A drone's eye view of the Community Redevelopment Area (CRA) on Niceville's Boggy Bayoiu

Weddings and Boats, But No Swimming or Fishing? CRA Discusses Future Uses for Downtown Niceville

Niceville's CRA discussed plans for a facelift to revitalize the Old Town Commercial Village, aiming for a more upscale downtown with pedestrian-friendly spaces and potential waterfront attractions.

Niceville’s Old Town Commercial Village Downtown Concept received a new outlook on its future at its Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) meeting in April. 

Long story short – we’ve got a long way to go before you’ll see any significant change – but those changes are a’comin’. The CRA noted they want to have a ‘fancier’ downtown – that would lend itself to higher-end shops and a picture-perfect wedding venue. More on that in a minute. 

What’s a CRA, And Why Should I Care?

The CRA, a special tax area that focuses on upgrading, restoring, or otherwise beautifying blighted areas of a town, would give the area around what is now Blue Collar Café a facelift. 

Some of that money would come from additional money that would flow in once the land in the area has higher property valuations and, therefore, more property taxes. The bulk of the cash, though, could come in the form of state or federal grant money. We could also see money come in from private investment. I sound so vague because all of those details haven’t been worked out yet by the CRA, the city, or any other groups working on this effort. 

What is the CRA Doing Right Now?

AVCON, the consulting group on the ‘upland’ portion of the renewal project, asked for a significant overhaul of the project plans due to some inconsistencies they say were left behind by another group that had worked on the project in the past. The CRA approved these changes, which we’re about to lay out. 

First on the list is closing off part of Bayshore Drive and making it a pedestrian-only space for people to walk, congregate, and enjoy a downtown-square-style atmosphere in the area. 

Consultants with AVCON noted that they would have a roadway with pavers or brick that could close on the weekend for farmers’ markets or other similar pedestrian-heavy events that could draw people to the area. 

“We got to make it a place that people want to be with their families,” Said AVCON Vice President Lee Lewis, “We’re trying to have a unique sense of place in terms of having some bakeries, coffee shops, those types of things.”

RELATED: Niceville has WAY More Coffee Shops Than A Normal Town.  

Additionally, the resolution, which was approved by the members of the CRA (who are also the five city council members and the mayor), keeps a number of naturally occurring oak trees and reduces conflict with property owners who would have less access to their properties because of the CRA plans. 

K&G Architects, the consultants for the city on the waterfront portion of the project also presented to the city council on their progress. Dave Hemphill, with the consultant group, showed the CRA several concepts for a T-Pier that would have a shade covering and could potentially be used for gala events, fundraisers, and weddings.

The canopy could be taken down with some notice for hurricanes and other adverse weather events. Portions of the pier would also blow out during a storm and sink to the bottom of the bayou, where they could be recovered and placed back on the pier. The engineers designed the deck to do this to reduce structural damage to the building in the long run. 

City Councilwoman Cathy Alley pushed hard for a pier concept that could be promoted as a wedding venue inside of the city, which led her to advocate for a ban on fishing, swimming and diving near the pier in the concept of the facility. This potential ban would also allow boats to come to the CRA District, park, and let their passengers come ashore to shop in the district. 

“I visualize this as more upscale,” Alley said, “because this downtown area is going to be more upscale.”

Councilman Sal Nodjomian and Mayor Dan Henkel advocated for a design charette. At this meeting, stakeholders in a project work out differences and map out a way forward for a project. 

The Goals for the CRA

“We think this is a game-changer,” Lewis added after the motion passed, 

“I think the time is right. If this is done well, and we can get some of that investment in commercial retail, as we envisioned, I think you’ll see some of the surrounding properties look into redevelopment as well.”

What Happens Next

We still have a long way to go before the idea of a ‘downtown Niceville’ exists on your Google Maps. 

On May 14, the CRA Board will reconvene to discuss the next set of architectural renderings that will be created. In July, the CRA will host another workshop to discuss edits on those designs (this is, by design, a prolonged process). In August, the CRA will assemble again to look at the drawings before the CRA goes for permits to inspect stormwater management plans as well as architectural guidelines and standards. 

An earlier version of this story referred to the representative for K&G Architects incorrectly. The representative’s name is Dave Hemphill. We sincerely regret the error. Additionally, Niceville Public Information Officer Shannettra Francis informed us that the plans for the CRA do not currently incorporate residential space. Finally, the city has $1.2 Million on hand in the CRA account. 

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