LOCAL

Okaloosa County, Destin partner to purchase beachfront property for new park

Devon Ravine
Northwest Florida Daily News
Okaloosa County and Destin have agreed to purchase these three Gulf-front parcels in Crystal Beach to be used as a new public park. The roughly two acres are adjacent to one of the city's existing public access boardwalks on Scenic Highway 98 and are bordered by Tarpon and Dolphin streets.

It looks like beachgoers in Destin's Crystal Beach neighborhood may soon have more public space to plant their umbrellas in the sand.

The city of Destin and the Okaloosa County Commission approved this week an inter-local agreement to purchase 336 feet of beachfront property adjacent to Destin's Tarpon Street public beach access on Scenic Highway 98.

The deal, negotiated by the nonprofit Trust for Public Land, calls for the purchase of three separate beachfront parcels for just over $14 million. All three parcels have the same owner and the trust currently has an agreement with an option to purchase in October and close in November.

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Okaloosa County and Destin have agreed this week to purchase these three Gulf-front parcels in Crystal Beach. The structures would be demolished to make room for a new public park on Scenic Highway 98.

The total cost of the project, including property acquisition and demolition of the current structures, as well as designing, permitting and building a new park facility is estimated at $16.75 million.

The cost would be split 50/50 between the city of Destin and Okaloosa County, with the city taking over ownership of the new park and its future maintenance.

"Once we secure the property, then the city and the county will collaborate on a design for the park," said Catherine Card, public information manager with the city of Destin. Card, emphasizing the new park would operate under the same regulations and ordinances as the city's other parks with regards to beach vendors.

The city of Destin partnered with Okaloosa County to purchase beach-front property in 2020 that enabled the expansion of the city's popular Shore at Crystal Beach Park, located at the intersection of Scenic Highway 98 and Hutchinson Street. This week Destin and Okaloosa County have agreed to team up again to purchase property for another Gulf-front park in the Crystal Beach neighborhood.

The Tarpon Beach park project is similar to a 2020 arrangement that Destin and Okaloosa County made to purchase three properties adjacent to Destin's Shore at Crystal Beach Park, located about a half-mile to the west on Scenic Highway 98.

"This initiative is one of the highest priorities for the city of Destin," said Destin Mayor Gary Jarvis during an April 2021 groundbreaking ceremony for the newly expanded Shore at Crystal Beach Park. "Our tourist tax dollars are being reinvested back into public beaches so that we can deliver on the promise of the Destin brand and meet the expectations of our residents and visitors."

Destin Mayor Gary Jarvis speaks during an April 2021 groundbreaking for an expansion of the city's Shore at Crystal Beach Park, which was made possible by a partnership with Okaloosa County to purchase beachfront property adjacent to the park. This week Okaloosa County and Destin agreed to partner on a similar project to purchase gulf-front property on Scenic Highway 98 to be used for a public park.

The Crystal Beach neighborhood in east Destin is densely populated, both with full-time residents and with visitors. Card said the acquisition of these three new parcels will be a great help.

"It's really going to help with the pressure we've had on that end of the beach," said Card, noting the city's current 5-foot-wide beach access at Tarpon Street means visitors only have five feet of public space on the beach.

"Now that five feet will be extended to 340 feet," Card said.