Pensacola Civic Center
|Location||201 East Gregory Street|
Pensacola, FL 32502
|Current Owner||Escambia County|
|<googlemap lat="30.416259" lon="-87.209687" zoom="15" width="288" height="180">
30.416296, -87.208893, Pensacola Civic Center </googlemap>
The Pensacola Civic Center is a municipal arena in downtown Pensacola owned by Escambia County. With 23,000 square feet of exhibition space, 13,000 square feet of meeting space, and a 10,000-person maximum capacity, it is one of the largest structures in the Pensacola area. Managed by the Toronto-based SMG (which also manages the Saenger Theatre) the Civic Center is the primary home to the Pensacola Ice Flyers and frequently hosts concerts, trade shows, graduation ceremonies and other events.
By the mid-1970s, Pensacola's lack of venues to host large conferences and conventions was glaring. Mobile, Gulf Shores and most recently Fort Walton Beach each had their own convention centers, whereas Pensacola was unable to host a crowd larger than 300.
While many residents and leaders agreed that the area needed a comparable facility of its own, after the tribulations over the governmental complex center, few were willing to propose public funding of a costly new structure. Instead, the renovation of an existing building, like the Municipal Auditorium or the commodity warehouse, seemed a more affordable solution.
In 1977 the State of Florida gave local governments the option of levying a sales tax on temporary lodging. On November 8 of that year, Escambia County voters approved a two percent tax on tourist accommodations, estimated to yield between $225,000-$300,000 per year, to fund the construction of a convention center and arena in the county. At one point proponents advocated construction of two separate facilities: one on UWF-owned land on Santa Rosa Island, the other on the city-owned, 14-acre Baylen Street Slip.
The biggest impetus for a new arena came in 1982 when W. D. Childers, then president of the Florida Senate, was able to appropriate $12.5 million in state money for a civic center (along with $1.25 million for what would later become the T. T. Wentworth Museum). Childers had fielded requests from city leaders the previous year for a $10 million loan for the arena, but said of such a loan, "That's what you call pork barreling, parochialism, turkey." The eventual funding — a "no strings attached" grant instead of a loan — survived veto threats by Governor Bob Graham, who in 1980 had vetoed an $8 million appropriation by Childers to build a football stadium at the University of West Florida, which lacked a football team.
The first event to be held at the Civic Center was a concert by the rock band KISS on January 21. In Childers' honor, the stretches of Chase and Gregory Streets that surround the complex were renamed W. D. Childers Plaza the same year.
In August 2001, in a year with only five booked concerts, none of which sold out, then-County Commissioner Childers decried the Civic Center as an "albatross" for its failure to turn a profit and pursued an incentive-based contract with the management company. Ogden Enterprises, which had managed the Civic Center since its opening, had failed to turn a profit every year excluding 1997, the Ice Pilots' inaugural year, when they turned a $4,800 profit. When Ogden was bought by Aramark, they turned over the management portion of their contract to SMG. When the venue began to show signs of vitality, Childers amended his previous statement: "It was an albatross, but maybe we can make an eagle out of it."
|Year||Operating profit/loss||Number of concerts||Average ticket price|
References & notes
- "Will Pensacola Ignore Convention Benefits?" Pensacola News, June 15, 1975.
- "Two Convention Centers?" Pensacola News, July 31, 1977.
- "Sen. Childers Defends Appeasement Strategy." Daytona Beach Morning Journal, April 18, 1982.
- "Childers says tax hike unlikely despite federal cuts." Lakeland Ledger, March 25, 1981.
- "Graham's veto message: budget by need, not whim." Lakeland Ledger, July 13, 1980.
- Curt Gooch and Jeff Suhs. Kiss Alive Forever. Billboard Books, 2002.
- "Signs posted to distinguish Childers Plaza near downtown." Pensacola News Journal, September 30, 2006.
- "Civic Center enjoying the sweet sound of music." Pensacola News Journal, May 9, 2003.
- "W.D. shaping up for year 2." Pensacola News Journal, November 18, 2001.
- "Entertainment venues often aren't profitable, but Escambia officials want their subsidized facility to do better." Pensacola News Journal, August 30, 2002.
- "Concert venue bouncing back." Pensacola News Journal, March 18, 2002.
- "Civic Center struggles in race for big-ticket concerts." Pensacola News Journal, November 6, 1999.
- Includes 84 days closed for ice installation