Okaloosa County interested in revamping Fairgrounds property, making it an event venue for locals

On Tuesday, November 1, 2022, the Fort Walton Beach City Council held a public workshop to discuss the future of the Northwest Florida Fairgrounds property on Lewis Turner Blvd.

  • 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.

City Manager Michael Beedie explained to the council that for a little over a year now, city staff has been throwing around different ideas as to what to do with the property because the county does have interest in acquiring 20 acres.

In June 2020, the Fairgrounds property was among 10 properties discussed as far as surplussing. The council ultimately decided to not surplus the property after hearing concerns from residents. 

In October 2021, the city had an independent appraisal done on the property. However, the county would only be purchasing roughly 20 of 26 acres.

  • “As-is” – $5.45 million
  • “As if vacant” – $5.925 million
Existing Fairgrounds property owned by the City of Fort Walton Beach.

According to Beedie, Okaloosa County has expressed interested in an outright purchase of the property for the appraised value, exploring some type of land swap, or a combination of the two. 

  • He says they have discussed a land swap deal for the old hospital site, which is off of Hospital Drive and Staff Drive. The county owns this property, however, it is surrounded by property within the city limits.

The Hospital Drive property is approximately 6.57 acres. It is also home to the Okaloosa Health Department, which the county is required to provide space for. An appraisal has also been done on this property.

  • “As-is” – $4.72 million
  • “As if vacant” – $1.5 million

“Most of the buildings are dilapidated and need to be demolished,” explained Beedie to the council. “The county did get an estimate for that at about $250,000, which we could get a potential credit for as part of any deal.”

The res area represents the nearly 20 acres that Okaloosa County wishes to acquire. The green area represents a little over 6 acres that the city of Fort Walton Beach wants to keep. The yellow area is a 0.42 acre parcel that the city wants to purchase from the county.

Following Beedie’s briefing, Okaloosa County Administrator John Hofstad addressed many questions that the council had and offered up some insight into the county’s overall vision for the property.

“Our intent is to preserve the public use out there at that property,” said Hofstad. “That property is now included in the expanded bed-tax [district] and we can utilize bed-tax dollars to give that facility a much needed facelift.”

  • Hofstad explained that there is still the need for a staging area in the event of a natural disaster and they simply cannot replicate a 26-acre facility in another part of the south-end of the county. 

As far as the facelift is concerned, Hofstad said the county would explore using tourism dollars to revamp the facilities and continue working with the Fair Association to continue hosting events on the property. He says there is a need for a lesser cost option to the Convention Center on Okaloosa Island.

He says that while the convention center may never be a profitable operation, the Board of County Commissioners would like to get it to a break-even point. However, current rental rates for use of the facility have made it difficult for many local events.

“We’ve priced some local events out of being able to use that facility,” said Hofstad. “So this gives us an alternative to use that space, to host local events, while working with the Fair Association to maintain their events out there.”

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Hofstad added that as the county continues to grow past the current 210,000 population, they will have to expand the judicial facility too. He says the courthouse building was built with the intent of being able to expand it on that site, and this would give them the opportunity to do that. 

  • “We’re not looking to acquire the property to develop it for some other use other than what it’s currently being used for,” he said. “To expand and enhance that use that is out there right now.” 

Okaloosa Commissioner Trey Goodwin was also in attendance on Tuesday night and spoke to the council about the land.

“With the expanded bed-tax [district], I view it as an opportunity to use tourist tax dollars to pour into a facility that will benefit our locals and our tourists, as well,” said Goodwin.

Moving forward, the council will have the opportunity to deem the Fairgrounds property surplus at the next meeting on November 15. Then, an updated appraisal will be done. Once the appraisal is completed, it will be put on the market for a minimum of 30 days.  

  • Several months back, the city council updated the way they handle surplus properties and go through the bidding process.
  • The council does not have to take the highest bid. They can choose which bid they feel is best for the property.

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