Improved Economy Boosts Construction, Jobs
Public and private projects abound.
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Courtesy Skanska USA
These renderings depict the predicted half-billion dollar Pensacola Bay bridge that will connect Pensacola to Gulf Breeze.
Asked how economic development in Escambia County and Pensacola has fared over the past year, Scott Luth pauses a moment before emphatically answering: construction.
“If I was to put a theme on it, it would be that it has been a year of construction,” says the president and CEO of FloridaWest Economic Development Alliance. “There are projects already under construction, projects approved for construction and projects starting to break ground. There are big projects and little projects, a new hotel, more office buildings, a new half-billion-dollar bridge from Pensacola to Gulf Breeze that’s been approved, more student housing being constructed at the University of West Florida. Escambia is doing very well.”
Expansion of facilities and the creation of new jobs crosses a wide variety of industry sectors, from real estate and aviation to education and retail. An improved economy has helped drop the county’s unemployment rate below 5 percent. That is attracting more people to the region and increasing the demand for services and housing. Two private co-working spaces have opened, and the focus on entrepreneurship is growing. And The Bluffs — Northwest Florida’s Industrial Campus, a 6,000-plus-acre master-planned development — was designed to lure more industrial/manufacturing north of the city.
COURTESY SKANSKA USA
With support from local government, some resources from Tallahassee and private sector leadership, “we’re hitting on all cylinders,” says John Peacock, chairman of the Pensacola Downtown Improvement Board. He points out that downtown Pensacola, where redevelopment has been spurred by private investors such as Quint Studer and Bobbie Switzer, has become increasingly popular for residents and visitors. Few vacant storefronts are located along the city’s major thoroughfares, which now offer a variety of entertainment, dining and shopping options.
“If a visitor comes for a week, you can only do so many beach days,” explains Peacock, who lives and works downtown. “In the past, people used to go west to Alabama or east to Destin looking for something to do. Now they’re coming downtown, so we’re keeping more of the money here. We’re improving the aesthetic appeal for downtown and promoting historical and cultural tourism. We haven’t done a good job in the past of leveraging that.”
Now there is also a focus on providing more residential options in the heart of Pensacola. Studer is building a 268-unit apartment complex that will provide affordable housing, and Switzer spent $7.5 million to purchase One Palafox, a 4.5-acre site that is the largest block in downtown and will be turned into an urban village with luxury apartments, retail and co-working space.