If you haven’t noticed by the amount of cranes towering above downtown Pensacola, there’s a lot of new development going on. With hundreds of people moving downtown within the next two years thanks to new residential construction, downtown is on pace to eclipse last year’s business development.
In the past year alone, downtown Pensacola added more than a dozen new places to shop, dine and play: V. Paul’s, The Ruby Slipper, Nom Sushi Izakaya, Khon’s on Palafox, Fosko Coffee Barre, So Chopped, Restaurant IRON, Pensacola Pedal Trolley, George Artisan Bakery & Bistro, Single Fin Cafe, Wild Greg’s Saloon, Deluna’s Chat and Chew, Ride MORE Bicycles, Trek Bicycle Store, Newk’s Eatery, the Bank of Pensacola and more.
I’ve had the opportunity to visit many great cities around the country and it’s exciting to see Pensacolians joining in on the wave of support for vibrant urban centers and walkability. New business development naturally follows the growth of downtown residents and all these people moving downtown are a draw for businesses ready to invest.
Downtowns across the country boarded up and became ghost towns in the 1970s through the early 2000s. Today’s downtown is a dramatic turnaround from the latter half of the 20th century, when downtown Pensacola — like many urban centers across the country — had bottomed out. Americans bought into the trend of suburbia and started putting automobiles and parkings lots before walkability, sustainability and livability.
About a decade ago the economic and cultural rise of downtown Pensacola began to take hold. We’ve seen many local entrepreneurs investing in their dream right here in Pensacola and we’ve seen a growing number of regional or national brands buying into our community.
Below I’m sharing the businesses I’d love to see join in on the downtown scene, in no particular order. Please feel free to add any I have left out below in the comments section or join in on the conversation on social media on twitter @pulsegulfcoast or on Facebook. I’d love to write a follow-up on businesses YOU want to see.
Along with the list are links to each company’s contact page to make it easier for you to let them know what you want in downtown Pensacola. After all, there’s strength in numbers and if you never try, you’ll never know.
The Pensacola Market
As the largest metropolitan area on the Gulf Coast between New Orleans and Tampa, and a growth rate on par with San Francisco or Portland, Oregon, downtown Pensacola serves as an economic and cultural center for several hundred thousand people. Realizing this, the list below reflects the demand of our market.
1. Navy Federal Credit Union Branch
The world’s largest credit union is building a $1 billion corporate campus in Escambia County and will have over 10,000 working in Pensacola within the next decade. It’s one of the biggest — if not the biggest — economic stories of the last century in Northwest Florida. In 2014, Navy Federal was named among the “100 Best Companies to Work For” in the country. All that said, the credit union still lacks a branch downtown, where thousands of its members live, work, play and stay. Come on, Navy Federal. Let’s fix that!
Contact Navy Federal and let them know you want a branch downtown.
2. Trader Joe’s (Downtown Grocery)
Trader Joe’s is hotly requested in Pensacola. It seems that when any large commercial parcel comes up for sale or is prepping for development, the rumor mill goes right to theories that a new Trader Joe’s is being built. Unfortunately, the company hasn’t yet landed its sights on America’s First Settlement. There could be hope though, as Tallahassee – a metro about half the size of Pensacola – has recently landed one of the neighborhood grocery stores. There’s even a movement on social media to draw the company here. Even without Trader Joe’s, Pensacola does have its fair share of neighborhood grocery options. Ever’man Cooperative grocery recently expanded their downtown presence and a new neighborhood Publix — the first of its kind — is headed to East Hill by the end of 2016.
With the rapid growth of downtown, visitors from across the world have begun to flock to America’s first city to experience our eclectic Gulf Coast culture. There’s only one problem — there aren’t many places to book a hotel downtown, let alone within a short walk of Palafox Street, recently named one of the greatest streets in the country. While we may never see the return of the San Carlos – one of the greatest landmarks of Pensacola’s past – construction is about to begin on a new hotel near the intersection of Main and Palafox streets, with completion set for 2016. Even still, demand is expected to rise with the continued growth of downtown, so don’t be surprised if there are new hotel developments on the horizon.
4. Food Trucks
Food trucks — nobody seems to want to talk about them. The mobile hunger-fighting vehicles are a contentious subject in Pensacola, but that’s been the case pretty much in every city. Contrary to popular belief, operating a food truck anywhere downtown (yes, even on Palafox) is completely and 100% legal. Some in the community have been in contentious debate with the city on establishing common sense regulations for mobile food vendors, but as of yet, no one has presented such a proposal. If you’re a regular of the downtown scene, it’s obvious there’s plenty of foot traffic and demand for food trucks, but someone needs to take the risk and just start setting up shop downtown. We’re all hungry.
Contact the Pensacola Food Truck Coalition and show your support.
5. Bowling Alley-Arcade
Another idea I’ve heard around the downtown circuit is a bowling alley. I’m not much of a bowler myself, but when you throw in some arcade games, a pitcher of beer (or White Russian), I’ll throw one down the lanes anyday. Downtown Pensacola at one time had a bowling alley at the corner of Spring and Garden streets, but somehow we’ve gone for decades without anywhere to show off those fancy shoes. Splitsville, a relatively new boutique bowling franchise would be a great addition to downtown. The company already operates 3 locations in Florida. I see a couple of nice plots of land across from the Community Maritime Park, or even at the site of the old Cap’n Fun property (between Palafox and the Bay Center) that are prime for development.
Contact Splitsville and ask them to expand to Pensacola.
7. Downtown Health Care Clinic
With more people moving downtown everyday, a need arises for options beyond restaurants, bars or shopping. A small outpatient health clinic would serve a demand for the hundreds moving downtown within the next few years. The developers of the mixed-use apartment block being built at Intendencia and Jefferson streets have told me they would like a small health clinic on the bottom floor, adjacent to the new YMCA being built.
Contact Studer Properties and let them know you want a downtown health clinic.
8. Pet Store
Downtown Pensacola prides itself on being dog-friendly. Everyday I see people walking their dogs (or is it the other way around?) within the Seville Historic District, on Palafox or along the waterfront. A pet store – or even a downtown Pensacola Humane Society storefront — would be a welcome addition for all animal lovers. With the new 100% pet friendly apartments under development downtown, I only see Pensacola becoming more pet friendly.
9. Urban Outfitters
Urban Outfitters is a boutique clothing retailer, tailored towards the younger crowd. While many have turned to online retailers for their clothing shopping, many still enjoy the in-store experience. With stores in Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Tallahassee, Birmingham, Orlando and Tampa, I think it’s about ready to show some love for Pensacola.
10. Brewery or Brewpub
Growing up on the Gulf Coast, I was used to seeing my dad and his friends drink light beer all day. When I turned
16 21, I finally had a chance to taste it and could never understand why my father paid so much money for a six pack of diluted water. Later on, I moved away to the Left Coast for several years. It was there I fell in love with beer — real beer. It seems the Gulf Coast still hasn’t been fully awakened by the craft beer movement, but the demand is steadily rising for quality, local brews. The Pensacola Bay Brewery is a fantastic local brewery, with a great variety of seasonals, along with a mainstay beer selection. With Florida recently legalizing Growlers (thanks, Prohibition), the opportunity and demand is ripe for the expansion of the craft beer scene downtown. I’d love to see another brewery or brewpub investing in our community.
That’s my top 10. If you thought I left out any ideas or businesses, chime in with a comment or on twitter @pulsegulfcoast or Facebook. As always, feel free to contact me directly at @drewbuchanan or [email protected]