Over 45 years ago, Robert “Bob” Bonezzi came to Destin, Florida and began his business model of developing and operating various hospitality businesses that catered to tourists and visitors coming to Okaloosa County.
Since then, he has led the development of some popular attractions like The Boardwalk on Okaloosa Island, restaurants such as the Crab Trap, Surf Hut, Rockin’ Tacos, Floyd’s Shrimp House and Nick’s Boathouse, along with the Blackstone Golf Course. He also co-founded The Back Porch in Destin, FL.
He also developed and operated several single-family residential subdivisions and office complexes that provided housing, business offices, and physical activities for local residents.
Bonezzi was the driving force in developing government-business partnerships that allowed public parks and beach access points to be managed by private industry. This is why you have The Boardwalk at Newman C. Brackin Park on Okaloosa Island. This partnership provides lease revenues to the county at roughly $250,000 per year on each of the popular beach properties.
More recently, Bonezzi was appointed by the Governor and Florida Legislature to serve on the Triumph Gulf Coast Board of Directors to make appropriations from the BP Horizon Oil spill settlement to foster environmental regrowth and economic diversity.
The creation of snorkel reefs in Okaloosa County
In spring 2019, Okaloosa County created four snorkel reef sites offshore Destin and Okaloosa Island beaches using Natural Resource Damage Assessment funds. Within the next six months, Okaloosa County plans to use additional RESTORE funds to create four additional snorkel reef sites for a total of eight snorkel reef sites.
Each snorkel reef site is currently individually named as outlined in the Army Corps of Engineers and Department of Environmental Protection permits. Additionally, the current names are consistent with the location of each reef as they are all adjacent to a public beach access point.
Congressman Matt Gaetz made the formal request to the Board of County Commissioners to consider naming the network of eight snorkel reefs after Bonezzi due to his contribution to the community and environment.
In his letter, Gaetz wrote:
“I respectfully suggest that you name these artificial features the “Robert Bonezzi Snorkel Reef Network.” Robert Bonezzi was a founding member of the Triumph Gulf Coast nonprofit, appointed by Florida’s legislature to appropriate funds for environmental regrowth after Deepwater Horizon. Mr. Bonezzi was instrumental in fostering the community and environment back to prosperity and maintaining Northwest Florida’s nature at its healthiest. I sincerely hope you take my kind suggestion into consideration as we honor those who have honored our communities with their life’s work.”
Congressman Gaetz was in attendance at Tuesday’s board meeting as spoke in front of the commissioners.
“What I’ve learned about Mr. Bonezzi is that he was a developer, a home builder in the Cleveland area”, said Gaetz. “And then scratched together some success and a little bit of a living and then he chose to put all of his dreams on the line in Northwest Florida. In our community.”
“His theory of the case was that people would always come to clean water, and in fact they have”, continued Gaetz. “Starting in 2009, Mr. Bonezzi said if there was one thing that he thought could complete that Gulf Coast experience for us in the Panhandle, it would be a snorkel park, a system of reefs.”
On Tuesday, September 1, 2020, the Board unanimously voted to name the collection of reefs the “Robert Bonezzi Snorkel Reef Complex.” All eight reef sites will maintain their current individual names.
“I am overwhelmed with gratitude to hear the snorkeling reef complex has been named in my honor,” Bob Bonezzi told Get The Coast. “Our marine environment has always been the core and common thread of our community and preservation will always need to be a priority. These reefs will help our ecosystem thrive and allow families to explore the water for many years to come. Having this legacy for my children, grandchildren, and our community is very honorable and humbling.”
“The new snorkel reefs are great for locals and visitors to be able to see some of the sea life we have just off the beaches of Destin – Fort Walton Beach,” said Alex Fogg, Coastal Resource Manager for Okaloosa County. “Mr. Bonezzi’s contribution to the local environment and his support of the creation of snorkel reefs across Okaloosa County make the naming of the snorkel reef complex an easy decision.
Fogg told Get The Coast that more information, including maps and signage, for the “Robert Bonezzi Snorkel Reef Complex” will be available in the coming months.
If you want to learn more about where to dive and fish artificial reefs, click here.