Shannon's Window: Why Hawkshaw will stay empty

  • August 19, 2015
  • /   Shannon Nickinson
  • /   community-dashboard

The view of the Hawkshaw property looked toward the Gulf Power building.

It’s back to the drawing board again for the Hawkshaw Property.

The City Council, meeting as the Community Redevelopment Agency on Aug. 17, voted 5-3 to reject the offers on the table to develop the property. This is at least the third time the city has attempted to develop the property — which abuts the Gulf Power building at the corner of Ninth Avenue and Romana Street.

Watching the meeting unfold, it seemed Councilman P.C. Wu was right when he mused, “I’m almost beginning to wonder if the property’s cursed.”

He recounted the other times the city has tried and failed to develop Hawkshaw, which is seen as one of the last big pieces of undeveloped property near the waterfront in downtown Pensacola.

“After all of that we’re back to green grass,” Wu said.

How did we get here this time?

In June, a selection committee ranked proposals from the five responses to the request for proposals to build a walkable, urban mixed-use redevelopment project.

The top three were, in order:

The ITEX Group LLC: The ITEX Group, based in Port Arthur, Texas, and its affiliated companies ITEX Development, ICON Builders and ITEX Property Management propose a 180-unit apartment development called The Encore on 9th Avenue. It calls for a five-story building that wraps around a parking structure. It includes efficiency/one bedroom, two-bedroom and some three-bedroom units.  Rent would range from $900 to $1,600 a month. Purchase price: $1 million.  The full proposal is here.

Whitesell-Green and H+H Building Group: Proposes to build 37 townhomes on the site and two, 20-unit condo buildings. The townhomes would range from 2 Bedroom/1.5 Bath, 1,100 square feet floor plans to 3 Bedroom/3 Bathroom, 1,650 square feet floor plans. Sale prices range from $225,00 to $350,000.

The condo buildings would be between 4,000 and 5,000 square feet of leasable retail/commercial space. A mixture of floor plans will be provided from 1 Bedroom/1.5 Bath 1000 square feet to 2 Bedroom/2 Bathroom 1,300 square feet floor plans. Sale prices range from $215,000 to $295,00. Purchase price: $1,280,000.

Granger Development and Brokerage Services, A Door Properties LLC, SNS Realty: Proposes a nine-story, 87,600 square foot residential mixed-use building with 47 for sale residential condos. The first floor of the project would be the new home of Still Waters Medical Spa, now on Tarragona Street.

The condos would range from 850 square foot units to 1,700 square foot units. Three, 3,000 square foot penthouses would be available. A rain garden and a pond are noted to handle stormwater as part of the proposal. Purchase price: $1.2 million. The full proposal is here.

An appraisal done on the property in May says the 96,525 square foot parcel is valued at $1,740,000.

Searching for the ‘best use’

It was a discussion that began benignly enough, with chief of neighborhood services Helen Gibson telling the Council that consultant Owen Beitsch would have the financial analysis of the top two ranked proposals ready for review at the September CRA meeting.

Turns out, it was not meant to be.

Councilman Charles Bare made the motion, seconded by Brian Spencer, to reject all of the offers and hit reset.

{{business_name}}Pensacola City Councilman Charles Bare.

Pensacola City Councilman Charles Bare.

“I don’t think we know what our goal is for that property is,” Bare said. “We got some very different proposals for what would go there. We got some pushback from the community nearby, which can be good or bad depending on how you feel about that community nearby (Aragon).”

Bare advocated finding a professional to look at what’s best for that property.

“I think we rushed in and what we got was not the cream of the crop,” Bare said.

Councilmembers Wingate and Myers spoke about the need to make sure there was more community input on what is best for that property.  

“I know we’re looking for an effort or sell that property and get some funds out of it,” Wingate said, “but we do need to make sure we get the best use out of it.”

Myers said she thought publicity surrounding the selection of the finalists gave people the impression that “very high density, tall buildings” on that site were “a done deal.”

She said she believes there could be an option that pairs attractive, affordable housing that would complement the higher-end development in Aragon and fits the CRA’s mission.

“This is not an emergency,” Myers said. “It’s better to do it right.”

Spencer noted: “There might be an RFP for a beautiful green park there.”

‘Not the first rodeo’

Councilwoman Jewel Cannada-Wynn, who sits as CRA chairwoman, was the voice of long experience with the fate of Hawkshaw.

{{business_name}}Pensacola City Councilwoman Jewel Cannada-Wynn

Pensacola City Councilwoman Jewel Cannada-Wynn

“This is not the first rodeo with this one in the last four years,” she said. “I think whatever we put on it, the market is going to determine what goes there. We need to see this process through. We have people who committed to the process, who invested in this process. We need to see it through.”

Councilman Larry Johnson agreed with Cannada-Wynn.

“We put out and RFP, we had folks respond to it. Now we want to press reset?” Johnson said. “You think Aragon is upset about a highrise? Bring low income housing there and you’ll have the whole neighborhood out.”

Which leaves us — the taxpayers — still the custodian of property that remains off the tax rolls.

Spencer is right: These are the possible perils of dealing with governmental bodies in development projects.

But this is a special peril of dealing with governmental bodies when it comes to development in Pensacola.

Government is one of the largest land owners in downtown Pensacola. In waiting for the very best possible option ever, Pensacola government in particular has overlooked the really good options that are right there, waiting to pass go.

Like the YMCA at the Maritime Park. Or the UWF Center for Entrepreneurship at the Maritime Park. Or Avalex at Hawkshaw.

"It's unfortunate that we have to go through this process again after developers have spent money when we had an opportunity to move this forward," Hayward said.

Chris Palmer was part of one of the groups that wanted the chance to pitch a vision for Hawkshaw.

"I think it would be a mistake to throw them out at this point and not give the proposers have a chance to give their reasoning behind their proposals in public," Palmer told the CRA.

Maybe next time. If there is one.

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