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After winning approval from the Pensacola Community Redevelopment Agency in February, a one-block road diet on Jefferson Street that is part of the East Garden District development project cleared its final hurdle Thursday night.

The Pensacola City Council voted unanimously to approve an agreement with the developers of the East Garden District that clears the way for a road diet of Jefferson Street between Garden and Chase streets.

The project will narrow the width of the street by making the sidewalks wider, and trees will be planted along the street. The project will also add a mid-block pedestrian crosswalk.

A rendering looking north on Jefferson Street shows what the $50 million East Garden District could look like when it’s complete. (Photo: Courtesy of Gulf Blue Group)

The sidewalk on the west side of the street will also have galleries that will allow artists or street vendors to set up temporary shops on the street. The galleries will fold up when not in use and act as a living wall, with plants growing up the lattices that make up the galleries.

Pensacola will pay $1.375 million as part of the development agreement with the developers of the East Garden District for the road diet. The entire cost of the road diet is an estimated $2.12 million, which will be completed by the East Garden District developers.

The East Garden District is a $40 million redevelopment effort to redevelop a one-block area between Jefferson, Garden and Chase streets. Buildings along Garden Street are being redeveloped as part of the project. The plan calls for new construction on Jefferson and Chase streets with plans for shops, residential units and a boutique hotel.

Sitting as the CRA board, the City Council approved using part of the $18 million the CRA gained from refinancing debt on the Community Maritime Park to help pay for the street improvements called for in East Garden District’s plan in February. The City Council still had to approve a final agreement.

What is the East Garden District?: East Garden District project will bring hotel, rooftop bar, restaurants to downtown Pensacola

Urban Core plans: Four Pensacola urban core projects overcome opposition to win $18 million backing from CRA

First East Garden District project: The Well brewery coming to downtown Pensacola in 2020 under East Garden District project

The council held off on approving the plan until the developers had spoken with all the neighboring property owners who had concerns about the construction of the project.

Chad Henderson, founder and CEO of Catalyst HRE, is the main developer behind the project. He said he met with all of the neighboring owners, and some expressed concerns about access to parking and trash collection.

“We explained and had a great dialogue with all of those neighbors about our plans,” Henderson told the council Thursday night. “And we certainly plan on continuing to have those conversations with those stakeholders through construction.”

The main issue for council members was ensuring access to Jefferson Street during construction. The city attorney said the issue is covered under the agreement with the city, which is required to be informed of operations on the project as part of the agreement.

Henderson told the News Journal on Friday that the construction drawings on the street project are about 90% complete.

“We held out on that last 10% to make sure that we’ve got input from all of the various stakeholders, which would include city staff as well as neighbors,” Henderson said.

He said they are moving forward with finalizing the construction plans to begin the final permitting process, which can take as long as 45 days.

“Our hope is to mobilize and break ground on the street improvements by late Q1 of 2021,” Henderson said.

The street improvements will be the latest elements to move forward on the East Garden District plan. Other parts of the redevelopment plan are already in motion, such as the renovations of 42 E. Garden St., which will become The Well, a new brewery being developed by the owners of Perfect Plain Brewing Co.

“We are continuing to move design drawings forward for the hotel, as well as the mixed-use building,” Henderson said.

One of the big unknowns for the project is the long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Pensacola economy, but Henderson said the developers remain fully committed to seeing the project through into the post-COVID economy.

“We certainly have carried momentum and passion of this project through COVID,” Henderson said. “So this has not waivered our commitment at all to a fully built-out East Garden District. However, due to the pandemic and such, we want to be certainly very mindful about our timing. Not only from a debt and equity capital markets perspective, but also a user perspective, and we want to make sure that those two can align.”

Jim Little can be reached at [email protected] and 850-208-9827.

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