As the economy continues to rebound from the downturn of the mid-2000s, heavy cranes once again dot the skyline.

With the development landscape shifting toward a vertical state, The Log asked Sandestin Owner Tom Becnel, Legendary Inc. CEO Peter Bos, and Howard Group Executive Vice President John Heiser to share their future vision for their respective companies and the local community. Here are their responses — in mostly their own words.


Tom Becnel — ‘A new dimension’ to Sandestin

“Not in any order of priority, or in a sequence of events, but we are going to build a new arrival, real estate and administrative building. We're going to consolidate a number of different divisions under one roof, in a three-story, 30,000-plus-square foot building. We had been delayed a couple of months, but we're now on schedule to break ground in November,” Becnel said.

Becnel said there is a new condominium project called Osprey Pointe in the works, which is "ready to go to market." He said they are just waiting for a development order through Walton County.

A development order is also pending on a 35-lot subdivision in Burnt Pine, Becnel said. An application to the Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of Environmental Protection has also been filed in regard to an expansion of the Sandestin Marina.

"There is a lot in the works," Becnel said. "We've had two applications pending for over a year in the county, and we can't seem to get out of the door."

Another project in the works is a medical facility that's already under construction and expected to open in early September or October. Becnel said the facility, which is under the eye of his son Damon, would bring a "new dimension" to Sandestin.

"This would allow for the vast majority of our residents and guests' medical needs to be taken care of on-site," he said.

There has also been talk of Sandestin erecting a Ferris wheel in Baytowne Wharf and a chapel on Sandestin Boulevard on the bayside of the property, but the homeowners’ association has been resistant to the plans.

Looking at the state of the resort, "Sandestin is definitely flourishing." Real estate inventory in the resort is currently at an all-time low, and with the new developments planned on property, it should add new inventory that people are looking for, Becnel said.

"We have spent the past three-and-a-half years fine tuning the operations side of Sandestin, and we have spent a significant amount of money refurbishing and re-doing a lot of infrastructure," he said. "Our feeling is that we're poised at the starting gate for a very good run over the next three to five years."


Peter Bos  — Dolly Parton and stability in the marketplace

“We believe the next big thing is stability in the marketplace, where there is confidence to purchase property either residential or commercial, invest in the future and commit to the community. There will be adequate capital (lenders will re-enter market) to level the playing field where normal financing is available, opening the market to those that cannot pay all cash for the acquisition.

This stability brings with it inflation, which will be exacerbated by lack of supply of both new and used product. Further demand will be placed on retirement residential caused by 5 years of would-be retirees holding in order to sell their existing primary residence and move where they vacation and dream of never having to see ‘Welcome to Destin’ in their rearview mirror again.

In all prior recessions — I have been through four in this area — there has always been an abundance of raw land to build whatever the market demanded. This time that is not the case in Destin or South Okaloosa County. Once existing supply runs out, there will be a rapid increase in property values which may have one of two undesired effects — one, a chilling in the market where people will wait to purchase thinking they ‘missed the good deals’ or two, and most likely, a very rapid increase in demand that may spawn an overly exuberant market similar to what we experienced in 2005-2006, this time moderated by the lack of unlimited money supply that previously existed.

In anticipation of this growth and to meet the now increasing ‘return to Destin’ phenomenon, we have numerous new projects on the horizon and in construction. The most notable is the expansion of Destin Commons with 135,000 square feet of new retail and restaurants opening in 2014 and Margaritaville, Destin’s first national tenant to locate on the Destin Harbor and a brand that is recognized worldwide. This restaurant is not a franchise, it is owned by Jimmy Buffett’s company and because of its incredible location — thank you God — we are sure to see him as a frequent visitor and entertainer.

We all look forward to the opening of Dixie Stampede’s Pirate extravaganza, Uncle Buck’s Bass Pro’s theme restaurant/ bowling alley, both of which will make a major impact on making Destin a year round location — a goal shared by everyone in the working community.

HarborWalk will continue to expand with new commercial family-friendly activities and entertainment venues to keep Destin harbor a regional attraction.

We must not take this upturn in business for granted; we need to refocus our collective energies on improving our infrastructure to accommodate this long-awaited resurgence. Some of those items include the rebuilding and hardening of Norriego Point, and building of more parking capacity in the Harbor District to accommodate the success of Destin’s new boardwalk. We need to complete the Azalea Corridor so there is an alternate route through the city, expansion of the multi-model transportation systems, including mass transit, water taxi expansion, widening and improved efficiency of Highway 98 and assistance where possible in solving the congestion caused by the obsolescence of the Brooks Bridge, which adversely affects the entire area.

I for one am so glad to see the tourists return, the attitudes improve and people once again being able to readily find work.”


To see an interactive map of Destin development, CLICK HERE. 


John Heiser — Growing Grand Boulevard

“From a Howard Group perspective, the next big thing along the Emerald Coast is the growth of the area’s permanent population. Okaloosa and Walton counties recently ranked third in the U.S. Census Bureau’s list of the 10 fastest-growing metropolitan areas. With the emergence of advanced technology, people are realizing that they can work from anywhere, including our slice of heaven.

Typically, someone will visit the Emerald Coast anywhere from four to eight times and then consider purchasing a second home. Between the advances in technology and the easy access to our area from a number of airports, tourists and secondary homeowners are converting into permanent residents.

Although our area’s demographics and focus will continue to be tourism driven, we’re also approaching a new development cycle to support the growing permanent population. Property values are increasing and the current residential real estate inventory is decreasing, which signals the development of new residential projects. Howard Group has been providing development services for several multi-family projects such as the TerraMar development on west 30A. In addition, Howard Group is planning a 14-story, 250-unit luxury apartment complex as a next phase for Grand Boulevard at Sandestin’s Town Center.

The implications of the growing permanent population go beyond just the residential sector. We’re seeing effects from the greater permanent population all around, including the opening of Wal-Mart in Walton County and the expansion of Sacred Heart Hospital on the Emerald Coast. Grand Boulevard recently celebrated the opening of the Boulevard 10 Movie Theater, the first in Walton County. Expanded retail and dining options are also part of the master plans for both Silver Sands Premium Outlets and Grand Boulevard.

From an office leasing perspective, our Howard Group team is seeing an influx of interest from businesses. A larger permanent population means a stronger workforce that would support existing companies wanting to expand or companies exploring a new presence in Northwest Florida.”