FWB City Council votes to sell Fairgrounds property to Okaloosa, keeping it public use

The Fort Walton Beach City Council voted to sell the Northwest Florida Fairgrounds property to Okaloosa County, keeping it a public use facility.

On January 10, 2023, the Fort Walton Beach City Council discussed the future of the Northwest Florida Fairgrounds property on Lewis Turner Boulevard and agreed to sell the property to Okaloosa County.

  • The 40-acre property was originally purchased by the City of Fort Walton Beach for around $4 million.
  • ​​Years later, the city would sell the front half (roughly 16 acres) to the county for $2 million for the construction of the courthouse annex.

Okaloosa County has expressed interest in acquiring the property for some time now, either as an outright purchase for the appraised value, a land swap deal for the old hospital site, or a combination of the two.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Interim City Manager Jeff Peters reminded the council of the previous discussions and workshops held about the property, and asked for direction on moving forward. Okaloosa Commissioner Trey Goodwin then took the floor to speak about the county’s interest in the property, saying “this facility is an important community facility” for a broad base of the constituents, including those outside the city. 

He also highlighted the county’s commitment to retain the historical and nostalgic values of the fairgrounds facility, but also the desire to revamp the buildings for larger events and continue to make it a public use facility.

The county’s three proposals for the 20 acres are:

  • The first option is an outright purchase of the property for the appraised value.
    The second option is a land swap deal for the old hospital site, which is off of Hospital Drive and Staff Drive. The county owns it, however, it is surrounded by property within the city limits.
    And the last one is a combination of the first two options.

According to Goodwin, the county would use tourism tax dollars to revamp the fairgrounds property, stating the investment could be in the 7-figures. 

“We believe that using tourism tax dollars for this purpose is an investment in our community’s future and will benefit both the county and the city.” He explained that the tourism tax dollars are collected specifically to support projects that promote tourism and benefit the community. The proposal for the fairgrounds property fits that criteria.

  • He also went on to mention that the county’s proposal to acquire the fairgrounds property and renovate the buildings for larger events will generate new tourism and revenue for the county and the city.

Following Goodwin’s discussion, City Councilman Nathan Kelley made a motion to move forward with the first option presented by Okaloosa County. This option is an outright cash purchase of the property for the adjusted value of $4.115 million. 

  • The total City Property is 26.33 acres and the net City Property transferred would be 19.88 acres. This means that the City would retain 6.45 acres.
  • The appraised value of the property as of October 15, 2021 was $5,450,000 “As Is” and $5,925,000 as “Vacant Land.”
  • Considering the valuation adjustment of 6.45 acres, the new adjusted valuation of the property is $4,115,926.

“Originally when this was brought up, I didn’t like it,” said Councilman Nathan Kelley. “I didn’t like the idea of giving up City property but the more that I went to the Fairgrounds and saw the condition of it, I thought ‘we are not being very good stewards of this‘ and a lot of it falls on the city.”

He went on to state that with the county’s willingness to make the needed improvements, selling this property for a cash purchase will give the city an opportunity to get some projects done that they need to do in the future.

  • The vote passed 5-2, with Councilmembers Travis Smith and Mike Holmes voting against the sale. 

Up next, the city will get an updated appraisal done on the property and work on the terms with the county for the final sale of the Fairgrounds property. The property will be deemed surplus and an agreement will then be brought to the County Commissioners for approval and then back to the city council.

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