Plans approved for Okaloosa Island projects

Kari Barlow | Northwest Florida Daily News

Okaloosa County commissioners have approved the site plans for a fish hatchery and small amusement park planned for the old Island Golf Center property.

The Gulf Coast Marine Life Center and Wild Willy’s Adventure Zone will be built on two parcels of the 35-acre property owned by the county.

“I think it’s turned out pretty well,” said Elliot Kampert, the county’s growth management director.

AquaGreen, the Destin nonprofit group behind the fish hatchery, is leasing 4.5 acres. Destin-based Dominion Capital, which is bankrolling Wild Willy’s, is leasing 2.8 acres.

“We’re hoping to break ground in late January … or early February,” said Pat Barcus, director of business and development for AquaGreen. “We’re excited about the level of private donations that have come in. Our first phase is fully funded.”

The first phase calls for a 12,800-square-foot building to house hatching equipment for up to three species of fish at a time.

AquaGreen hopes to secure its building permit in the next two or three weeks, Barcus said.

Kampert said reviewing the Gulf Coast Marine Life Center’s site plan has been unique.

“In permitting, you don’t see a lot of this stuff every day,” he said. “It’s a lot of hatching tanks and water circulation tanks. It’s not what you think of, as far as typical site plans and building improvements.”

The hatchery plans to treat its storm water on site with retention ponds and to recycle all its fish waste.

“All the byproducts, the fish nutrients, are reused as fertilizer to grow coastal plants,” Barcus said. “There is absolutely, 100 percent no discharge being sent out into the bay.”

The Gulf Coast Marine Life Center eventually plans a juvenile fish stock enhancement program for a variety of species, including cobia, Florida pompano, flounder, mahi-mahi, amberjack, red drum, speckled trout and sturgeon.

The center also will be open to the public, offering aquatic exhibits, classrooms and research labs.

“(Visitors) can come in and touch the oysters and learn about the importance of the oyster,” Barcus said. “It really is going to be a community-based project that will give back to the Gulf.”

AquaGreen is working with several universities, including University of Florida, University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and University of North Carolina at Wilmington to design and open the hatchery.

At Wild Willy’s, the site plan calls for a 3,980-square-foot restaurant, a frozen yogurt kiosk and a zip line that will run over an existing pond. The new amenities will be built around the existing miniature golf course at the site.

“At Wild Willy’s, they are going to be utilizing a lot of the infrastructure out there, as far as the little golf course,” Kampert said.

Also included in the site plan is an elaborate ropes course, a laser maze, a shooting gallery, a fossil mining area, dinosaur park and a bungee trampoline.