Downtown businesses discuss Gallery Night, Palafox closures
The frequency of Palafox Street closures, evolution of Gallery Night and competition posed by food trucks were hot topics of discussion during an open public meeting held Thursday night at City Hall.
The meeting was hosted by the Downtown Improvement Board and the City of Pensacola to gather suggestions from citizens, business owners and representatives of organizations in the Palafox Business District about the creation and execution of special events downtown.
David Hambrick of Jaco's Bayfront Bar and Grille and V Paul's Italian Ristorante expressed concern that Gallery Night has changed into an alcohol-fused street party from what was originally an evening where attendees could stroll between art galleries.
"It has certainly morphed 180 degrees from its origin," he said, indicating a concern over the event's image and perception. "Its current direction is on the tail of the tiger right now and I don't know that it will get any better."
Kathy Samerlind of the Saenger Theatre, however, said she sees a core group of people interested in family-friendly entertainment that come between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m.
"You should have seen the children and the 55-and-up people enjoying it," she said of a recent Gallery Night with bands and a photo booth. "It was neat to see how it is still sustaining itself."
Patrick Elebash of Elebash's Jewelers was concerned about the the 15 to 20 events per year that completely close Palafox Street to traffic.
"I will tell you, more time than not they will negatively impact our business," he said. "Where do we draw the line? I think we are starting to tilt a little too far, as much as I am trying to be a good neighbor."
John Peacock, chairman of the DIB, said the special events are one of the factors that have caused downtown's revitalization.
"People have a natural tendency now to go downtown," he said. "This didn't happen by itself. It's because there's a lot of things going on downtown. And part of that is from those closed-street events."
Capt. Wes Rozier and Katie Rozier, of Indigeaux Denim Bar & Boutique, wanted guidelines and policies put in place to better guide the permitting of special events now that they have grown as much as they have.
Elisabeth Buswell, the Neighborhood Services Coordinator with the city, said street closures are due largely to safety, since downtown sidewalks cannot safely support 10,000 to 15,000 people.
Although the rain stopped early, Gallery Night was not as busy as usual due to the inclement weather.
Nick Zangari of New York Nick's said he was speaking for many restaurant owners who opposed food trucks on Palafox Street during Gallery Night.
"I'm the spokesman because no one else wants their name out there," he said. "How do you justify bringing other food vendors when I've got more than 40 food establishments between the Pita Pit [at Palafox and Garden Street] and where Carmen's [Lunch Bar] is [at Palafox and Main Street]?"
Ron Butlin, the executive director of the DIB, said striking a balance was the overarching goal for all the issues.
"We are trying to be sensitive to competing venues," he said in response to Zangari. "There are limitations to what we can control