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Committee approves phased plan to ‘transform’ aging Fairgrounds in Fort Walton Beach

Major upgrades are being proposed for the longstanding Northwest Florida Fairgrounds in Fort Walton Beach after Okaloosa County purchased the aging 20-acre property last year. Okaloosa County stepped in last […]

Major upgrades are being proposed for the longstanding Northwest Florida Fairgrounds in Fort Walton Beach after Okaloosa County purchased the aging 20-acre property last year.

  • The fairgrounds, built in the 1960s and 70s on Lewis Turner Boulevard, has hosted the annual Northwest Florida Fair and other community events for decades. But many of its buildings have fallen into disrepair over the years.

Okaloosa County stepped in last June, buying the fairgrounds from the City of Fort Walton Beach for $4.05 million in bed tax funds. The county committed to keeping it a public space and bring a much-needed facelift to the property.

On Wednesday last week, the county’s seven-member Fairgrounds Advisory Committee unanimously approved a conceptual master plan for phased renovations of the property. The Okaloosa Board of County Commissioners will review the plan March 12 during their regular meeting.

“The committee jumped in with both feet, touring the facility, looking at current events and facility deficiencies, and lastly considering what events the facility might host in the future and what improvements might be needed to accommodate those future events,” said Ted Corcoran, Co-chair of the Committee and Fort Walton Beach Chamber President.

If approved, Phase 1 improvements would include demolishing dilapidated buildings on the property’s east side, add new entry, general cleanup efforts, relocating storage items, adding more parking space and upgrading electric and stormwater infrastructure.

  • In this phase, the old walk-up ticket booth entry would be torn down.

Phase 2 would entail renovating remaining buildings by adding new facades, entrances, catering kitchens and bathrooms. This phase also would add a 30,000-square-foot multipurpose building to host events needing tall ceilings like cheerleading competitions. The new building would be positioned on an angle. (see above)

  • Subsequent phases would include adding RV spaces, more buildings and additional parking based on the fairground’s usage.

The total vision could take eight to 10 years to complete all phases. But Corcoran believes starting Phase 1 this year is critical for the aging facility.

“Let’s knock down the fence. Let’s make it look appealing from the street,” he said.

Fort Walton Beach Chamber members and other community groups have sought an event venue that can host 300-plus people for a lower cost than renting the Destin-Fort Walton Beach Convention Center on Okaloosa Island. Corcoran said the future fairgrounds with onsite kitchens will fill this need.

  • The convention center’s food costs are too high for many nonprofit groups and civic organizations, he said. “Having people like the Fort Walton Beach Chamber and other groups in this area who wants to have a function in their hometown, they’ll be able to rent it reasonably and be able to cater it themselves,” he said.

Improving the fairgrounds also fits with increasing development on the north end of Fort Walton Beach. Jay Odom’s “Freedom Tech Park” is making significant progress on the 50-acre development right next to the Fairgrounds.

“It’s finally indicating that the Fort Walton Beach area is going to catch up to Crestview,” Corcoran said. “This is going to transform that space between the fairgrounds and the airport.”

The project’s Phase 1 could start in the next six months once final approval is given, Corcoran said. The conceptual master plan was developed by Sharon Gold, the county’s facilities project manager, and Jason Floyd, a local architect familiar with the fairground’s buildings.

The Board of County Commissioners created the volunteer Fairgrounds Advisory Committee last July to guide enhancement plans for the property purchased just a month earlier. Panel members toured the grounds and researched how to improve existing structures while allowing for more community usage.

  • In addition to Corcoran, members included Charles Rigdon, Sandra Wilson, Gloria Frazier, Nathan Kelly, Bernard Johnson and Jason Belcher.
  • Fort Walton Beach City Manager Jeff Peters served on the panel as a non-voting member.

At the March 12 county commission meeting, the committee will recommend starting renovations this year by demolishing old structures and cleaning up the property. Corcoran believes the commissioners will support the conceptual master plan and Phase 1 and 2 work.

He told Get The Coast the planned renovations will give the community an affordable, quality venue flexible enough to host events small and large — from weddings to trade shows. The goal is upgrading the infrastructure and appearance while keeping outdoor space available for the annual fair or staging in the event of catastrophic weather.

With a fresh look and improved buildings, Corcoran hopes to see the fairgrounds utilized more by residents. The Chamber plans to host its monthly First Friday Coffees there and he hopes past fairground events like sports banquets make a return.

“Once you start getting people in there again and seeing the fairgrounds as a usable facility…then we have that capacity needed to add on the big building and continue on from there,” he said.

One Response

  1. Someone needs to reign Jay Odom in. He has made inroads by getting the 50 acres on the Reservation. Remember when he rerouted Hwy 98? It made his property much more valuable as closer to the Gulf.
    Meanwhile, Carolyn Ketchel is hell bent on paving over more sand. It will not bring her brother back. She has set her sites on the land at the foot of the Destin Bridge.
    Having been here since 1955, I see the writing on the wall…the promise used to be: We will not become another Miami Beach. Guess what? The environment has been ruined for the Almighty Dollar.

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Community Comments

“Would like to know this as well.”
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“This is Awesome/ Thank You for Your Service Reuse an Recycle”
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“Carolyn, there is two of them this year, the one at the fairgrounds is still on the 27th”
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“I thought this was scheduled for April 27th at Fair grounds in FWB.”
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“Is there a limit on the amount?”
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“Couldn’t the tennis courts be used for Pickle Ball Courts?”
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“How come we haven't heard about any charges or anything about the person who hit this lady ?”
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“Stayed at the Calypso resort last week. Overran with immaturity. Teens were throwing beer bottles from the balcony and dog shit while kids were swimming in the pools below.”
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