Okaloosa approves tax break for potential employer in Destin

Kari C. Barlow | Northwest Florida Daily News

Okaloosa County commissioners on Tuesday approved a 10-year tax exemption for an as yet unnamed tourism business considering building in Destin.

Kay Rasmussen, interim president of the Economic Development Council of Okaloosa County, told commissioners the company is expected to start with 67 jobs and grow to a workforce of 350 within five years at an average salary of $40,400. She said the company also would strengthen tourism during the off-season.

After a public hearing on the issue, the board voted 4-1 to offer the tax exemption.

“I think this is a great opportunity for Destin,” Commissioner Wayne Harris said. “I think this is a great opportunity for the county.”

Commissioner Nathan Boyles voted against the tax break. He said he could not support the proposal because the company had not agreed to waive the confidentiality it is afforded under state law. Boyles wanted the identity of the company to be made public so residents would know how the tax break incentive was being used.

“I simply wanted the opportunity to have that public discourse,” Boyles told the board.

Rasmussen said the confidentiality agreements help preserve the competitive edge needed when attracting businesses to the area. She said she had asked the company about waiving its confidentiality and it declined to do so.

When the audience was invited to speak during the public hearing, Boyles said he had “to point out the absurdity of asking the public” to comment on a project they knew little about.

Under the EDC’s proposal, the company would be exempt from tangible personal property taxes and real property taxes for 10 years. The exemption would total an estimated $316,304.

Commission Chairman Don Amunds said it is important to remember that the tax breaks won’t happen unless the company follows through on the construction and the hiring.

“None of these incentives take place until … it goes vertical and they start employing people,” he said.

Rasmussen agreed, describing the tax exemption as a “performance-based incentive.”

She added that the company also plans to make a capital investment of $23 million.

Although several new commercial projects are under way in the Destin area, officials have not confirmed a link between the so-called Project UpUnder and any specific venture.

One of those projects is a possible Dolly Parton-backed entertainment enterprise.

In early January, county planners confirmed that four properties along Commons Boulevard and U.S. Highway 98 had been purchased by two companies, CF SYN LLC and World Choice Investments LLC. The parcels range from 2.3 acres to 6.9 acres.

World Choice Investments is affiliated with The Dollywood Co., which operates the Dixie Stampede and Pirates Voyage dinner theaters in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Branson, Mo. According to an online LinkedIn profile, World Choice Investments does business as Dixie Stampede LLC, Pirates Voyage LLC and Great Choice Investments LLC.

Contact Daily News Staff Writer Kari Barlow at 850-315-4438 or Follow her on Twitter @KariBnwfdn.