Bluewater Bay hits $1 billion tax base value for first time in 2019

Tony Adame
Bluewater Commercial Developers President/Owner Raimund Herden sits at the American House Senior Living Community in Niceville on Friday afternoon. [TONY ADAME/DAILY NEWS]

NICEVILLE — The calls from land developer Raimund Herden to the Okaloosa County Tax Collector's Office came in steadily over the last few months.

Herden, speaking in a lush, German accent, would politely inquire on the status of what, on the surface, probably seems like an obscure piece of tax data.

On closer examination, however, it’s quite remarkable.

Thanks to Herden, it did not go overlooked.

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Okaloosa County Director of Tax Services Justin Gordon recently confirmed what Herden knew months ago was on pace to happen, when the tax base value for the unincorporated, Niceville-adjacent community of Bluewater Bay hit $1 billion for the first time since its inception in 1978.

In 1975, it was Herden who led a group of European investors in a $5.3 million purchase of 2,000 acres of land on rural Choctawhatchee Bay that became Bluewater Bay, which currently has more than 10,000 residents.

The exact tax base amount was $1,080,777,584.

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"(Bluewater Bay) is a unique place, because in that 40 years, it's never changed hands," said Herden, who is still the President/Owner of Bluewater Commercial Developers. "When I came here for the first time in the 1970s to look at the land, I stayed at a hotel in Destin and, that first night, walked out to the beach, felt that soft, sugar sand on my feet and fell in love with this place.

"I knew the area was special. I thought we could create a community for people who wanted to live here, full-time, who thought the same thing."

It's significant for Okaloosa County because Bluewater Bay has been a tax-producing behemoth over the last 40 years.

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Since 2007, according to Okaloosa County records, the Bluewater Bay community has paid approximately $129.2 million in taxes to the county.

"That's money that's spread out over several taxing authorities," Gordon said. "Schools, parks ... public entities, mainly."

One place that hasn't benefited directly from that tax money is Niceville, although not for lack of trying on Bluewater Bay's part. Niceville's city council voted down a proposal from Herden and other investors to annex the 2,000 acres and make it part of Niceville in 1978.

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The taxable value of Bluewater Bay's tax base in 2019 was approximately $909 million if those properties paid taxes — $3.3 million of which would have gone directly to Niceville, according to Gordon.

With changing millage rates over the years, the total number of taxes Niceville missed has missed out on is hard to pin down.

"We were disappointed (with the 1978 vote), of course we were," Herden said. "But we knew (Niceville) was hesitant because Sandestin had filed for bankruptcy not long before that, so to them it seemed like they were taking too much of a chance."

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One of Herden's early edicts helped set the precedent for Bluewater Bay's growth. It equated to more work and less grandiose visions.

Friday afternoon, Herden zipped back-and-forth among the floors at American House Senior Living Community in Niceville, which Herden initially developed as Superior Residences at Bluewater Bay.

"When we started out, there were all these developments going up around the area," Herden said. "And they would have these lavish billboards out front that promised homes and golf courses and all these great things that they didn't all necessarily deliver on ... and over time you would see the billboards wither and fade.

"So, instead of a billboard, we built a thick, concrete sign out front, one that just said 'Bluewater Bay' on it ... and I always reminded people the promises we made and the people we worked with needed to be as solid as that wall of concrete."