'EVOLUTION OF THE ECONOMY': City sees positive signs of recovery, redevelopment in Destin

Matt Algarin
With the Alexan-Henderson Beach situated in the background, crews have been busy with construction on Venue Emerald Coast, a luxury apartment complex along Commons Drive.

Based on the amount of construction projects and redevelopment that is currently under way in Destin, an economic recovery may be in full swing.

"Since 2009 we've seen a significant uptick (in permit reviews)," Community Development Director Ken Gallander told The Log. "Our daily activity levels have also increased. Government is always the lag indicator of the economy, so if we are seeing the activity levels increase in permitting, it's a sign that things are happening on the outside."

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

In fact, in the past year, the city's building division has seen a 65 percent increase in permit applications and inspections have increased by more than 30 percent, according to city officials.

‘Things are picking up’

Looking at the numbers, permit reviews have significantly increased from fiscal year 2009 to the first six months of fiscal year 2013. Between October and March of this year there were a total of 703 permits reviewed, compared to 598 for the same time frame in 2012.

The building division reviews any building additions, construction of single-family houses, commercial projects, and even sheds. The planning division provides development review services to the public. Both the building division and the planning division fall under the community development department.

"We are seeing more inquires about development, for sure, and are having more pre-application meetings where people are saying 'I'm interested in buying this property' or we are interested in this project,' " Gallander said. "There is a feeling out there that things are picking up. We are not going to see the eight crane towers like we saw before, but that's not a bad thing."

Gallander pointed to the Hampton Inn project as an example of "redevelopment" that's sprouting up in the city. He said the project is one of many signs of "investment in an existing property."

While there are plenty of physical signs of a potential recovery throughout the city, Gallander told The Log that there are also plenty of internal signs. At the end of the work week, he said his staff is "beat" due to the spike in activity. As the city's main inspector, Gallander said that Noell Bell has been averaging 16 inspections a day, which is significantly higher than the 10 inspections that most perform.

"Noell did 80 last week," he said. "We are busier by far. It's the evolution of the economy."

A 'Building Boom'

Local Realtor John Paul Somers, owner of John Paul Somers and Company, told The Log that buyers from South Florida and the West Coast have been flocking to the Emerald Coast to scoop up property due to the tremendous movement in the market.

"There is a great alignment of businesses in this market that either want to start up or partake in this upswing, or locate from different markets, and that's intriguing," he said. "Businesses want to locate here from different areas because of the lifestyle we have. What I'm seeing is a very strong emergence from the lows off 2008, which is very exciting."

With a recovery in place, Somers told The Log that the Destin, 30A Corridor and Panama City markets are showing the greatest growth prospects. Out of the three, he added that the 30A Corridor is boasting "phenomenal growth," and taking part in a "building boom."

"There are a lot of economic drivers in this market," he said. "There is absolutely more velocity and more fuel that will drive this market from here; there is no doubt."

View from the Commons

Not only are Destin's planners and Realtors noticing a bump in the numbers, the teamat Destin Commons has also noted an increased number of inquires from prospects that are looking to rent office space.

Split between two buildings, Destin Commons has about 70,000-square feet of office space. After securing a few new tenants recently, General Manager Bob Perry told The Log that they now have 73 percent of their office space leased.

"We're open for business," Perry said with a chuckle.

As for the inquires that are being made, Perry said a majority of them are for offices that would ideally be about 600-1,200-square feet, and would accommodate two or three employees.

Having spent time working in cities all over the county, such as Atlanta, Perry said the quality of life in Destin is one of the biggest attractions for businesses.

"I don't think you can beat the environment we live in," he added. "The business climate is more laid back."

While there is office space available at the Commons, those looking for retail space won't have as much luck. The center has been 100 percent leased since 2011, which is why they are currently undergoing a major expansion project that will add roughly 20 to 25 new restaurants/retailers to its already existing 400,000-square-foot, 75-store shopping center. The project is expected to wrap up in spring 2014.

"We have a good product and we know that works to our advantage," said Kristina Trujillo, director of marketing.

"The future is still out there for us," said Perry. "At this point we are trucking along with what we have on our plate."


New development is taking root in Destin as the economy climbs back. Click on the name of each project to learn more.

Scallywags: Tier I Development for a 9,217-square foot bar and restaurant that sits on a 2.13-acre parcel of land at 105 Calhoun Avenue.

Venue Emerald Coast: The Venue Emerald Coast, which will be situated on an 11.2-acre parcel next to the Alexan-Henderson Beach, is being developed by Georgia-based Davis Development and will offer residents 1,2,3 and 4 bedroom units ranging in size from 661-square feet to 1,744-square feet.

Mattress Firm: Opened a 5,000-square foot store April 26 at 34751 Emerald Coast Parkway, near the Fresh Market.

Beach Zone and Executive Car Wash: The project is located at 983 U.S. Hwy. 98 E on a 1.79-acre parcel in front of Winn-Dixie. The plans call for a one-story building with a 2,000-square-foot restaurant that is drive-through accessible, 11,500 square feet of BeachZone retail, and a drive-through, environmentally friendly Executive Carwash.

Beach Helicopter: Developers had planned to open a 6,000-square-foot helipad that would offer sightseeing flights along the Emerald Coast from this parcel of land situated between Longhorn Steakhouse and BankTrust on U.S. Hwy. 98. The property has recently changed hands, and the future of Beach Helicopter is unknown as the parcel is now on the market.

The Runway: The city's first proposed strip club. The 5,500-square foot gentleman's club would be located at 908 Airport Road.

DestinSands BeachResort: Located at 1020 Hwy. 98 East, this project is the demolition and renovation of the former Holiday Inn. Developers are completely remodeling the property, which includes the demolition of the round tower that was home to the Hawaiki.

Dolly in Destin? Aproposed development along Commons Drive, U.S. Hwy 98 near Henderson Beach Drive,this unidentified project has ties to Dolly Parton and her Dixie Stampede Dinner Theater. A grouping of parcels in the area was purchased by a company affiliated with the famed county singer.

Destin Commons: As part of the ongoing expansion project, Destin Commons, which opened in 2003, will be adding roughly 20 to 25 new restaurants/retailers to its already existing 400,000-square-foot, 75-store shopping center.

HarborVillageTownhomes: After years of sitting vacant this building, which had been known as the Renaissance building, is undergoing a complete renovation. The building, which boasted a pink-hued stucco, is split into 10 separate units that consist of retail space on the bottom floor and townhomes on the top floor. All 10 units are owned by Harbor Destin Development LLC.

Hampton Inn: The hotel previously stood two-stories tall and had 104 rooms, but after the year-long renovation project is complete, the Hampton Inn will boast a third-story and an additional 26 rooms.

Leonard Destin Home: Destin’s oldest home is now a thing of the past, but a restaurant may rise from the rubble and lumber. The idea now, according to developers, is to build a restaurant/bar/music venue combo on the waterfront property, which was re-zoned in the mid-2000s for commercial use.

Old Greek Church: St. John Greek Orthodox Church at 303 Hwy. 98 was recently purchased by Destin businessman Mike Buckingham. He is pondering plans to convert it into a restaurant.

Goochie Poochie Pet Salon: Situated on Opa-Locka Lane, work is under way on a 4,697-square foot pet salon and spa, and doggie day care.

Project Waterworks and UpUnder: These potential Destin projects are being worked by the Economic Development Council of Okaloosa County and remain unnamed, due to a "confidentiality" statute. In February, Okaloosa County Commissioners approved a 10-year tax exemption for an as yet unnamed tourism business considering building in Destin. The exemption would total an estimated $316,304.