By Will Isern
Yet another project can be added to the ever-growing list of renovations taking off in downtown Pensacola.
The Beacon Building, a historic two-story brick building located at 110 Church St., will be completely redone, becoming an multicultural center and working archive to be called “Voices of Pensacola.”
The building is owned by West Florida Historic Preservation Inc., formerly the Pensacola Historical Society before coming under the wing of the University of West Florida in 2009. It houses extensive archives on the building’s second floor.
Funding for the renovation is coming from Gulf Power and its parent Southern Company, which had originally set aside $605,000 for the construction of such a center at Maritime Park. WFHPI has pledged up to an additional $245,000 to complete the project.
When the plans for a building at Maritime Park fell through in March of 2011, Kyle Marrero, who was then vice president for advancement at UWF, urged the university to find another use for the money so that it wouldn’t be lost.
“It never worked out down at the Maritime Park,” Robert Overton, chief operating officer at West Florida Historic Preservation Inc., said. “So they, Kyle Marrero, salvaged the project and said, ‘Look there’s still a need for it downtown. It’s still viable. Something needs to be here. Let’s look at existing buildings that we have.’ And so we had the Beacon.”
The plans for renovation, which will be bid to contractors in early August, call for a complete overhaul of the building inside and out.
“The second floor will continue to operate as an archives and resource center,” Overton said. “The first floor will be used a a multifunctional space. It will have exhibits, it will have a place that we can do performances, we will have a place where we can play videos .’
“We have a huge collection done by the UWF department of history of oral histories of people all over the community,’ he added, “and we’re going to have those so you can come and find the person and listen to the oral histories.”
Before work can begin on the building, WFHPI must relocate its archives and offices from the second floor.
Much of the non-essential items, such as old business records and film negatives, have already been moved. What remains will be moved in September, when the archives will be forced to close to the public for a short time before reopening later that month in their new location on the first floor of the Bowden Building 120 Church Street.
“As soon as we’re able to move over into the Bowden in September we’ll be prepared, or at least as prepared as we can be, to pack this stuff on carts and take it over there because we want to be down as short a time period as we can,” Jacki Wilson, WFHPI’s archivist, said.
In the past, the Beacon Building has been a grocery warehouse, tobacco warehouse and a teen club. The new building is slated to open to the public in August 2014.