New single-family homes could soon be built on the site of the former W.A. Blount Junior High School in Pensacola, if city officials move forward with either of two proposals.
The plans were submitted by development groups led by Pensacola-based ParsCo and Gunther Properties in response to a city request for proposals, or RFP. City council members voted in January to move forward with redevelopment of the 2.5-acre city-owned property, which occupies a full city block bounded by Gregory, Chase, C, and D Streets.
Two school buildings, erected in 1915 and 1937, sat vacant on the site for nearly three decades after the school closed in 1982. Calling the dilapidated buildings an eyesore and a “haven for criminal activity,” Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward spearheaded the city’s 2011 purchase of the property using federal Community Development Block Grant dollars. The buildings were demolished the following year.
By using an RFP process, the city is hoping to guide the redevelopment by outlining what the project should include and asking developers to submit proposals that meet those specifications. The Blount School RFP asked developers to submit “a written description of a proposed conceptual site plan for the property” along with conceptual illustrations depicting parking configurations, park space, landscaping concepts, and the houses themselves.
Both firms have proposed restoring the original plat that existed prior to the school’s construction, which includes 30 residential lots. But that’s where the similarities end. There are stark differences in the two proposals: ParsCo’s proposal is 112 pages long and filled with detailed information and illustrations about the company’s plans for the site. Gunther’s proposal, on the other hand, is just three pages long, with no illustrations — essentially just an offer letter.
ParsCo, whose development team includes Urban Infill Corporation and Voyage Real Estate, has developed a number of single-family and multi-family projects in the area, including the Old East King Cottages in the city’s Eastside neighborhood and the Summer Vista senior living facility. The company is currently in the process of developing two hotels and another senior living project in Pensacola.
ParsCo’s preliminary plans call for 30 two-story, two-bedroom, 1200 sq. ft. houses on the site, with a park amenity in the center of the block. They’re calling it the “Cottages at Five Points,” after the site’s proximity to the five-way intersection at Garden Street, D Street, and Barrancas Avenue just a block away. The proposal states that the homes will have a sales price of $199,000.
“We are excited about this opportunity to redevelop the former Blount School site,” said ParsCo president Amir Fooladi. “Our focus is to put the interests of the city and the neighborhood at the forefront so we can re-activate this city block that has sat vacant for far too long.”
“We hope that the city finds our proposal to be the best in addressing not only the requirements requested in the RFP, but also the needs of the neighborhood,” Fooladi added. “The time and effort we put into this RFP is a reflection of our team’s commitment to the community. We are ready to meet the neighbors to talk about this exciting development because we view them as partners in this project.”
Similarly, Gunther points to the neighborhood as the reason his proposal didn’t include the same level of detail.
“We felt it was important to meet with the residents of the neighborhood as well as obtain input from City Council and Mayor Hayward before designing the actual homes,” Gunther said. “As for the land, the historical Maxent Tract plat, recorded in 1906, called for 30 lots within that block, which we believe is consistent with the current neighborhood density. As discussed in our proposal, we would like to stick with that original plan, build 30 homes on the site and therefore provide much needed workforce housing units for area residents.”
Gunther has developed townhomes on West Intendencia Street, rehabbed several buildings in the city’s Seville neighborhood, and is currently developing the Galveztown mixed-use project at the former YMCA site on North Palafox Street. He’s worked with the city before, most recently representing the city as it acquired several privately-owned parcels needed for the expansion and redevelopment of Corinne Jones Park.
“We would present detailed plans after a public meeting with the neighborhood and the members of city council.” said Gunther. “We look forward to discussing further how we can help the city and the neighborhood meets its goals for the property.”
The other big difference in the two proposals is the offering price. ParsCo is offering between $200,000 and $240,000 for the property, depending on whether the city is willing to take its money as the individual parcels sell or in one lump sum. Gunther is offering $320,000.
As mayor, Hayward has advocated for more affordable housing, penning a viewpoint on the subject last October.
“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.”
City council members in January also voted to establish a “housing initiatives fund,” which will supplement existing and future city housing programs.
A selection committee, appointed by Hayward, is expected to weigh the two proposals and make a recommendation to the city council, which will ultimately decide the issue. A timeline for a decision is unclear; city officials did not respond to a request for comment.