On Tuesday, September 19, 2023, the Okaloosa Board of County Commissioners voted unanimously to purchase a vacant waterfront parcel at the southeast corner of the Shalimar Bridge and to partner with the Town of Shalimar on redeveloping the site into a new public waterfront park.
The approximately three-quarter acre property has been an eyesore for years, attracting trash, homeless individuals, and illicit activities due to its vacant, unkempt state, according to County Administrator Craig Coffey.
“On many occasions, Town and County elected officials and staff have been contacted by the public about the situation with the property at the SE corner of the Shalimar Bridge,” said Coffey. “Often used by fisherman, homeless individuals, and as an errant parking location, the site is a hotspot for trash, nefarious activities, overgrown vegetation, old foundations and in general is an eyesore.”
The County Commission approved spending up to $900,000 to purchase the property, which recently appraised for that amount. The property had an asking price as high as $3 million at one point, according to Coffey.
The new park could provide parking, bathrooms, a fishing pier, elevated observation platform, temporary boat slips, picnic pavilions, a small store/bait shop, and other amenities accessible by land and water.
- “This property could become a beauty spot with heavy landscaping, as well as an interesting place to visit by land or water, to fish from, or to enjoy a picnic at the water,” explained Coffey.
The total budget for acquiring the property, designing and permitting the park, construction, and contingency is approximately $3 million, according to Coffey. The County will provide 83.3% of the funding from its tourism tax revenues.
The Town of Shalimar will contribute the remaining 16.6% or up to $500,000 from its allocated annual share of the tourist tax revenue. “Between the Town’s current balance of TDT collections and future TDD allocations, the Town has agreed to contribute up to $500,000 or 16.6% towards the project which is approximately 10 years of the Town’s allocated TDD revenue,” explained Coffey in a memorandum to the board.
The Town of Shalimar Commission unanimously approved an interlocal agreement with the County spelling out the terms of the partnership. The park will be annexed into the Town upon completion and become a Town park owned and maintained by Shalimar.
“I’m very excited about this because this has been such an eyesore as we come over the bridge,” said Commissioner Carolyn Ketchel. “I think we finally have a win for the Town of Shalimar and for the citizens of Okaloosa County where we don’t have to have trash everywhere and the homeless on this particular piece of property.”
- Commissioner Nathan Boyles also voiced strong support, saying the project is “an absolute win across the board of bringing all of those ingredients together” in terms of the County’s relationships with its municipalities and use of tourist tax funds to meet resident demands for more recreational amenities.
The County will take the lead on the acquisition, design, permitting, and construction of the park. The goal is to develop the park as soon as practical after completing the purchase, according to Coffey.
The park will be subject to the same rules as other County parks, with the Town taking over maintenance and enforcement upon completion. Deed restrictions will prohibit any future sale or lease of the park land without County Commission approval.
With the property now clear of probate court, the County hopes to close on the purchase in late October or early November. Securing waterfront properties for public recreation and access has been a priority for the Commission, having done several beach acquisitions and in Destin along with a recent purchase in Mary Esther.
- “Free/Open public access locations continue to remain one of our top tourism activities for visitors to our Community and is equally sought after by residents,” wrote Coffey. “As both tourism and residential populations have grown, the demand on these resources has likewise increased.”