From Abandoned Warehouse to Thriving Downtown: Niceville's Grand Vision 🌆

A long white building sits behind the brand new brick façade on Bayshore Drive in Niceville, which sits in the heart of what city planners and leaders want to make the new walking downtown area. 

The building, at 114 Edge Street, was built as a warehouse in the 1940s. It served as a bar for several years before the proprietor moved out when Triple M Investors sold the building to the City of Niceville for $590,000. With the last tenant went all of the economic activity in the building. Now, the parcel of land sits unused in a town where land typically comes at a premium. 

Amanda Grandy, a local realtor, developed a plan to use the old building as an events center for the city’s residents. “So, when they do the Fireworks on the Bayou, that we could have the community gather, and then utilize the space both for restrooms, covered heating and cooling space for [people who need it] And then of course, additional parking so that we could watch the fireworks,” she said.

For the last year and a half, representatives from the city and Grandy have discussed whether or not to keep the building or to knock it down and build a new one. In the end, Grandy, who initially wanted to keep the original building on the property, says that the better option is to knock down the old building and replace it. A new building would be less expensive to build, heat and cool. A new structure would have access for people with disabilities, attract more users to the facility, and would meet current building codes as well. 

Niceville Realtor Amanda Grandy stands in front of the building which rests on the land at 114 Edge Avenue. The land is a part of a waterfront walking and shopping district the Niceville Community Redevelopment Agency has planned,

Grandy believes the renewal of the area where the City of Niceville’s downtown once stood has become critical to the city’s future. She hopes constructing an events center on the land would help the city work toward a walkable downtown that brings people together, celebrates the city, and works toward a robust local economy in the town, which is separate and complements the military and tourism industries the region already has. “We don’t have a downtown here,” she said of the city, “there is no unifying factor for the city.”

Additionally, Grandy believes an events center in the city would benefit taxpayers in the long run. “a lot of our tax dollars go down to Okaloosa Island,” she said, referring to the number of people that use gulf-front venues for large events, “they rent a facility there, they’ll go down to the college, and they’ll rent their facility. But where do people go to have weddings? They go to the beach, and they go north of the county to a barn. The city [of Niceville] in the future has a plan to put a large landing out there. So this would be a great opportunity here to have tax revenue here. And people that are from this area, get married here. Celebrate promotions and retirements here, the military uses a lot of public events, bases to have their events at.”

The building located at 114 Edge Avenue

Redeveloping a Downtown Niceville

Grandy wants the building that one day may sit on this land to integrate into the city’s vision for a walkable downtown Niceville. The City’s Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) has put a plan for the area online. 

The Florida Redevelopment Association has a long explanation of what a CRA is here

The short version is that a government agency (this CRA is under the City Council of Niceville and has a board made up of the city council. The City Manager is the CRA Director) freezes the property’s taxing value. Tax revenues collected over and above the frozen value of the property are required to be used within the CRA’s borders to improve the area and as a way to ‘kick start’ economic activity in the designated zone. Destin (the harbor), Crestview (downtown), and Fort Walton Beach (downtown) also have CRAs. 

a map of parcels of land.
The redevelopment district the city has decided on runs from Bayshore avenue in the southwest to John Sims Parkway in the northeast. The parcel with the old warehouse is the largest parcel in blue.

The City “intend[s] to redevelop this whole area bring Bayshore north, they’ll block it off at the water, bring it up around this building and come back down. [They won’t] allow through traffic. And it would just be an open area with shops, restaurants, hopefully, [an] event center. And then, of course, a water view and a landing. So the intent would be everyone come out here. We’ll have festivals and events going on regularly,” Grandy added, “So I can’t foresee it being a negative thing because the people in the area need a place to be and gather and then we don’t have the Mullet Festival, anymore. So this is this is the next best thing. With an even prettier view.”

Niceville City Manager David Deitch spearheads the project on behalf of the municipality. He has a vision for the land to complement the one Grandy has for the piece of land where the dilapidated white warehouse building now sits. “We want to turn that whole downtown district into a place where there are little shops and little restaurants and green space out on the water with an ampitheater,” Deitch mused, “Into the Bayou, we’re going to have this pier with a big, beautiful gazebo-type facility at the end where people can fish and enjoy the evenings. They can have graduation pictures, and weddings and all sorts of events down there.” 

 

City Manager of Niceville David Deitch.

Deitch believes in the project’s long-term benefits for the city. “I think it will revitalize that whole downtown area. I think that is the whole point of a CRA,” Deitch said, “It will inject new business into the city, new tax revenues into the city.” Deitch added that the CRA would ultimately pay for itself by providing a catalyst for property values to increase in the area and a return on investment in the form of increased property values to tax.

In all, Deitch believes the cost of the project will total ain the millions of dollars. 

Where Is Niceville In The Process Of Creating A Downtown?

According to Grandy, the Niceville Community Redevelopment Agency has begun the planning process with a consulting firm called AVCON, which has offices inside the CRA redevelopment district. 

The City Charged AVCON with planning an initial concept for the downtown area, minus the landing where the Bayou meets the beach on Bayshore Drive, and designing the plan. AVCON Vice President Lee Lewis says they should have a design by the late summer of 2024 if the concept is approved. From there, the city would bid out the physical construction of buildings and engineering to various contractors. Those projects would be completed at different times based on various variables. 

RELATED: Niceville Chamber of Commerce Spotlight: AVCON

For now, AVCON has to ensure they take care of the final concept, which will need minor tweaks. The contractor needs to account for old oak trees they’d rather not pull up and ensure they won’t rip out any utility wires or piping in the process. 

The plan will call for plenty of retail space and the establishment of office and residential living on the second or third floors of buildings – including AVCON’s own office on Bayshore. The goal is to have people walk and shop on the ground level. In contrast, others work and live on upper levels of buildings to be constructed and sold via a commercial real estate agent by the city to private citizens and businesses. Lewis says the city will work with a commercial real estate agent to get ‘the right’ sort of businesses in the downtown area by putting deed restrictions in place. “We don’t want tattoo parlors, we don’t want pawn shops,” Lewis said, “I anticipate there’ll be some restrictions when [the city] put[s] the property up for sale. But I don’t know how far deed restrictions will go. I just think that there’s, an ultimate plan that we’re all working towards. And I’d like to think that most of the puzzle pieces have to work to make the whole big piece of picture work.”

City Manager Deitch says the Niceville Landing Downtown Project should be completed in two to three years. “There’s already contracts out there to do a lot of this work (on the project),” Deitch noted. 

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