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Escambia Commissioners considering tearing down, replacing Pensacola Bay Center

PENSACOLA, Fla. - Escambia County Commissioners are considering tearing down the Pensacola Bay Center and building a venue half its size in its place. This after getting word the facility needs an expensive makeover.

County staff members say demolition wouldn't cost much because much of the building could be sold off as scrap. Early estimates say a new, 5,000 seat facility would cost around $20 million.

The general manager of the Bay Center says it needs $10 million in repairs. Now commissioners are looking at whether fixing up the nearly 30 year-old venue is worth it.

Commissioner Wilson Robertson seems to be the most in favor of the idea, saying, "We don't need that big monstro thing we've got down there. There's no practical reason, if we're not gonna spend ten million dollars, to keep the thing."
   
Bay Center General Manager Cyndee Pennington says there are a number of potentially dangerous problems.  She says the old handrails on the retractable seating need to be replaced and the steps need to be resurfaced. She also says the venue needs a new scoreboard, new acoustic walls and dozens of other improvements.

"It's tired," Pennington said. "It looks tired."
   
County staff members say money for the renovations would have to come from sales tax revenue, a possible tourist tax or a millage rate increase downtown.

Commissioners have no appetite for new taxes, and they've assigned staff to figure out what it would cost to tear down the Bay Center and install a smaller venue. They say it would still have to facilitate hockey games, graduations, concerts and other events but they're hoping it may cost less to maintain.

Taxpayers have mixed feelings about the proposal.

Danny Stephens, of Pensacola Beach, said, "If it was cost-effective, I would be for building a new place. It's a great idea if they get the acoustics so you can do a decent concert in town."

But Kristen Walters, of Pensacola, said, "If you have a smaller venue, I don't wanna be saying, 'Hey I wanna go do something...Oh, wait, everything's sold out.'"

At this point the commission is just gathering information. Whatever plan they ultimately pursue will have to be approved by the city of Pensacola, as well as the state, which owns the property the Bay Center sits on and the on and off-ramps to Interstate 110.