Civic Center renamed "Pensacola Bay Center"

At Thursday’s Escambia County Commission meeting, representatives from SMG, the Pennsylvania-based venue booking company that manages the Pensacola Civic Center and Saenger Theatre, made a presentation to commissioners asking to rename the venerable civic center as the “Pensacola Bay Center,” complete with a new logo and website. It was approved unanimously.

“As we stated in the presentation… we have to evolve or we will evaporate,” said the venue’s general manager Cyndee Pennington.

There’s no question that the Civic Center has a long list of problems, but I’m not sure anyone would put “its name” on that list. The past year has seen a trend of rebranding with new names — the Pensacola International Airport, the Greater Pensacola Chamber, Pensacola Energy — so presumably the folks in charge have reason to believe a name change will bring prosperity.

But why “Pensacola Bay Center”? Didn’t SMG get the memo that “Pensacola Bay” names are so last decade? (Notable exception: Pensacola Bay Brewery.)

Back in the early 2000s, there was a concerted effort to brand Escambia and Santa Rosa counties as the “Pensacola Bay Area.” It started with the Pensacola Bay Area Partnership, an alliance of TEAM Santa Rosa and Florida’s Western Gate Economic Development Council, the latter an arm of the Pensacola Area Chamber. The Pensacola News Journal picked up on the phrase, and what used to be occasional references to the “Pensacola Bay area” (little “a”) in Earle Bowden columns morphed into a persistent mantra of “Pensacola Bay Area” (big “A”).

Others hopped on the bandwagon. The West Florida Advertising Federation became the Pensacola Bay Area Advertising Federation (PBAAF) in 2003. The Pensacola Bay Area International Film and Television Festival (PBAIFTF) was established that same year. In 2004 the Pensacola Area Chamber of Commerce changed its name to the Pensacola Bay Area Chamber of Commerce. But it didn’t last. By 2006, PNJ editor Richard Schneider was asking readers for new suggestions on what to call the two-county area. The PBAIFTF and PBAAF became the Pensacola International Film Festival and AAF Pensacola, respectively. The final nail came this year with the Greater Pensacola Chamber rebranding.

Part of the problem, of course, was that “Pensacola Bay Area” is too long and cumbersome. In this sense, the name Pensacola Bay Center is an improvement; it’s two whole letters shorter! However, people unfamiliar with the phrase “Pensacola Bay” may interpret it as the “bay center” of Pensacola — as in, a marina or something. The new logo, with its generic corporate swoosh seemingly on loan from Sprint, doesn’t help clarify things.

Maybe the name and logo are deliberately vague. County commissioners are sick of providing over $1 million in subsidies every year to keep the aging venue operational (even though it seems to do pretty well for itself in gross ticket sales), and they’ve tried unsuccessfully to find a buyer to take it off their hands. Perhaps the real purpose of changing the name is to make prospective buyers think it’s a prime waterfront property — in which case, shhhhhh.