Downtown Pensacola condo project sparks fear over parking loss

Article Courtesy of The Pensacola News Journal
By Joseph Baucum

Published March 14, 2017


Concerns have arisen over the impact to available parking in downtown Pensacola should the city allow a city-owned parking lot to be converted into a residential condominium north of Plaza de Luna.

The Pensacola City Council approved at its meeting Thursday for city staff to enter into direct negotiations with Marina Management Corp. about installing a condominium facility on a lot south of East Pine Street and between South Palafox and South Jefferson streets. The measure passed on a 4-0 vote with council members Jewel Cannada-Wynn, Andy Terhaar, Gerald Wingate and P.C. Wu supporting it. Councilman Brian Spencer abstained.

Kevin Groom, a clinical neuropsychologist whose clinic is located at 890 S. Palafox St. directly adjacent to the lot, commended the city's efforts in continuing to develop the urban core. But with ferry service between Pensacola Beach, downtown and Gulf Islands National Seashore expected to launch at some point in the future and generate more traffic downtown, Groom fears that taking away a parking lot regularly used by his clients, staff and many others could soon lead to over-congestion.

"The city does have a big lot, the Commendencia lot," said Groom, noting alternative areas available for parking. "The only problem is with the ferry. That lot is going to be used for ferry traffic, I assume. It’s a lot farther for our patients to walk. I could possibly park my staff over there and make them walk the two blocks."

A city-owned parking lot south of East Pine Street and between South Palafox and South Jefferson streets. The city will negotiate with Marina Management Corp. about the development of a residential condominium on the lot.

In an email Groom sent to council members before the council's meeting, Groom cited the completion of the five-story Holiday Inn Express at 101 E. Main Street as another source of increased downtown traffic. He also in his email projected an expansion at 850 S. Palafox St. for a dentist and oral surgeon to bring several hundred more patients and residents each week to the Palafox Pier area.

In an interview with the News Journal, Groom predicted the combined effect would hinder parking near his and others' businesses in the area.

"I am worried, because if you think about the lots in the back that are dedicated to our buildings, there are not enough to cover the demand," he said. "Because it’s not enough, it spills over into the area of the proposed lease. So where are all of those people going to park?"

In response to the increased development of downtown, Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward said the Pensacola Downtown Improvement Board is working on a long-term strategy that would include a master parking plan. He said it is possible that the city would construct a multi-story parking garage in the future in anticipation of downtown's growth.

He added that should Marina Management progress with their condo development, his office would work with all the businesses south of Main Street to communicate with the owners and their customers the remaining locations best available for nearby parking. But he said with successful growth for a downtown area, the loss of some parking space is a natural component.

"South of Main Street is a very important part of that downtown hub," Hayward said. "I think we do have adequate parking, but people are going to have to walk a little bit more now."

Marina Management, who has previously developed several commercial entities in the proposed site's vicinity including the Palafox Pier, already leases the lot from the city to provide parking space, but city statute mandates that properties located south of Main Street cannot be sold. They can only be leased.

The council's vote Thursday authorized staff to enter into negotiations with Marina Management on leasing the property for the purpose of developing the condominium, but the final terms agreed upon between the city and the corporation would also require the council's endorsement at a later meeting.

The proposal as it stands calls for a nine-story residential condo building that would total 30 units and include surface parking on the ground level. Most of the units at the prospective building would be two-bedroom, two-bathroom condos and span in size from 2,100-2,200 square feet.