The Making of a New Downtown District: How Placemaking is the Key Element of the East Garden District

By Gina Castro | Photos by Dalrymple Sallis Architecture

Where do you stay whenever you visit vibrant cities like New Orleans or Miami? Do you stay in a hotel eons away from all of the action? Of course not. You find a spot a couple of blocks from interesting landmarks, inviting bars and restaurants and whatever else the city has to offer. Whenever there is a city heavy with history and culture, you can’t help but want to explore it. The element that lures you to those busy, welcoming parts of towns is placemaking. Placemaking is designing a city or community with the intention of catering to people.

The Well will be located next door to Perfect Plain.

“You certainly can seek out a place to stay that just checks the box of a hotel room, but then there are other places to stay that will check more boxes of being ingrained within the district or the community that it serves as a magnet for the district,” Henderson said.

That people-centered aspect is what Chad Henderson is hoping to accomplish through the East Garden District. Henderson hopes to make the East Garden District hotel the space Pensacola visitors will gravitate toward to feel ingrained within the district and Pensacola community. Henderson calls the hotel “the anchor” of this development because it will not only draw tourists to EGD and the rest of downtown but also it will be a space for locals to enjoy.

“I travel quite a bit throughout the country. For me, when I’m traveling, I always seek out the local experience,” Henderson said. “I want this hotel to be that for the folks traveling to Pensacola. If you want great local flavor, this hotel within the East Garden District would be a place to stay and not only explore the East Garden District but explore the greater downtown and all it has to offer.”

Although Henderson and his team are not ready to announce the brand or soft flag of the hotel, Henderson did share more details about their plan for the hotel. The hotel, which will be at the corner of Chase and Jefferson Street, will have at least six floors, approximately 150 rooms, some event space, a rooftop bar and a very inviting lobby with food and beverages available for tourists and locals to enjoy. Henderson’s plan for a street diet, which narrows the street and expands the sidewalks, for Jefferson Street is making progress with the City. This diet will increase the walkability and safety of EGD for visitors.

The Well will have darker tones for a more romantic setting.

Henderson recently announced that construction for the first EGD building is underway. The Well, which shares a wall with the brewery Perfect Plain, is a wood cellar aging program that will serve aged beer and cocktails. DC Reeves, the owner of Perfect Plain and Garden and Grain, decided to be a part of the EGD development by opening The Well. Reeves opened Perfect Plain in November of 2017, which was before Henderson’s plans for EGD came to the surface. “We feel like we took a leap of faith by not being on the main drag,” Reeves said. “We were not 100 percent sure how we would be embraced in the beginning. We certainly envisioned that area [EGD] has the potential to be a new downtown district. We feel like East Garden District makes a lot of sense to be this new, up and coming place for people to gather. I’m really excited about EGD and even more excited that somebody like Chad, who is passionate about our community, is stepping up and investing in an area we want to make great.”

Reeves has a history of tying the historical background of Garden Street to his businesses. Perfect Plain was named after the way Rachel Jackson, wife of Andrew Jackson, described Pensacola in 1821. The name Garden and Grain was inspired by the law in the 1760s which gave property owners north of Garden Street a residual garden lot. Reeves decided on the name The Well because of how settlers from the 1800s repurposed beer and wine barrels into water wells. Reeves said that UWF found a couple of well-preserved barrels in the area, too.

The Well will be in the building next door to Perfect Plain. This warehouse used to house the Melting Pot decades ago and has worn many hats since. The Well will be a total of 3,600 square feet, and 800 square feet will be reserved for barrel storage space. The other 2,500 square feet will be dedicated to the bar and seating area. “Our goals were to maintain historic and structural integrity of this building and then also meet our clients needs and wants,” Principal Architect of Sallis Architecture Scott Sallis said. “The end result was keeping the building but trying to create a warm cozy elegant atmosphere inside. It’s going to intentionally contrast Perfect Plain.”

As part of an effort to tie the district to the history of Garden Street, there will be grow walls throughout the district.

Reeves said his newest space will definitely be the more refined space out of his three properties. The Well will have darker tones for a more romantic setting, but Reeves said the space will still have conversational seating areas, or “living rooms” as Sallis described, to maintain the communal vibe of the district.

The designs of the buildings is not the only contrast between The Well and Perfect Plain. Reeves said that the drink menu at The Well will be more on the rare side. The beers will be aged in big french oak barrels, known as foeders, which can contain about 300 gallons. The Well will also be aging cocktails for months at a time as part of its refined, unique cocktail program. So, when customers come in, they will be able to taste locally-made aged beer, which is a first in Pensacola. “We are excited about bringing something new and different to our community in the form of the first expansion barrel program,” Reeves said. The Well will also offer a menu of tapas.

Although The Well will be the first project to launch within the EGD development, Sallis said that The Well’s design will not set the stage for the overall design of EGD because there is no overseeing style for EGD. “What we hope to accomplish with the East Garden District is a very eclectic collection of architectural style, so there is no overseeing,” Sallis said. However, Sallis said that they will be very intentional about the inclusion of planters and grow walls throughout the district and The Well as part of an effort to tie the district to the history of Garden Street or as Reeves says “bring the garden back to Garden Street.” Reeves said that they plan to open The Well in the fall.

Lastly, Henderson said that they will be announcing the fine dining restaurant that will be at the corner of Garden and Jefferson Streets, which will be 36 East Garden St. The restaurant will be 4,335 square feet with indoor and outdoor seating. To find out more about the EGD vision, visit