FWB hopes to find tenant for downtown building

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TONY JUDNICH @Tonyjnwfdn

FORT WALTON BEACH — City officials are accepting proposals through late March from entities interested in leasing the city-owned building that formerly housed Venture Hive on the north end of Fort Walton Landing.

The roughly 5,900-square-foot building is at 139 Brooks St. SE. The nonprofit Emerald Coast Science Center leased the property at below-market rates from 1989 until late 2014, when it moved to its current location on Memorial Parkway.

Venture Hive, a Miami-based business incubator and accelerator that helps veterans who want to become entrepreneurs, then leased the building on Brooks Street at a fair-market price from early 2015 until last summer.

Venture Hive’s two-year lease “allowed them space for the program launch and also ensured that the building would be vacant again by the time the Landing improvement project began,” City Manager Michael Beedie said Wednesday in an email to the Daily News.

Later this year, the city hopes to begin work on various Landing upgrades, such as renovation and construction of about 875 feet of boardwalk along the Santa Rosa Sound, construction of new sidewalks and the creation of a “living shoreline” made of oyster reefs and salt marsh.

Beedie said Venture Hive is still in operation locally and is looking for a new location, possibly in the FWB Commerce and Technology Park.

City officials in January issued the latest request for proposals to lease the Brooks Street building, which stands on a 0.82-acre lot. The bid opening is set for March 27, and the winning bid will be presented to the City Council for its approval.

More than a dozen people commented on the building in a recent city of Fort Walton Beach Facebook post about the RFP.

“This building should be torn down to expand the footprint of the Landing,” said former City Councilman Bobby Nabors, who owns Liquid Surf and Sail and co-owns The Boardroom Pub & Grub just north of the Landing. “It should not be used to commercialize the Landing. What makes this park great is that it is wide open to be used by all citizens for a wide variety of uses.”

Nabors added that “the city should never be in the business of competing with its taxpayers and business owners. And by putting the city’s most prized piece of property on the market for lease you are absolutely doing that while jeopardizing the spirit of that park.”

Mark Hawkins, who owns The Block on Eglin Parkway, said, “One should consider it to be a public pavilion with nicer restrooms instead of another business fighting for customers … the footprint is already there.”

And local Realtor Courtney Laird Solley suggested using the space for “an open air market with fresh veggies-fruits, with a large deck for afternoon cocktails/beer and homemade ice cream for the kids.”

Mayor Dick Rynearson said he is aware of the concerns about the city offering the building for lease.

“It is not the city’s intent to compete with other businesses,” he said Wednesday. “If the Venture Hive building can be leased at a competitive rate, then we’re not taking advantage of any business, and no business is taking advantage of us. And I’m sure the city would be open to a sale at a competitive price.”

Beedie said the council asked staff to explore the options for how to best use the building to benefit the city as a whole.

“The possibilities are wide open at this point; and whether the city enters into an agreement with an existing business, a new enterprise, or pursues another alternative for the Landing Park will ultimately hinge on the viability of the proposals that we receive, as well as on the will of the council,” Beedie said.


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