History on the chopping block? Pensacola ARB votes to demolish several historic buildings


    History on the chopping block? Pensacola ARB votes to demolish several historic buildings. (Source: WEAR-TV)

    In a six to one vote, the Pensacola Architectural Review Board (ARB) approved the demolition of not one, but three historic buildings near Garden and Spring Streets.

    "Over three million soldiers actually came through these doors," said Teresa Hill. "Including my grandfather!"

    Now locked, behind a chain-link fence, the USO building is one of them.

    "My grandparents met here, actually," said Hill. "In the 40's my grandmother came to help host with one of the dances here and that's how they met, and then they soon married and that's why I'm here today."

    An advocate for preserving Pensacola's history, Hill says there is another option to tearing these buildings down.

    "I would like to see them saved and repurposed," said Hill. "We've lost so many of our historic structures that I do believe Pensacola needs that sense of place, that connection to history."

    Also on the chopping block: the old property appraisal office and this administrative building owned by the Escambia County School District, which Superintendent Malcolm Thomas says has been under contract for the last four years with the investors hoping to build the apartment complex.

    "This is the only group of investors that have really stayed with us," said Thomas. "The first investment group, they were trying to save the building, but they couldn't make the business case and couldn't get financing because it cost too much."

    After the meeting, Mayor Grover Robinson made a recommendation; asking the board to meet, and vote again.

    "I don't consider it a valid vote, because of the fact that we didn't have public opportunity to speak," said Robinson. "I ask that we reschedule the meeting and hear the subject again."

    If the board honors Robinson's recommendation, a meeting will be held at a later date. If the vote stands, Thomas says it will streamline the property sale.

    "The action last night by the ARB cleared the way for us to move to the closing of the sale from the school district to this group of investors," said Thomas.

    That would be one step closer to the new apartment complex. However, the board would still have to approve the project's appearance - already mandating the USO arches be preserved, as well as this wall, originally part of an old school.

    "It would be nice to save more than walls," said Hill. "We've lost so many buildings in the Belmont and Tanyard [areas] that just at some point, when is it too many, you know?"

    One of the investors involved with the project development is businessman Quint Studer, who is also chairing Mayor Robinson's transition team.

    There has been no mention of a demolition date. Permits would need to be acquired before the bulldozers roll in, but if the apartment project is given the green light, design and construction is estimated to take about two years.


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