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Pensacola city Councilwoman Jewel Cannada-Wynn will hold a townhall meeting in Pensacola’s Tanyard neighborhood this evening, June 29.

The Tanyard — which covers the area largely between Reus Street, Garden Street, Main Street, and Bayou Chico — is one of Pensacola’s oldest neighborhoods, located in western downtown Pensacola.

The town hall format meeting will be held at 5:30 p.m. at the Corrine Jones Resource Center in Sanders Beach. Among the neighborhood issues to be discussed are the soon-to-be-completed updates to Corrine Jones Park, the construction of new sidewalks, the $18 million Fish Hatchery and Marine Research Center, and the replacement of the Governmental Review District with a proposed Maritime overlay district.

“What we’re discussing are issues that have an impact on the residents of the Tanyard,” said Councilwoman Jewel Cannada-Wynn. “My hope is to address people’s concerns about traffic, sidewalks, the updates going on at the stormwater pond at Corrine Jones Park, and other issues.”

Corrine Jones Park construction wraps up

The construction of the $3.4 million Government Street Stormwater Pond has been plagued by delays dating back to November 2013, when the project was initially announced by Mayor Ashton Hayward through a grant awarded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. Initial delays in 2015 were caused by higher-than-expected costs to construct the facility, which was initially estimated at just over $2 million. Additional funding was eventually secured by Hayward in late 2015 through proceeds from the city’s claim against BP regarding the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill.

Since construction began in 2016, multiple delays have been caused by weather and the discovery of contaminants beneath the site. The chemical Lindane was found to be leaching through the ground water under the park and investigators concluded that it originated from Escambia County’s former Mosquito Control Facility that operated adjacent to the site from the 1950s until it was heavily damaged by Hurricane Ivan in 2004. A several month-long cleanup effort eventually remediated the site so contractors could resume construction.

Pending further weather delays, the project is expected to finally wrap up next month and will feature a state-of-the-art 2.75-acre stormwater pond on the park’s existing grounds. As with Admiral Mason Park in the Hawkshaw neighborhood, the project will incorporate landscaping, walking paths, benches, and LED lighting, as well as the addition of a new basketball court and playground equipment. The project also includes the reconstruction of Government Street between Coyle and Clubbs streets.

“We’re going to have to wait on the weather to schedule a ribbon cutting, but I’m excited about it,” said Cannada-Wynn. “I’m asking for just a bit more patience from the neighborhood. It will be a beautiful addition.”

Once completed, the pond is designed to capture and treat stormwater runoff from 40 acres in downtown Pensacola that currently discharges untreated runoff directly into Pensacola Bay. City officials said the pond will utilize a two-tier treatment system, with pre-treatment units to remove debris and floatables prior to runoff entering the pond. In addition to improving water quality, the pond will is expected to serve as a wetland habitat for a variety of birds and other species.

A final addition to the park will be a plaque and marker honoring the history of the Tanyard and the park’s namesake, Corrine Jones. Jones was an African-American community leader in Pensacola and served as director of the city’s Fricker Recreation Center. The Sanders Beach-Corinne Jones Community Center is also named for her.

“We will have a plaque for Ms. Corrine Jones, detailing her amazing legacy at the park,” said Cannada-Wynn.

Fish Hatchery to finally break ground

Another topic to be discussed at the town hall is the long-awaited fish hatchery slated for the former site of Bruce Beach, a historical site along the downtown waterfront.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, or FWC, is spearheading the plan to build the project that’s officially called the Florida Gulf Coast Marine Fisheries Hatchery and Enhancement Center. The long-planned research facility will be located on one of the few remaining vacant parcels along the downtown waterfront overlooking Pensacola Bay.

A rendering of the new $18 fish hatchery and marine research center. (Special to The Pulse)

First conceived in 2011, the $18.8 million facility is being funded by penalties resulting from the 2010 oil spill. The project is part of a larger vision held by the FWC to build a network of marine research labs around the state over the next 15 years to help restock depleted fish populations in coastal waters.

Once home to an industrial dry dock company in the early 20th century, the property later became a public beach of sorts, becoming known as Bruce Beach. Historical documents show the beach was utilized by the largely African-American and Creole community of the Tanyard and Belmont-DeVilliers neighborhoods. Up until the latter half of the 20th century, African-Americans were banned from most public beaches throughout the Pensacola area.

For much of the past half century, the waterfront site has remained undeveloped and littered with debris and waste. During construction of the Community Maritime Park, dredging at the Port of Pensacola, and other projects, dirt and other material was dumped at the Bruce Beach site.

“There doesn’t look to be an issue with contaminants,” officials with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection said earlier this year. “Investigations of the property showed us that we would not have any issues with contamination on site.”

BruceBeach

An evolution of the Bruce Beach site between 1940 and 2016. (Special to The Pulse)

The two-story, 24,000 square foot building will house both a research and public access component. The faciliy will be home to FWC’s aquaculture labs to raise various fish native to the Gulf Coast. On the second floor, a classroom will be built to allow students and visitors to partake in experiments and lessons on marine science.

Officials said the public will be able to see fish within the aquaculture labs and have access to interactive displays. Plans call for cameras to be set up in the saltwater tanks that will then be broadcast to live monitors throughout the facility. An observation corridor will also be located on the second floor, offering panoramic views over Pensacola Bay.

PowerPoint Presentation

Public access to the property will be restored with new trails and historical markers throughout the property at Bruce Beach. (Special to The Pulse)

Project architects said a pedestrian bridge will be built over San Gabriel Creek, also known as Washerwoman’s Creek, that once flowed through the Tanyard neighborhood prior to development in the early 20th century. The bridge will be illuminated and accessible at night, along with walking trails throughout the property to experience the active wildlife along the waterfront. The beach shoreline of the property will also be restored to allow for waterfront access by kayakers and other small vessels.

Initial permits for construction were filed this spring and officials expect a groundbreaking to occur in September, with completion expected in late 2018.

Establishing protections for historic buildings in Tanyard

Councilwoman Cannada-Wynn is also expected to address the issue of historic preservation within the Tanyard and surrounding neighborhoods. Much of the Tanyard is currently contained within the Governmental Center District, which encompasses about 15 blocks on the western side of downtown Pensacola.

Established in 1979, the district was created as part of a push to redevelop the largely-residential Tanyard neighborhood with a series of new city, county, and state government buildings. The construction of the government buildings within the Tanyard resulted in the indiscriminate demolition of dozens, if not hundreds, of historic structures, many dating back to the 19th and 18th centuries.

Dozens of homes and commercial buildings were razed in Pensacola’s Tanyard neighborhood during the 1970s to make way for state and local government buildings, including the M.C. Blanchard Judicial Center and Pensacola City Hall, which was later built on the sites seen in the middle of this photograph. (UWF Archives/Special to The Pulse)

The district is one of five within the city where historic properties enjoy some degree of protection, as demolitions and new construction within the district must be approved by the city’s Architectural Review Board, which is tasked with encouraging a “coordinated architectural character” and ensuring projects are “compatible with the built environment” of the district.

Some city officials, including Mayor Hayward and Councilman Andy Terhaar, have argued that the district is obsolete and that regulations are unclear, causing confusion and increased costs for developers. When the city council met earlier this month, they voted against abolishing the district, with only Terhaar voting in support of his proposal.

Cannada-Wynn says she is seeking a resolution to the issue, pushing to replace the Governmental Center District with a proposed Maritime District.

“What we’re trying to do is replace the Governmental Center District with a proposed  Maritime District and expand it all the way to A street,” said Cannada-Wynn.

Cannada-Wynn and other councilmembers have said that without a review district in place, the city could end up with unregulated developments such as gas stations and convenience stores being developed just blocks from Palafox Street and the Community Maritime Park.  A similar plan was proposed in 2013, but it failed to gain approval after objections from the Emerald Coast Utility Authority, which felt the plan could impact its ability to sell the 18-acre site formerly occupied by the Main Street Wastewater Treatment Plant. That parcel is currently owned by developer Quint Studer, who said in 2015 that he was “land-banking” the property.

“I’m going to try to find some resolution,” Cannada-Wynn said. “This is the third or fourth time we’ve tried to resolve this, so I’m looking for resolution. We want to make sure there are some protections for historic structures within the Tanyard and I’m really looking forward to finally finding a way to resolve and deal with this issue.”

The University of West Florida is currently preparing to send a team to complete a survey of the district this summer, creating an inventory of its remaining historic buildings and architectural character. A draft report on the district is expected to be completed by August.

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