FWB moves ahead with Gulfview relocation

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Marianna-based Ducky Johnson House Movers will be paid $149,800 in city Community Redevelopment Agency money to move the two-story, roughly 5,500-square-foot building and set it on a new foundation.

TONY JUDNICH @Tonyjnwfdn

FORT WALTON BEACH — With a 6-1 vote, the City Council on Tuesday approved awarding a contract to a company to move the historic Gulfview Hotel building to the heart of downtown.

The company, Marianna-based Ducky Johnson House Movers, will be paid $149,800 in city Community Redevelopment Agency money to move the two-story, roughly 5,500-square-foot building and set it on a new foundation.

The company has 90 days to perform the relocation and set-up work.

The 111-year-old wood-framed structure will be moved from its current spot at 12 Miracle Strip Parkway S.E. a half-mile east to a vacant, city-owned parcel on the northwest corner of Miracle Strip Parkway and Florida Place.

There, city officials propose using the building as the first-ever Fort Walton Beach Welcome Center, which would be operated by the Greater Fort Walton Beach Chamber of Commerce. The building also could feature a history museum, a café or deli and leased office space.

Now that Ducky Johnson House Movers is under contract, officials from the company can begin talking with the Florida Department of Transportation about a relocation date, City Manager Michael Beedie said.

“We hope to get an idea of the moving date within the next week,” Beedie said after Tuesday’s meeting.

The contractror will work with the FDOT on the temporary relocation of traffic lights to make way for the move. Ducky Johnson House Movers also must obtain an FDOT permit to move the structure down the highway, Beedie said.

Unknown costs

Councilman David Schmidt cast the lone “no” vote on the hiring. He said he understands the value of the building’s history but wanted to hear more about the city’s costs to maintain the structure.

“Right now, the city is taking all the risk,” Beedie acknowledged. “Right now, we’ve got the only skin in the game.”

Schmidt said the council must serve as stewards of taxpayers’ money, and he noted that the city does not have any agreements in place with any parties interested in leasing office space on the second floor of the old hotel or café space and other areas of the ground floor.

Councilwoman Diane Keller said she would like to see information on potential income generated by the proposed uses of the building.

“The ideas that have been proposed are not high-income streams,” she said.

Beedie said he would soon provide the council with the building’s estimated operating costs and potential revenue streams, as well as total relocation costs. Currently, the cost of temporarily relocating traffic lights, power lines and other utility lines for the move is estimated to be $60,000 to $100,000, which would be paid for with CRA money.

The city has a total of $300,000 in CRA money set aside for relocating the building and setting it up in its new spot. The Chamber of Commerce has raised a little more than $5,000 toward its goal of $50,000 for the overall project.

Councilman John Mead said he is aware the chamber and members of the business community support relocating the building and using it for the various proposed purposes.

“It could be cost neutral, or not an expense to the city” if the leased spaces work out as intended, Mead said. “It won’t be a burden to the city but an asset, to my understanding.”

Last January the council accepted the donation of the building from its previous owners, Tom and Nicole Rothrauff and the Wyninger family. The Rothrauffs plan to build their new home on the hotel’s original site after the building is moved.

Honoring an agreement

City officials in January had expressed hope of moving the structure in May, but the necessary utility relocation tasks have turned out to be much more time-consuming than expected.

Later, “We were hopeful (the move) would happen before Thanksgiving, but here we are a week before Thanksgiving and we’re just awarding the bid,” Beedie told the council Tuesday while noting that the building’s previous owners were at the meeting.

“We want to work with you all, but we want to see the process move forward so we can make use of the land (that the old hotel still stands on and that) we pay taxes on,” Nicole Rothrauff told the council.

Councilman Scott Smith said even if the relocated building doesn’t generate a profit, the structure will represent “an enhancement to our community and our overall downtown plan.”

But Councilman Mike Holmes said he was “embarrassed” that the city committed itself to accepting the donation of the building and relocating it without knowing all of the costs involved.

“Shame on the Chamber of Commerce,” Holmes added. “I don’t think they held up their end of the bargain” in raising its pledged $50,000. “We are charged to be stewards of the city’s money. It shouldn’t be the city’s responsibility to save that building; I voted to accept (the donation of the building), but I don’t agree with that decision now.

“But I have to honor our agreement with (the Rothrauffs and Wyningers) to accept the building and move it.”

Earlier at the meeting, chamber President/CEO Ted Corcoran said some large donors have said they’ll give money for the project once the building is actually moved.

“The chamber is still committed to raising $50,000,” Corcoran said. 

Before the council awarded the contract to Ducky Johnson House Movers at its regular meeting, it held a special session at which it approved moving forward with a conceptual road-realignment plan to move heavy traffic away from the central downtown area.

The conceptual plan calls for shifting the entire alignment of U.S. Highway 98 out of the historic downtown and off Miracle Strip Parkway. The two-way U.S. 98 would extend along Perry Avenue and an area north of First Street, then down Eglin Parkway to where it meets the Miracle Strip by De’ France Indoor Fleamarket Antiques and Collectibles.

In that scenario, the Miracle Strip Parkway would be reduced to a two-lane collector road with much more on-street parking. The collector road would merge onto the portion of U.S. 98 that leads to the Brooks Bridge. Also, Florida Place might be shifted farther to the west, meaning the potential loss of some parking spots at the new site of Gulfview Hotel.

Such changes would require the approval of the FDOT. It continues to study the exact placement of the new Brooks Bridge, which could begin being built in 2022.

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