Brownsville business incubator proposed by Escambia County

Escambia County is working on developing a new hub for businesses near the Brownsville Community Center that could help small business owners get on their feet and keep the area growing.

The project is called the Escambia County Business Incubator and, at this stage of the county’s plans, there will be five spaces for specific kinds of businesses in the proposed building.

They plan to develop the five spaces into a barbershop, a hair salon, a restaurant and two offices with a parking lot, according to the proposal’s Project Narrative Form. The project will serve as a shell for the businesses, which can be retrofitted for the needs of any incoming entrepreneurs as they rotate out.

“We’re excited about bringing life to Brownsville, one of the most historic and diverse places in Escambia County,” said Escambia County Commissioner Lumon May. “Five years ago nobody wanted to go to Brownsville, now you see businesses (buying property).”

According to May, the incubator is another step in the goal of revitalizing Brownsville into its former glory as an economic hub. The county also plans to add new curbs and sidewalks to the site of the project.

“People lack the amenities they need for walkability, hopefully this incubator addresses the lack of restaurants and services in the area,” he continued.

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Escambia County has invested millions of dollars in developments around Brownsville, with their most recent project working on renovating the 70-year-old Masonic Lodge into a space with a library and a community meeting room.

Escambia County purchased the two-story, 8,000-square-foot Masonic Lodge building in 2021 for $90,000. The total cost for the project is $2,095,500. “We brought life back to the community through our programs, it’s become a hub of activities for West Pensacola,” said May.

The county has owned the undeveloped parcels of the incubator’s proposed site since 2012 and plans to create access roads for the building on N. Wentworth Street, Shoemaker Street and W. Desoto Street.

“I envision Brownsville being the new downtown (Pensacola) for District Three, we’ll have activities just like it,” May said. “Brownsville is the next growth spot for Pensacola, I think it’s good for the neighborhood and for the community.”

The county has initiated projects like the Brownsville Community Center over time in order to ensure that both Brownsville and its perception are revamped.

“I think it’s important because Brownsville doesn’t have (much) economic development, it’s one of the historic neighborhoods and there have been multiple attempts to revitalize it,” May continued. “We’re going to make it easy to do business in Brownsville and we want to restore the faith of citizens who remember visiting it. The failure has been that nobody has really wanted to take on the investment.”

The county has also been working on a septic-to-sewer project in order to switch businesses from septic tanks to a central sewer system in some parts of Brownsville and Warrington.

The septic-to-sewer conversion projects in Brownsville were part of a 92-grant announcement to improve water quality across the state. The projects — which also include two in Warrington — will bring new sewer connections to 1,250 properties that operate on septic systems that can leach harmful bacteria into local watersheds, according to ECUA.

“We don’t have all the answers, but we’re going to keep listening to the community,” May said. “I think people need to be able to get a sandwich, sit outside and read a book. We’re focusing on minority business, residents of Brownsville and people looking for opportunity.”

A timeline for the development of the business incubator is not available yet.

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