Beach lovers will recognize something very unusual with the latest commercial core re-do plan for Pensacola Beach. Remember the original plan, unveiled in January? Someone finally is thinking outside the "parking-ramp box," just as we pleaded.
The old parking ramp plan had its most recent germination two or three years ago when SRIA general manager Buck Lee openly began lusting for a multi-story parking garage. Discerning observers thought any parking problem Pensacola Beach may experience five or six days a year hardly justifies the expense and blocked views of a monster auto parking garage on the beach; much less is it a reason to double the bridge toll.
Now, it seems, the SRIA's architectural consultant agrees:
"What it seemed to boil down to was a misallocation of parking," Weinberg said. "A tremendous amount of parking spaces —150 to 250 — at Quietwater Beach, Casino Beach and the Visitors Information Center are being taken up by employees. That parking could be freed up for public parking."Whisk! Off with the parking garage. Town planning based on facts. Imagine that! Surely that's a giant step in the right direction.
But, lo! Someone wants to raise the bridge toll, anyway, so the "revised" plan still calls for spending oodles of money. Forty-six million dollars, in fact, according to the PNJ's Kimberly
Blair. ["Beach Plan Draws Critics"]
Now, it's for an elevated pedestrian bridge, not a car warehouse. We'll suspend judgment, for now, as to whether that's an improvement.
In all candor, there are several things to like about the revised plan submitted by EDSA. First of all, it's accessible to everyone on the web, just as we recently pleaded. You can look over the artistic renderings by going here. Then, just scroll to "EDSA Master Plan" dated 2-25-2010 and open the file.
Second, with such a radical re-drafting, the consultant seems to be quietly urging the SRIA to listen to residents, businesses, and visitors who love the beach. That would be progress, too, although the jury is still out on how the SRIA will respond.
As for the plan's specifics, re-routing the traffic pattern in the core makes sense to us. Everyone knows the commercial core has resembled a risible Rube Goldberg machine ever since the SRIA contracted to have it re-configured a dozen or more years ago. One of the main road contractors at the time told us privately that it was an utterly insane traffic plan.
He claimed no one would listen to his objections, so he took the contract anyway and built as he was told. After that, whenever a tourist asked how to get to Sidelines from Wings, for example, the most common answer became, "See it right over there, across the street? Well, you can't get there from here."
The idea of a pedestrian path between Quietwater Beach on the Sound and Casino Beach on the Gulf is long overdue, too. (About a hundred years overdue, in fact, thanks to a despicable past during which racial segregation played a large role in who could dip his toes in which of Mother Nature's waters.)
And, as readers may remember from the old days, the Residents' Association long argued that Pensacola Beach needs traffic calming devices like round-abouts and attractive, eco-friendly pedestrian paths and walkways adorned with native plantings. Building them along gentle, curving lines also makes much more sense than the Military Camp, straight lines street plan of old, which invites a water surge to tear the island apart with every new major storm.
As for the rest, including moving the SRIA offices, we just don't know enough yet. But it looks like there will be ample opportunity to find out what's being suggested, now, and to ask questions or share ideas in the weeks ahead.
The first presentation before the SRIA board members on the revised plan is scheduled for tomorrow, Friday, March 5 at 2 pm in the SRIA's conference room. More public meetings are planned, as well.
Dr. Thomas Campbell, the only democratically elected member of the board, already is being quoted as saying the architectural plans are "overboard." He may be right. It's also discouraging to contemplate another two years of torn-up streets and blocked-off businesses as construction proceeds.
Still, we're inclined to give EDSA's plan a full hearing before leaping to any final conclusions. Let's see what the objectives are, measure those against the reality we see around us, listen to all explanations as to why the EDSA plan is the best way to achieve whatever the objectives may be, and then decide for ourselves whether the whole package makes sense -- at the cost of a 100 percent increase in toll bridge charges.
(We Get Mail Edition)