Potential bed tax projects: Niceville wants swimming/diving center; Destin wants public beach

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CRESTVIEW — A potential swimming and diving center in Niceville and a possible land purchase to expand public beach access in Destin are among local municipalities’ top bed tax-funded projects heading into fiscal year 2023.

Those and other items received the Okaloosa County Commission’s go-ahead last Tuesday when it approved various municipal bed tax expenditure plans in a 4-0 vote. Commissioner Trey Goodwin had an excused absence from the meeting.

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Expenses of the county Tourist Development Council are funded by the bed tax paid by people staying overnight at lodgings in the county’s bed tax district.

The proposed projects in the plans will be funded with each municipality’s share of bed tax money for this budget year and fiscal 2023, which starts Oct. 1.

The city of Niceville’s plan calls for using $150,000 in bed tax money toward the cost of designing its potential “community aquatic center complex.”

The center would provide for the training and competition of organized aquatic programs and for the recreational use of the general public.

“The current basic project would be to develop a multipurpose, multi-membership, Olympic-style swimming and diving center to serve the entire county on one of several potential sites in Niceville,” city officials said in a summary of their plan. “The project is intended to provide a home for all the Okaloosa County swim teams and provide a location for multiple swim meets and competitions.”

They added that throughout Florida there currently are more than 180 organized swimming and diving teams competing at more than 50 public, nonprofit or private facilities.

“Swimming competition in Florida has grown to be a big business as teams from all over the state and nation bring the teams, their families and spectators for stays and related expenditures (lodging, meals, and goods) for three to five days during a single meet,” Niceville officials said in the summary.

They said a steering committee will consider the actual location, facility design and amenities of the potential aquatic center. A conceptual plan later would include a potential site layout and cost estimates and a combination of city funding, grants and bed tax money could pay for construction.

In an ongoing pursuit, Destin and county officials recently began the eminent domain process to acquire a property to further expand the city’s Gulf-front Shore at Crystal Beach Park at 2964 Scenic Highway 98.

Destin plans to use bed tax funds to expand its Shore at Crystal Beach Park at the intersection of Scenic Highway 98 and Hutchinson Street.
Destin plans to use bed tax funds to expand its Shore at Crystal Beach Park at the intersection of Scenic Highway 98 and Hutchinson Street.

In 2020, Destin partnered with the county and the nonprofit Trust for Public Land on a plan to use more than $10 million in bed tax and local option half-cent sales tax dollars to buy three Crystal Beach parcels to expand the park.

In late 2020 they were able to close on a parcel immediately west of the park and on one that stands two lots east of the park. As part of the beach expansion project, a contractor later demolished short-term rental housing units on those parcels.

However, the city and its partners have been unable to convince the Miami-area owner of a 0.44-acre property at 2968 Scenic Highway 98, immediately east of the park, to sell the land for the project.

Destin officials do not know how long the eminent domain process will take to acquire the parcel, city spokeswoman Catherine Card said Friday.

In Destin’s bed tax expenditure plan, the city will use fiscal year ’22 and ’23 bed tax funding allocations totaling more than $1.9 million to help pay for the potential purchase.

Previously approved bed tax money and local option half-cent sales tax dollars remain available for the possible purchase. More than a year ago, The Trust for Public Land had offered to pay $3.9 million for the parcel, which would provide an additional 67 feet of beach to the park.

The big ticket item in Fort Walton Beach’s bed tax expenditure plan is the construction of an addition to the city’s Heritage Park and Cultural Center on U.S. Highway 98 downtown.

City officials plan to use $390,000 in bed tax money to help pay for the project.

The funding will cover about half of the cost to build a new gift shop and office building where the old Bluewater Zoo building now stands, City Manager Michael Beedie said Thursday.

He said city Community Redevelopment Agency money will pay the remaining cost. The project, now in final design, will include the demolition of the old Bluewater Zoo building.

“We plan on issuing the bid package for this project in September or October with the goal of completing the construction during FY ‘23,” Beedie said.

Crestview’s biggest upcoming project calls for using $275,000 in bed tax money on various upgrades to Brookmeade Park, which is the home of the Eglin Federal Credit Union Skate Park and RC Track. The track is used for races between radio-controlled cars.

The Eglin Federal Credit Union Skate Park opened in the summer of 2021 at a new city park on Brookmeade Drive in Crestview. The city plans use bed tax money to add amenities to the park.
The Eglin Federal Credit Union Skate Park opened in the summer of 2021 at a new city park on Brookmeade Drive in Crestview. The city plans use bed tax money to add amenities to the park.

The project could be completed sometime in fiscal ’23. It will include construction of an observation deck area between the skate park and RC track that will include shops for each activity, as well as equipment rentals and space for concessions and restrooms.

The deck area will include shaded seating where spectators can eat and watch events on the track or at the skate park.

“The construction of the deck will also drastically improve ADA accessibility for those using the RC Track by connecting to the existing observation tower at the track itself,” Crestview officials said in a summary of their bed tax expenditure plan. “The creation of 10 RV parking spaces and accompanying power connections are proposed as well, for use by patrons of either the skate park or track.”

Laurel Hill plans to use $32,500 to pay to install new welcome signs on State Road 85 at the north and south city limits.
Laurel Hill plans to use $32,500 to pay to install new welcome signs on State Road 85 at the north and south city limits.

Other upcoming County Commission-approved bed tax items include a $32,500 project by the city of Laurel Hill to install welcome signs on the north and south ends of State Road 85 at the city limits and a $54,280 Shalimar project that will include relocating and updating a swing set and adding a fenced-in playground at Combs Park.

The county’s original bed tax district was approved in 1989. It encompassed Destin, Cinco Bayou and most of Fort Walton Beach and Mary Esther, as well as unincorporated areas adjacent to Destin and Fort Walton Beach, such as Okaloosa Island.

Shalimar wants to use $54,280 in bed tax money to upgrade Combs Park, which will include moving and updating  swing set and adding a fenced playground.
Shalimar wants to use $54,280 in bed tax money to upgrade Combs Park, which will include moving and updating swing set and adding a fenced playground.

Last fall, voters approved expanding the district countywide, which allowed Niceville, Valparaiso, Crestview, Shalimar, Laurel Hill, the rest of Fort Walton Beach and Mary Esther and more unincorporated areas to join it.

The county began charging and collecting a bed tax in the district’s expansion area this past March. A 4% tax will be charged in the expansion area until March 1, 2025, when an additional 1% will be added to equal the 5% already charged in the original district.

The county’s nine municipalities share a 12.5% allocation of the county’s total annual bed tax revenue. Destin, which generates the most bed tax dollars, receives 48.5% of the 12.5% allocation.

The next in line is Fort Walton Beach, which receives 18% of the allocation, followed by smaller amounts given to Crestview, Niceville and the remaining municipalities.

This article originally appeared on Northwest Florida Daily News: Okaloosa municipalities list top proposed bed-tax funded projects