DESTIN — Development plans for two large strip shopping centers may come to fruition following years of vacancies and decay.
Downtown Destin Shopping Center on Harbor Boulevard is the first of the two commercial properties you pass when driving along U.S. Highway 98. It's home to the old Lively Cinema 10 — its large and now-aging sign still rests on the building — which made news this year after vandals broke into the vacant structure and reportedly caused more than $118,000 in damage.
Old Time Pottery of Destin is the largest store in the shopping center today, surrounded by even larger spaces of empty storefronts. Pepito's Mexican Restaurant, Callahan's Restaurant and Deli, Dollar General and Patio Depot are a few other businesses.
Toward the front of the center is an old Popeye's for sale.
On the other side of town at 14063 Emerald Coast Parkway is the Emerald Coast Center just west of Walmart. Bealls and Bealls Outlet take up most the space. A row of empty buildings sit in the center, along with a plot of land where part of the complex was demolished.
At the far right are the remaining businesses: a Dollar Tree, Emerald Coast Jewelers & Loan, Reggae Grille, a dental office, Enterprise rental car and a nail salon.
"They're an eyesore," Shane Moody, president of the Destin Area Chamber of Commerce, said of the two shopping centers. "We've been having conversations with the city for years, trying to figure out the best way to handle this. When property owners don't sell their property to people who want to make changes, changes don't get made."
But Park Grimmer, owner of the Emerald Coast Center, said changes are soon to come. Tony Brown, president of the Shanri Holdings Corp., which owns Downtown Destin Shopping Center, said the same.
But the men are tight-lipped about their plans.
"Our plans are not for public disclosure," said Brown, who added that more details should be released in about six months.
Grimmer said recently his company would release information on his new leasers Dec. 5, but said Thursday that architects are revising plans for the businesses. He still did not name them.
He said he first negotiated with Dick's Sporting Goods and Surf Style to fill vacancies back in 2017, but those plans fell through.
Urban Air Adventure Park, a 42,000-square-foot indoor trampoline park, announced in September it would take over one of the spaces at the Emerald Coast Center. Franchise owner Mike Blech said the park will feature the Urban Air Sky Rider Indoor Coaster, a tube playground, ropes and climbing courses, a “Ninja Warrior” obstacle course and other attractions.
It is scheduled to open in late spring of 2019, Blech said.
Destin City Councilman Chatham Morgan, who visited the properties recently, said he's sad to see the places he frequented as a teen now derelict and dilapidated. He said he hopes the properties won't be turned into apartment complexes.
"That's not what's best for downtown Destin," Morgan said. "I'd love to see, obviously, revitalization of those properties in the form of mix-used development. Those apartments masquerade as affordable housing for our service industry people, but there is nothing affordable about them.
"We need 10 times as much green space and mixed use developments," he added. "We need the revitalization of the movie theater, lofts, office spaces and retail. The idea of the apartment complexes is complete speculation; it's just a trend in Destin — apartments, car washes and storage facilities."
Morgan said he receives phone calls from residents from time to time complaining about the two "eyesores," but he said it's not as many complaints as one might think.
"There has been such a lack of activity for so long that it's accepted as normal," he said. "That kind of decay in rural America might be somewhat normal these day, but on Highway 98, in the heart of Destin, it's somewhat glaring.
"The times have changed and they didn't adapt," Morgan added of the property owners. "It's not good for the city and it's not good for property values. Our neighbors to the east of us are continuing to surpass us in experience and quality of life. The revitalization of those two properties would really help."