A Door hopes to start with the name they’ve chosen for the development: The Junction at West Hill. In pre-Jim Crow Pensacola, the area was commonly referred to as West Hill, but took on its current name after becoming a primarily African-American neighborhood.
“Of course, we want to appropriate, I mean, celebrate the neighborhood’s rich and vibrant cultural heritage, but we feel the name ‘Belmont-Devilliers’ might have certain connotations for some potential buyers,” Sebold said. “This area has had a colorful past, but we believe its future will look a lot like the conceptual renderings for our project: drab, uninspired, and full of white people.”
Many in Pensacola have credited developer and self-proclaimed full-time community volunteer Quint Studer with jump-starting the downtown redevelopment which is now bleeding over into adjacent neighborhoods.
Studer is currently building the 258-unit Southtowne Apartments development, which he said will cater to residents who are willing to spend at least 150 percent of their monthly income on rent.
“When you’re looking for a new place in Downtown Pensacola, anticipating a budget of one and a half times your monthly pay is always a good rule of thumb,” said Studer, who somehow convinced city and county officials to grant him a multi-million dollar tax break for the project. “We realize no one who currently lives anywhere near downtown can probably afford these rents.”
Despite advertising that studio apartments would start at $750 per month, only two of the development’s 28 studio apartments will rent at that rate, with next least expensive unit renting for $1,020 per month. Studer suggested that less-wealthy Southtowne residents could better afford the higher-than-advertised rents by sharing the studio apartments with two or more roommates.
Ever-conscious of the public’s ability to be mollified by token gestures, some developers have agreed to honor neighborhood legacies in small, inexpensive, and unobtrusive ways. While the townhomes occupying the site of his former home may not bear John Sunday’s name, a small community building on the property will.
“The least we can do is name this fabulous shed in his honor,” said Parker. “Literally. It’s the actual least we could do.”
The preceding has been completely fake news produced for satirical purposes only.