The City of Pensacola on Tuesday issued a demolition permit for the George S. Hallmark Elementary School, marking the latest potential casualty in a spate of historic Pensacola buildings to meet the wrecking ball over the past year.
Built in 1928, the school, located at 115 South E Street, was named for George Stone Hallmark, a judge and prominent citizen of Pensacola who died in 1906. Two of Hallmark’s granddaughters, Edith and Eulalie Oliver, later worked as teachers at the school.
At only 89 years old, the school isn’t subject to a moratorium passed by the city council last September, which temporarily prohibits the demolition of any building in the city built more than 100 years ago. Likewise, because the school isn’t situated within one of the city’s five review districts, it isn’t subject to the city’s historic preservation rules, which would require the demolition request to be review by a city board.
Instead, the contractor, Maverick Demolition, could proceed with demolition work this week, city officials said.
Closed in 2011, the school was put up for sale by the Escambia County School District. Pensacola-based 349 LLC purchased the five-acre site for $1 million in 2013. At the time, 349 LLC had four partners: Pensacola attorney Fred Levin, who fronted the money for the purchase; BLAB-TV owner Fred Vigodsky; Matt Pair, the former business partner of Pensacola mayor Ashton Hayward; and An Hayward, the mayor’s wife. Pair and Hayward were later bought out by Levin and Vigodsky.
In 2015, Houston-based developer ITEX took an interest in the property, and partnered with the 349 LLC to apply for county and state grants and tax credits for either a senior living village or affordable multi-family housing. Both ITEX proposals included saving and rehabilitating the historic school building.
“We love the Hallmark property,” ITEX president Chris Akbari said Tuesday. “We felt like it was a great site for multifamily or senior housing.”
“We were looking to preserve the building and redevelop the property using federal historic tax credits and the state’s affordable housing tax credit program,” said Will Moyers, a director with the company. “We received local government support from the county commissioners board that year which allowed us to submit our application to Florida Housing. The state’s housing tax credit program is very competitive, and unfortunately our project was not selected.”
Moyers said ITEX intended to reapply for the tax credits in 2016, but the County Commission opted not to support any affordable housing developments this year. A sale of the property is currently pending.
The approval of the demolition permit comes just days before the city council is poised to debate a historic demolition ordinance which would require board review before demolition of any structure built before 1940.
“I am so disappointed,” said council president Brian Spencer, who is proposing the ordinance. “A building official has the prerogative to make decisions based on impending legislation,” he added, referring to city building official Bill Weeks, whose office issues demolition permits.
Last year, the 1901 John Sunday House, built by one of Pensacola’s most prominent African-American leaders, was controversially demolished after a circuit court ruling allowed developer Charles Liberis to side-step the city’s historic preservation rules. Just weeks later, the 115-year-old West Hill Taxi Stand was also razed. A demolition permit is currently active for the historic home at 422 West Gregory Street, which dates to at least 1885.