Long-awaited construction Bruce Beach Park began construction Tuesday with a groundbreaking ceremony hosted by city officials and contractors.
The $6.3 million contract was awarded to Biggs Construction Company in May to construct the first phase of the project. The first phase of the park will include a central plaza with a tree-lined walkway leading to the shore of the sandy beach, a shade structure, two public lawns with seating walls, a learning garden with plants and play structures for children, and a pedestrian bridge over Washerwoman Creek connecting the park to the Community Marine Park.
Standing at the site of the future learning garden and speaking to a crowd of more than 50 people, Councilwoman Teniadé Broughton noted that Bruce Beach holds a special place in Pensacola’s history.
“We are in what I would consider a sacred place,” Broughton said. “Pensacola’s labor history, Pensacola’s African-American history is now seen in a different light today.”
Bruce Beach was a shipyard for much of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Over time, the area became a popular swimming spot for the city’s black residents during the height of segregation in the south. After several drownings at the scene, the city’s black community advocated for the construction of a swimming pool on the property in the 1950s.
The pool was built and remained open until the 1970s.
“It was that community that stood up and said we were already treated less than in the fact that we have these troubled waters…and we would like a place to play,” Broughton said. “Now how come people have had to fight for their rights to play? What does it say about our society when people have to protest to play because they are tired of seeing their children drown? That’s what makes this place so sacred.”
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Bruce Beach has been open to the public since 2018 after a citizen-led opposition movement formed to block a planned state hatchery on the site, arguing that it should be preserved as the last remaining beach within the boundaries of the city.
Following a successful push by community activists, the city hired SCAPE and engineering firm HDR to make the park more accessible based largely on SCAPE’s previous proposal for a catalytic downtown project as part of of CivicCon, a joint initiative of the News Journal and the Studer Community Institute. .
Broughton said the Bruce Beach site shows the progress the city has made over the years.
“Please consider the history we’re standing on and the new history that will come out of it,” Broughton said.
Throughout the park, signage will be installed telling the story of the property and its importance to Pensacola’s black community.
Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson, Councilwoman Ann Hill and Councilman Delarian Wiggins also spoke at the groundbreaking ceremony to thank all of the contractors, city staff and residents who contributed. to make the project possible.
“There are 55,000 locals who had 55,000 different ideas they wanted to do here,” Robinson said. “We tried to encompass as many as possible. In doing so, not everyone got 100% of the park they wanted, but I think in doing so we made sure everyone got something. in this park. And I think that’s what this park means to us. That’s what a community means.
The first phase will only include about half of what is ultimately planned for the park.
The second phase will include a parking lot on Clubbs Street, a boardwalk and other sidewalks leading to a cliff view of the park, earthworks and berms to stabilize the cliff, a sand volleyball area and a accessible kayak launching ramp.
The second phase has not yet been fully funded.
Construction of the first phase is expected to take a year and the park will be closed during construction.
Jim Little can be reached at [email protected] and 850-208-9827.