With project funding secured in the city’s budget and design work completed, construction of a new community center at Pensacola’s Bayview Park is expected to start next spring.
Many residents of the East Hill neighborhood, however, aren’t happy with the project’s design, which was intended to reflect the historic architecture and surroundings of the historic neighborhood.
The East Hill park has been without a community center since 2015, when flood damage and lingering asbestos issues forced the city to demolish the building. City officials in January selected Caldwell Associates Architects to design the $8.25 million replacement, and Caldwell delivered its completed design last week.
The new 19,000 square foot center will be built on the same spot as the old building and will include three community meeting rooms, a large exercise room, two small event spaces for up to 120 people each, and a catering kitchen. A 5,000 square foot boathouse for storage of kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, and rowing shells is also planned. The center will be built eight feet higher than the previous building to protect against flooding, officials said.
“My understanding is that this is the final [design],” city spokesman Vernon Stewart said Tuesday. Mayor Ashton Hayward was out of town and unavailable for comment.
Not everyone in the neighborhood is happy with the design and are questioning why the proposed building doesn’t reflect the public input provided by city residents. Some have taken to the Facebook pages of both the East Hill Neighborhood Association and Caldwell Associates Architects to voice their objections, with multiple residents calling the building “ugly.”
“I think the design is too contemporary,” said East Hill resident Sara Sudbeck. “I was hoping for more old-style detail, seaside cottage or craftsman with large outdoor spaces. I love the beautiful buildings that are downtown, the old homes in North Hill and East Hill.”
Sudbeck said that she had also hoped the building would be larger and would “make a grand statement.”
“Bayview Park is such a beautiful place, festivals could be held there, weddings, etc.,” Sudbeck said. “It could become a landmark.”
“I do not feel as though our neighborhood was considered at all during the design process,” said Michelle Nevels-Stacks.
Caldwell Associates Architects stated in a presentation to city council members last week that its goal was to “embrace the history of East Hill and Pensacola, while looking towards and planning for the future” and to “create an impactful, monumental design.”
At a community input meeting in May, nearly 80 residents came to offer their suggestions on the design and amenities offered with the new building. Among them, citizens asked for the facility to reflect “Old Florida” architecture with “wraparound porches that mimic homes in the East Hill neighborhood.” The original Bayview facility, built in the first decade of the 20th century, featured the Craftsman architectural style preferred by many residents.
Other prevailing suggestions included a reflection of “Spanish and Craftsman” styles of architecture, also reflecting the majority of homes and structures in the historic neighborhood.
It’s unclear why the proposed design doesn’t reflect public input, as Caldwell Associates declined official requests for comment by The Pulse, deferring to the City of Pensacola who also declined to comment on the design.
Despite the project’s waterfront location in the city’s premier park, officials said the new Bayview Community Center wasn’t designed to be a popular hub for weddings and other community events like the Sanders Beach-Corinne Jones Community Center, which opened in 2009.
“We kept the size of the event space much smaller than [Sanders Beach] so that it would not overwhelm the park,” project architect Michael Crawford wrote in a Facebook post. “It is designed for the daily and weekly users with lots of space to enjoy the view.”
Construction on the new community center is tentatively set to begin in March 2018, according to a schedule released by the project architect, with work expected to be completed by May of 2019.
Read the design presentation and booklet for the new Bayview Center.
This story has been updated with new renderings and comments from residents.