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October 10, 2015


Reviving a Downtown Pensacola District

Charlotte Crane | 3/1/2010
Steven Kirchof Rendering of the proposed redevelopment in the Belmont-DeVilliers district.

Pensacola's one-time black business and entertainment district thrived in the mid-20th century when Jim Crow laws kept blacks out of the city's main business district, but after integration, the district deteriorated. A group of business leaders and city officials is working now to revive the Belmont-DeVilliers district.

Cecil Johnson
Cecil Johnson

Gulf Breeze business leader Quint Studer is confident the revitalization will happen. He's invested $1.7 million to buy and renovate a 1913 building for Five Sisters Blues Café. The restaurant, which will serve Southern food with a Caribbean flair, has been the dream of 27-year Navy veteran and culinary graduate Cecil Johnson since his college days. It's expected to open next month in the reconstructed building at the historic Belmont-DeVilliers corner near downtown. In addition to the Five Sisters site, Studer has purchased 10 other real estate parcels in the district to develop as opportunities arise.

The cafe is among a multitude of ventures in the Belmont-DeVilliers district, says Kim Kimbrough, Downtown Improvement Board executive director.

Quint Studer and Rishy Studer
Developer Quint Studer and wife Rishy have invested $1.7 million in a building that will house Five Sisters Blues Café.
[Photo: Katie King/Pensacola News Journal]
  • On a corner across from Five Sisters, businessman Michael Allen has renovated the one-time Bunny Club to create the DeVilliers Cultural Heritage Museum, a venue for events, arts and music that opened in January.
  • Across Belmont, the Belmont Arts Center stages glass-blowing demonstrations and Tuesday night jam sessions.
  • The Gumbo Gallery, a collage of works of 20 artists, opened last June.
  • Occupying the fourth corner is the three-story DeVilliers Square building, a former warehouse renovated by architect Eddie Todd, housing professional offices upstairs while offering retail space downstairs. One tenant is the Gulf Coast African-American Chamber of Commerce, which aims to help small and minority businesses.

Chamber chairman and veteran businessman Oliver Darden says it's important that the growing Community Maritime Park nearby not overtake the Belmont-DeVilliers project. "We don't want to be swallowed up by other developers."

Tags: Northwest

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