The Okaloosa County Board of County Commissioners unanimously approved a conceptual plan at their meeting on Tuesday to make tourism investments of up to $25 million in north Okaloosa County.
- The plan aims to begin acquisitions and capital improvements in the northern part of the county to boost tourism opportunities there, following the countywide bed-tax expansion.
The county has made significant investments in tourism assets and destinations in south Okaloosa in recent years, including $41.1 million already completed and another $9.3 million committed. These projects include beachfront properties, parks, trails, and other amenities largely concentrated in the Destin area.
- However, there have been no similar tourism investments made north of Eglin Air Force Base to date.
The new plan approved this week seeks to change that by dedicating up to $25 million from the county’s tourist development tax revenues (6th penny) to purchase properties and make capital improvements to develop new tourism attractions in north Okaloosa.
“We’re almost starting from scratch in the north,” said Craig Coffey, Deputy County Administrator. “We have a lot of great natural amenities, but we have to build upon those.”
Coffey said the goal is to lay the groundwork for tourism growth in the north end of the county by making strategic investments over time, much like the county has done in growing tourism in the south. He noted other areas like Panama City and Walton County that have made major investments in sports complexes and facilities that have successfully boosted their tourism economies.
- “We’ve got to figure out what our niches are going forward,” Coffey told commissioners. “And I think part of that is going to be a north end investment and starting that process there.”
Commissioner Nathan Boyles, whose district covers part of the north end of the county, spoke in favor of the plan to expand tourism investments across the whole county now that the tourist development tax applies countywide.
“This signals the intent of this county and this commission to recognize that there has been a fundamental shift in the bed tax district,” Boyles said. “Long term, we have to look differently at how we allocate those resources across the county.”
Commissioners Carolyn Ketchel, Trey Goodwin and Mel Ponder, whose districts represent the south end of Okaloosa, fully supported the investment plan.
- “I think we have a golden opportunity to develop our niche in terms of sports tourism, and to set ourselves apart from those to our east or west and create something special up there,” said Ponder. “It’s just putting an opportunity out here to create vision. You’ve got Commissioner Boyles and Commissioner Mixon, they’re visionaries, and they’ll work with the North End folks to make sure it’s a compatible thing into the DNA of the north end of the county.”
The conceptual plan will allow county staff to begin having conversations with landowners and stakeholders in the north end to identify potential investment opportunities. Staff will bring any proposed acquisitions or capital projects back to the commission for final approval along with details on plans for development and use of the properties.
Coffey said making these investments now is important for diversifying tourism offerings, allowing for more unique and off-season attractions and activities. He said it will also help balance future investments still needed in the south end of the county.
List of South End Projects:
|Project||Approx. TDT Investment|
|Destin Beach Properties||$26.5M|
|Veterans Park, including Living Shoreline and Women’s Veterans Monument Ph. I||$3.3M|
|Okaloosa Island Boat Basin||$1.2M|
|Cristobal Waterfront Park||$3.0M|
|Shalimar Waterfront Park||$3.0M|
|Bridge to Bridge Trail||$4.0M|
|FWB Liza Jackson Park||$1.0M|
|Women’s Veterans Monument Phase II||$1.6M|