By Jim Little
The skyline around Bayou Chico in Florida is about to change dramatically with the construction of The Barn Pensacola at the Pensacola Shipyard, and owner David Finkelstein hopes it will reshape boating in Pensacola as well.
The Barn Pensacola will be more than 100,000 square feet of indoor boat storage space in a building that’s 72 feet tall and more than 630 feet long.
Last year, Finkelstein bought the 26-acre Pensacola Shipyard Marina and Boatyard on Bayou Chico through his company DDJ Marina LLC in 2022 for $3.25 million.
Construction is now underway at the Shipyard on a new boat storage building that is known in the marina industry as “dry stack” storage. Boats are placed inside the building on racks up to five rows high with a forklift.
Finkelstein said the boatyard services already offered at the Pensacola Shipyard will continue alongside the new business and will make the Shipyard a selling point for boat owners.
The Barn Pensacola should be able to store between 500 and 525 boats up to 50 feet long, Finkelstein said.
“There isn’t a facility like this in the Gulf of Mexico where you can have a dry stack and also have a full-fledged shipyard,” Finkelstein said.
In 2020, the entire 76-acre Pensacola Shipyard complex was put up for sale, and although Pensacola and Escambia County considered buying it, a seller for the entire complex could not be found. The parcels of the property were sold individually, with Finkelstein closing on his property in 2022.
Finkelstein, who lives in Houston, Texas, and has developed dry-stack marinas in Florida and Texas, said he had sold his previous businesses and was looking to retire when he learned about the Pensacola Shipyard.
“I spent summers in Pensacola on the beach,” Finkelstein said. “We did a lot of fishing and had a house over there years ago. And to be honest with you, I never dreamed of coming back. I hadn’t been back to Pensacola in probably 20 years when this deal popped up. And it was one of those where I couldn’t go to sleep, and it kept you up at night until I got the deal done.”
While several dry-stack storages exist in the Pensacola area, Finkelstein said none can accommodate boats larger than 40 feet.
“Those buildings were built for 24- to 34-foot boats,” Finkelstein said. “The problem is, in the last 20 years boats have gone from 32 feet up to 47. Well, boats have gotten bigger. Forklifts have gotten bigger, but the room in the dry stack and your slabs haven’t gotten bigger.”
Finkelstein has kept on long-time employees of the Pensacola Shipyard, like general manager Keith Bellflower who has worked at the shipyard for 28 years.
Bellflower said he’s excited about Finkelstein’s new vision for the property.
Finkelstein wouldn’t say how much he’s invested in the project, but the rest of the building materials are purchased and already on site. The old Long-family house, the former owners of the property, is being renovated and converted into new offices that will also have commercial space to lease for boat dealers.
The new concrete slab for the huge The Barn Pensacola has been poured, taking 2,700 cubic yards of concrete to form the 90-foot-wide drive aisle that stretches the full 630 feet of the planned building.
The new office building is expected to be completed in September, and The Barn Pensacola will start taking boats in June 2024.
The business plan for The Barn Pensacola is to go after the center-console boating market. It’s not uncommon for high-speed fishing boats to sell for more than $350,000, with some models listed more than $1 million.
Finkelstein said Pensacola is poised to become the center of growth on the Gulf Coast in the boating world and is just missing a storage option that caters to the new market.
“In my opinion, Pensacola was always the redheaded stepchild,” Finkelstein said.
Finkelstein said growth in boating has centered on Destin and Orange Beach, Alabama, but he believes the convenient location of the Pensacola International Airport will give Pensacola an edge over those other areas.
The Barn will allow boat owners to call ahead and have their boats put in the water, fueled-up and stocked for a day on the water, Finkelstein said. He said he envisions one day even providing a shuttle service to and from the airport for boat owners.
Finkelstein said the growth Pensacola has seen is reflected in the change to downtown Pensacola in the last 20 years.
“Pensacola’s growing,” Finkelstein said. “The thing that blew me away is you go down Palafox Street, and the actual fine dining now, the restaurants going up and down Palafox, I’d put it up against any city in the country.”
Finkelstein said he’s been asked if he’s taking a big risk on making such a large investment in Pensacola.
“I know what market I’m in, and I know that this market is booming,” Finkelstein said.
Jim Little is a reporter with the Pensacola News Journal.