The Rex is more than just an old theater and that’s why bringing it back to life means more than just the fact that the pigeons hanging out above the marquee will have to find new digs.
The old theater is, I think, a key piece of moving the renaissance of Palafox Street north of Garden Street. If the Rex can be brought back to her feet, it might be taken as a sign that the future of our downtown lies in more than bars and restaurants.
Not that there is anything wrong with bars and restaurants. The entertainment district that is burgeoning south of Garden Street is bringing foot traffic and dollar flow that was literally unthinkable when Palafox was a wasteland on most weekends just a few years ago.
But a great street is more than that. And a great downtown is more than one street.
A great downtown has a mix of types of retail and commercial businesses. It is walkable, clean, well-lit and safe. It has a mix of residences -- from homes to condos to apartments and lofts -- so that people of different stripes can mingle together.
It is a gathering place for big events and should reflect the soul of its community.
Palafox needs to be more than south of Garden Street because Palafox -- and by extension Pensacola -- needs to be a place for more than a good time.
Back in 2011, when I was an editor at the daily newspaper, I assigned a series of stories called Building on the Past. For it we chose six buildings that were in high-profile locations that had fallen into disrepair and neglect.
They had once been jewels of the community and, we thought, for the community to grow they needed to shine again.
Three of those buildings were on Palafox Street -- the Rex, the old Coca-Cola plant and the old Medical Center Clinic. So far, the Rex is the only one with a new lease on life.
The Coca-Cola plant (which also was Sunbelt Industrial Supply) at 1625 N. Palafox (near Mallory Street) has been bought, but plans to lease it to the state for a probation and parole office were scuttled.
Across the street at 1750 N. Palafox (at the cross street of Avery), the former home of the Medical Center Clinic is still for sale and mouldering away.
As they stand now, they are a testament to the fact that progress in Pensacola has only come so far.
Turning Palafox South of Garden into a Great American Street has been an awesome accomplishment. It proves that a city our size can revitalize itself with a mix of public will, private entrepreneurship and focused planning.
Taking that spirit a little farther up Palafox would be a sign that we are good for more than just a good time.
It would be a sign that a Little City that Could, can.
Watch the episode of Progress+promise devoted to the Rex's rebirth on YouTube.