New plans proposed for Okaloosa Island

Discussion in 'Real Estate' started by SoWalSally, Apr 26, 2005.

  1. SoWalSally

    SoWalSally Beach Fanatic

    Feb 19, 2005
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    from Walton Sun

    FORT WALTON BEACH ? A local developer is pitching plans for a $250 million development on Okaloosa Island. And as an incentive for getting permission to build, he is offering to pay off millions of dollars of debt incurred to build the Emerald Coast Conference Center.

    Aaron Deal, president of Deal Land and Minerals of Fort Walton Beach, has revealed plans for a condominium hotel, retail and recreation development called ****leshell Bay on 25 acres east of the conference center now housing the Island Golf Center.

    Deal, 25, said his condo hotel could be the home base for conference center meeting attendees, giving them a place to stay within walking distance and access to nearby recreation activities. "This will absolutely change the dynamics of the island," he said. But before any such development could be built, Okaloosa County commissioners would have to change the land-use designation for the property.

    Currently, the land is designated for public recreation use. Commissioners have scheduled a May 24 public workshop on the future land use of the Island Golf Center property, and Deal anticipates showing off his proposal then. He won?t have the stage to himself. Peter Bos, who developed Regatta Bay, Sandestin and Destin Commons and is building the $200 million HarborWalk Village, is expected to present his own plan.

    "We are proposing a development," Bos said. "I thought we were going to be able to keep it secret." He did not give any details of his plans. Other developers may present plans to the commissioners, according to board chairman Bill Roberts.

    "This is a public workshop, remember," he said. Deal said he is purchasing the lease of the Island Golf Center, potentially accelerating development of the site. According to the original contract for the lease, a clause stipulates that any assignment of the lease must be approved by the commissioners.

    "We haven?t seen any paperwork like that," said Jim Curry, the county?s director of administrative services, who oversees the leases on the island. Deal, who said he has an agreement with real estate investment company Starwood Capital Group of Greenwich, Conn., said he bought the golf center lease from Henry Cobb, who is chairman of Southern Restaurants Group.

    The lease has about 4.5 years to run. He would not reveal the amount of the buyout but indicated it could have exceeded the value of the current lease, which would be more than $4 million. Kathy Johnson, store manager of Kitty Hawk Kites, welcomed the possibility of a new development. "People complained about the conference center when it was being considered," she said. "But it has done nothing but bring business in here." Manuel Coronado, assistant general manager of the Crab Trap restaurant, said, "I?m all for it" as he looked at a preliminary drawing of Deal?s plan.

    When he heard six restaurants were in the project, he said, "Uh oh." Deal said he is willing to pave the way to a 99-year lease and a favorable development order from Okaloosa County by paying off the conference center debt. Bonds totaling $13.4 million were issued for the initial debt. According to Darrel Jones, executive director of the Emerald Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau, $10,646,000 remains on the original indebtedness.

    "We?ve already got a plan to pay off the (30-year) debt in 15 years," Jones said. When he heard Deal is proposing writing a check for the debt, Jones commented, "I?ll be darned." Deal added he would give the conference center an additional $2 million during the planned two years of construction to help with operating expenses and provide a "significant" amount of cash to the county "to use however they want. They can pave the streets gold."

    Deal said he is commissioning a traffic study of the stretch along U.S. Highway 98 but believes "everyone will drive and park and walk everywhere. To me, it looks like Baytowne Wharf." "I?ve seen the drawings," Roberts said. "It looks first class, but of course you would expect them to look like that. " It?s a mix of nice retail, condo hotel. If that?s what the board wants, then I?m for it."

    Roberts was not as eager to take cash to pay off the conference center?s debt. "I?d like to take that (money) and put it into the general fund and use the tourist tax to pay off the conference center," he said. County Commissioners Don Amunds and Elaine Tucker have seen Deal?s plan but offered no opinions, pro or con.

    "No, no," said Amunds. "It?s just one of those things you listen and take it in." Tucker said it was premature to assume the county will do anything to change the property?s existing use.

    "We have no intention of anything happening there now," said Tucker, who added that she is perfectly happy with the golf course. "We?re having a meeting because people are knocking on the doors with ideas."

    Any decision will consider the opinions of the Tourist Development Council and residents, she added. "It?s going to have to be a good consensus of what everybody wants," said Tucker. Following the workshop, commissioners might hear more formal proposals. That meeting may be a couple of months down the road.

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