As for now, the Quinn Street Marina area of Milton is a quiet, relatively undisturbed part of the city, containing an old, out-of-date marina, a few empty lots and a smattering of houses.
But in just a few years, the area could be transformed into a multi-million dollar Blackwater riverfront entertainment district, complete with dining and residences, a walking pathway along the river, public beach space and a completely revitalized, functioning marina.
The Milton City Council is expected to move forward Tuesday with approving a request for proposals that will officially be sent out Wednesday, soliciting ideas and conceptual designs from firms across the country interested in transforming and revitalizing the area of Milton. It’s part of a nearly decade-old riverfront redevelopment plan initiated by the city in 2012, said Ed Spears, the director of economic development.
“We’re not asking for people to give us bids to build something we’ve already designed, we’re asking for people to send us projects and concepts for what they envision of these properties that we own,” Spears said in an interview with the News Journal on Friday.
The city has been slowly acquiring seven separate parcels along the bend to the north and south of the marina, including the marina itself, which is located just two blocks south of Carpenter’s Park and five blocks east of bustling Stewart Street. The marina itself is functional but the building is being demolished.
City officials now feel like they have enough parcels to begin soliciting ideas from large firms over what should be built on the land.
“It will be private enterprise, like a public/private partnership,” Spears said. “We own the land and would make it available to a developer and figure out the logistics, and they’re going to propose to us what they would do on our property.”
The vision is for a sociable and attractive space that encourages gathering, shopping, eating and entertaining, with a focus on residential units and neighborhood retail space. The city is inspired by Pensacola’s downtown area, particularly with the Community Maritime Park, Southtowne Apartment complex and bustling Palafox shopping district.
The city intends to reserve a 50-foot easement along the riverfront as a public park, in addition to a public pathway along the river.
“I’m very excited that we are in a position where we can put this type of RFP out, or even to be having this discussion,” said Councilman Casey Powell. “I think it’s great for our city, it’s great for our citizens. The overall riverfront master plan, being able to actually make some progress on that and see it come to fruition, makes me really excited.”
If the council approves it, the city will put out the RFP on Jan. 13 and proposals will be due by mid-April. The city hopes the project will begin in September or October 2021.
Combined with the city’s recent efforts to promote other economic development projects, like pumping money into the downtown district and recently approving the Berryhill School studio apartment project, the riverfront project is seen as a way to put Milton on the map as a destination in Northwest Florida.
“I think a lot of individuals are seeing Milton as the next opportunity, with downtown Pensacola kind of getting built out,” Spears said. “There are new plans going on in Beulah with Navy Federal, and now Milton is just as attractive, it’s got a great history, a great downtown, it’s a waterfront community right here on the river and things are still relatively affordable as far as housing and commercial at this time. All of these projects we hope will work together to bring in business to the Milton area.”