Tuesday, December 29, 2009

NEW MISSIONS FOR EGLIN AFB MEANS MORE MILITARY AND CIVILIANS JOBS

I have noted on a number of occasions in the past that Eglin AFB will be on the eyes of the country for a number of reasons. Recently, the Air Force has started to be a little more open on the future plans for this area and will try to be more open on future new programs being planned so our local business community leaders can plan . As the Vice President of the Northwest Florida Military Officer's, I do get the privilege to be part of conversations, which outline the future here. Without losing their trust with some of the information, I also inform developers and builders know that this is a great area for growth. READ ON BELOW


New missions to bring more military personnel, civilian jobs
Mona Moore
2009-12-11 09:45:50

Base realignment and closure measures have become the base’s version of a stimulus program.
Col. Bruce McClintock, commander of the 96th Air Base Wing, shared the good news Friday in a media briefing he plans to make a monthly tradition.
“It’s a different economic environment and we’re growing. We’re opening the doors to jobs for our shared community,” he said.
McClintock announced what he called an era of growth. The base will increase in population, offer more jobs and improve housing.
With the drawdown of the 33rd Fighter Wing, Eglin’s population has been on a two-year decline that ended in November. More than 1,000 base personnel changed stations.
Over the next six years, the population is expected to increase by more than 6,200, thanks to the Army’s 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) and the Joint Strike Fighter training school.
Preparations for the new missions include an increase in civilian jobs, from carpenters to engineers. McClintock said the new opportunities were already starting. A quick search of Eglin positions on USAjobs.gov produced more than 1,000 results.
Planning for the growth has been in the works since the announcement of the BRAC-initiated missions. The base finally is at the hiring stage of the plans, McClintock said.
“For example, by 2012, we will need 42 additional civil engineer personnel,” he said. “It’s important to communicate that’s 42 more people we’ll be able to hire because of BRAC.”
Those numbers could increase if the base receives more than the initial 59 F-35 jets. Eglin is one of 11 bases still under consideration.
Other bases being considered include the Boise Air Terminal Air Guard Station, Idaho; Holloman Air Force Base, N.M.; Luke Air Force Base, Ariz.; and Tucson International Airport Air Guard Station, Ariz.
The Air Force also named six candidates for operational bases. Jacksonville International Airport, the only other Florida location on the lists, could house 18 jets with the Florida National Air Guard Station, said U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The Air Force used previously announced basing criteria such as airspace, flight training ranges, weather and support facilities to develop the list. In addition, McClintock said the Air Force will consider support the mission has in the community.
“The biggest indication is how the community’s responding to issues. Are they willing to accommodate the mission?” McClintock said.
McClintock’s briefing also included an update on the base’s housing solutions. Efforts to privatize housing have stalled three times since 2005.
The base’s original plans fizzled because of Hurricane Ivan and the increasing costs of construction, then were met with disfavor when sites at Camp Pinchot and Poquito Bayou were included.
Last year’s attempt to place all housing on Eglin’s main base was canceled because of the supplemental environmental impact statement for the Joint Strike Fighter.
McClintock then decided to invest more than $13 million to renovate existing housing and recreation. The plan started this year with $7.5 million in improvements.
“We’ve got to stop waiting for housing and improve the housing we have,” he said.
Renovations include $1.2 million to replace fixtures in 574 homes and a $5 million budget request to do more extensive renovations to 100 homes.
Playground renovations, new bike paths and running tracks are also in the works.

Monday, December 28, 2009

7TH SPECIAL FORCES MOVING RAPIDLY MORE WAYS THAN ONE

The following is an excerpt from the local newspaper at Fort Bragg. Some notes to gather from this is, one, 2010 is the "home stretch" and "completion deadline" is 2011. The word from the powers to be is, they want their soldiers in place in the new Army Base by May 2011. Reason: Get the families involved in the community and kids ready for the next school year.


Published: 09:31 PM, Sun Dec 27, 2009
Buzz on BRAC: On track as we enter a new year
Henry Cuningham

Two of the biggest remaining BRAC projects for Fort Bragg seem to be on track as we enter 2010. The coming year is approaching the "home stretch" before the 2011 completion deadline. The 2005 Base Closure and Realignment law gave the Defense Department six years to complete the programs. The $292 million headquarters complex for Forces Command and U.S. Army Reserve Command is where it needs to be on the road to completion, said Dan Davis, resident engineer for the project for the Army Corps of Engineers.
"We are scheduled to be 42 percent, and we are at 42 percent," Davis said.
The contractor, Hensel Phelps, put the final steel beam in place earlier this month. Prefabricated panels give the appearance of rapid progress. The four-star and three-star commands are moving to Fort Bragg from Fort McPherson in Atlanta. The other big project involves people leaving Fort Bragg. That's the 7th Special Forces Group's move to Eglin Air Force Base near Fort Walton Beach, Fla.. Lt. Gen. John Mulholland, commander of U.S. Army Special Operations Command, said he has made several trips to check progress, and construction is maybe even ahead of schedule. "There's no question in my mind that five or six years from now it will be the envy of Army Special Forces," he said. "They are going to have all-new ranges tailored for their needs." He said his two biggest concerns are ensuring that the unit is able to continue doing its military job - "because the mission doesn't go away" - and that the move goes smoothly for family members. The 7th Group is making combat rotations to Afghanistan while taking care of its responsibilities in Latin America, its traditional area of operations. The group has about 2,000 soldiers and 4,000-plus family members. "It's sizeable for us, small in the context of BRAC and Bragg and other units moving around," Mulholland said.Got a tip or a question on BRAC? Contact military editor Henry Cuningham at cuninghamh@fayobserver.com or 486-3585.

AIR FORCE CONSTRUCTION BUDGET TO NEARLY DOUBLE

If you are a developer and have not got your eye on just the military construction money getting ready to start immediately, you just might miss the boat. The below is just an example of the construction in the U.S. by the Air Force. The other services are sure to follow. You can see that most of this is in the U.S. because of the emphasis of moving our military folks back to the states.

AF’s construction budget to nearly double
By Michelle Tan - Staff writer
Posted : Monday Dec 28, 2009 6:50:17 EST

About $2.4 billion is headed to the Air Force for new or better dormitories, fitness centers, training centers, control towers and runways.
The service’s slice of fiscal 2010 military construction funds includes $1.45 billion for the active-duty force, $371 million for the Air National Guard, $112 million for the Reserve and $475 million for key bases in Afghanistan. The Air Force’s fiscal 2009 share was $1.12 billion for the active force, $243 million for the Guard and $37 million for the Reserve.
For all the services, the military construction budget is $13.5 billion. About $11.8 billion will go to the active-duty components.
The totals do not include money set aside for family housing construction, base realignment and closure, and study, planning, design and engineering services for future projects.
Final approval of the funds came Dec. 13, when the Senate passed the 2010 consolidated appropriations bill. President Barack Obama also must sign off on the measure.
A glance at a handful of the Air Force’s higher price-tag projects:
* $109 million for a basic training classroom and dining complex and recruit dormitory at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas.
* $84.2 million for F-35 Lightning structures and a 96-room dormitory at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.
* $65 million for a close-air support apron and an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance apron at Kandahar Air Base, Afghanistan.
* $61 million for a cargo helicopter apron and a tactical airlift apron at Kandahar.
* $60 million for work on a multi-use complex at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar.
* $43 million for air base development at Palanquero Air Base, Colombia.
* $41.9 million for combat search-and-rescue HC-130J Hercules structures and a 144-room dormitory at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz.
* $37.5 million for an unmanned aerial system formal training unit at Holloman Air Force Base, N.M.
* $27 million for an information technology complex at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.
* $26 million for a Guard F-22 Raptor low observable/composite repair center at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii.
* $23.5 million for a fitness center at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany.
* $21.2 million to expand U.S. Air Forces Central headquarters at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C.
* $20.3 million for taxiway repairs at Altus Air Force Base, Okla.
* $17.6 million to expand the Cadet Fitness Center at the Air Force Academy in Colorado.
* $16 million for a 120-room dormitory at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla.
* $14.5 million to expand the deployment center at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D.
* $13.8 million for a cargo terminal at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan.
* $12.6 million for an F-22 Raptor weapons load training center at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska.
* $10 million for missile procedures training operations at Minot Air Force Base, N.D.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

NEW MILITARY RESORT DEVELOPER HAS BEEN SELECTED

As I noted is previous emails, the use of this land by the Air Force will be a major draw for our area.

A new military resort is coming to Okaloosa Island
Mona Moore
2009-12-24 15:16:05
EGLIN AFB — Innisfree Hotels Inc., has been pegged to develop and operate Emerald Breeze Resort Group, Eglin’s proposed 17-acre military resort on Okaloosa Island.
Innisfree Development will develop the resort and Innisfree Hotels will manage the hotel.
Innisfree owns the Holiday Inn Express and Hilton Garden Inn in Orange Beach, Ala., and the Hilton Pensacola Beach Gulf Front and Hampton Inn on Pensacola Beach.
Innisfree has partnered with DCK Corp., the general contractor for the project, according to a news release the company issued Wednesday.
“I think these days, in this economy, to see something moving forward is pretty exciting,” said Jim Breitenfeld of the Economic Development Council of Okaloosa County.
The resort will be a commercial hotel open to the public but that will caters to military members. Innisfree intends to offer thousands of room nights at deeply discounted rates for retired and active-duty military members from all branches of the service.
“The Emerald Breeze will introduce the Emerald Coast community to airmen, soldiers and sailors who may otherwise not have had to opportunity to vacation here, enhancing economic impact,” said Maj. Gen. Charles R. Davis, commander of the Air Armament Center at Eglin. “Emerald Breeze will provide first-class, affordable resort accommodations to our military members and their families. We are pleased our cooperative efforts are providing a venue to increase morale opportunities for our warriors and their families.”
The Air Force presented its Emerald Breeze Resort proposal last January as the best use for Test Site A-5 next to the Sheraton Four Points hotel.
Part of the resort’s roof will be secured and reserved for military receivers, sensor equipment and offices to keep the test site operational.
The first phase of the resort will feature a beachfront pool, 150 rooms and two commercial spaces that will be available for lease. Future phases include at least 100 additional rooms. With 600 feet on the Gulf of Mexico, the resort will also offer direct beach access.
Alternative energy and other green features would be required “wherever feasible,” according to the Air Force’s plan.
The proposed $24 million development is expected to have a significant economic impact for Okaloosa County, according to Larry Sassano, president of the county’s Economic Development Council.
“The Air Force's Emerald Breeze Enhanced Use Lease (EUL) project will help create close to $50 million in economic impact for Okaloosa County and the surrounding areas,” Sassano said in the news release. “This 17-acre parcel is located along some of the most pristine beaches in Northwest Florida.”
The EUL Program is a major part of the Air Force Real Property Agency’s (AFRPA) mission to manage, acquire and dispose of Air Force real property worldwide.
Similar military lodges exist at Walt Disney World in Orlando, on Waikiki in Hawaii and in the German Alps.
The development will be Eglin’s third ELU program. The Mid-Bay Bridge and the Northwest Regional Airport expansions were also a part of the program.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

NOVEMBER 2009 HOUSING CONSTRUCTION ON THE RISE

There is some good news in the home buildling horizon for the upcoming new year and with the help of our county leaders we will benefit both directly and indirectly. I believe you could say the glass is half full and not have empty. Especially in our area, when we have the world's eyes on on area and the defense of our county depending on it.


November housing construction up 8.9 percent WASHINGTON (AP) – Dec. 16, 2009 – Construction of new homes, helped by better weather, rebounded in the U.S. in November following a setback in the previous month.The gain is a hopeful sign that the housing recovery is continuing, a development viewed as critical to lifting the overall economy out of recession.The Commerce Department says construction of new homes and apartments rose 8.9 percent in November to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 574,000 units. The gain represented strength in all areas of the country although the increase was slightly lower than economists had expected.Applications for new building permits were also up, rising 6 percent to an annual rate of 584,000 units, a stronger showing than economists predicted.Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press, Martin Crutsinger, AP economics writer

ARMY 7TH SPECIAL FORCES BASE TAKES SHAPE AND CONSTRUCTIONS CREWS ARE ARRIVING

I recommend we continue to not only follow folks coming with the Army to our areq, but the folks with Hensel Phelps and the a number of other area contractors who are bringing a large number of construction folks, who should be here to stay for quite some time. It is my opinion, if you were to be an informed consumer and as some have said, we use our two ears and one mouth, and we listen twice as much as with speak, we will find a lot more prosperity on the horizon, which will require us to act NOW.


Special Forces complex taking shape (with aerial photo gallery)
John Parrott
2009-12-04 12:27:31
From State Road 85, there is little indication a massive construction project is underway to build the future home of the U.S. Army 7th Special Forces group coming to Crestview.
Scrub oak and pine are interspersed west of State Road 85 and south of Shoal River, much as it has been for the past 30 years.
The only visible clue that something is afoot is a new asphalt road west of the traffic light at Duke Field.
Visitors who drive a little more than four miles down that road, however, are confronted with a square mile of heavy construction that includes everything from two 200-foot-tall, quarter-million-gallon water tanks, to a 150,000-square-foot administration building which, when finished, will become headquarters for the 7th Special Forces.
That building is flanked by four massive 200,000-square-foot buildings, which will serve as battalion headquarters for support personnel. A phalanx of smaller buildings is peppered all around the vast construction site.
Plans include four 96-bed dormitories for unmarried soldiers, along with amenities such as a mini mall, outlying shops, a dining facility, chapel and a small medical clinic.
There is a lot to be done and little time to do it, said U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Project Manger John Krishack.
“We understand the timeline that we are under,” Krishack said. “And it is for that reason we want things ready for the first boots to hit the ground sometime around April 2011 because the first guys here will have to be the communications types who will have to set up post communications.”
Nearly 500 men and machines are working to convert 500 acres of former woodland into a modern concrete and steel military cantonment that will have a little of everything.
Gulf Power is building an adjacent substation that will provide power for the facility, and two deep wells will provide an independent water supply for the post.
A sewer line is being laid to the west and then south to connect to the new transfer station in Shalimar.
“We will have the entire infrastructure up and running by the time the first wave arrives,” Krishack said.
Although four out of five of the members of the 7th Special Forces are married, plans do not include family housing. That decision was made early on with the knowledge there is more than adequate family housing available in Crestview, officials said.
That’s good news for the local real estate market, which is not nearly as flat in other areas around the state, local Remax realtor Brett House said.
“We’ve already closed on one house that is directly tied to the 7th Special Forces move and we anticipate a lot more in the very near future,” House said.
The arrival of the Army unit could also help offset an anticipated drop in customers at the Crestview Walmart when the chain opens a store in Niceville in 2011.
“We’ve enjoyed a good solid relationship from our Niceville customers and the 7th Special Forces guys and their families may help pick up those expected losses,” said Crestview Walmart Manager Pat Riley said.
Crestview Mayor David Cadle was even more optimistic about the arrival of 2,800 army troops and their families.
“We’ve been looking for that moment for a long time,” Cadle said. “Our entire team, the chamber of commerce, business and civic leaders have worked tirelessly toward making them feel at home, and that’s what we intend to do.”
The project has not been without controversy. Critics have questioned why no local contractors were hired to help build the massive cantonment just outside Crestview’s city limits.
“Basically it is such a large and complicated construction job, it requires the acumen and financial backing of contractors who could assume the enormous financial risks,” Krishack said. “For that reason, small construction companies were excluded. They simply could not meet the statutory financial requirements.”
There are strict guidelines that govern the contract selection and bid-award process. Bidding companies must prove they have available resources to assume the job, and must further prove they are in a financial position that eliminates the possibility of bankruptcy or default, Krishack said.
Very few small construction companies have the expertise or workforce to manage those kinds of resources, Krishack said, adding that it is extremely difficult for small companies to compete on large-dollar contracts simply because the risks are so great.
Hensel–Phelps Construction Company was awarded the $300-million contract. The company has consistently been rated among the top 10 general contractors in the United States for the past 25 years.
Local contractors will be able to hire on as subcontractors during phase two of the project, which is reserved for small businesses, Krishack said.
Roughly 1,200 local contract personnel will be offered jobs during the second phase of construction, which is expected to wrap up in April or May of 2011, Krishack said.

Friday, December 4, 2009

FLORIDA GOVERNOR BREAKS GROUND OF STATE ROAD 85-123 INTERCHANGE (SPEEDWAY TO CRESTVIEW)

If you have been following my Blog, you will now see how important the North Part of Okaloosa County will become for the military in their growth for the future with the official ground breaking of the SR 85-123 Interchange. Not only have we been talking about it, the local, state, and federal government is putting their money where their mouth is, as well? Great job folks. In the next few years, we will become a mecca for international activity which will be seen around the globe. If you can get on this ride of this growth, you surely enjoy being part of something great.

Crist breaks ground for SR 85-123 interchange
Angel McCurdy
2009-12-03 19:48:29
Several small piles of dirt outside the Northwest Florida Regional Airport on Thursday signified the beginning of one of the largest transportation projects in Okaloosa County.
Gov. Charlie Crist dug in the first gold shovel to kick off construction of an interchange at State Road 85 and State Road 123 near the airport to relieve congestion and improve safety.
Since the project was proposed in 2005, local officials worked to get construction started, thinking the project would begin in 2012. But with federal money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act made available to Florida, the Okaloosa-Walton Transportation Planning Organization pushed for an earlier schedule.
“We made this a top priority,” said Fort Walton Beach City Councilman Bill Garvie, chairman of the TPO. “It’s the most important thing for our area with troops coming in and for general safety on the road.”
The $32.4 million project is scheduled to be completed in April 2012.
In addition to interchange, work will include widening SR 85 to six lanes between General Bond Boulevard and the airport.
“The reconstruction is all about jobs, boosting the local economy and providing much-needed transportation improvements in the region,” Crist said. “Thanks to this project, Florida’s roads will be safer and less congested for families, businesses and tourists.”
Crist was joined by Florida Secretary of Transportation Stephanie Kopelousos and Col. William S. Porter Jr. of Eglin Air Force Base.
“With Eglin going through mission changes, this project is great for the community and for Eglin,” Porter said of the Army 7th Special Forces (Airborne) making their way to a new home south of Crestview in 2011. “This is the proverbial ‘win-win’ situation for everyone.”
An estimated 5,000 to 6,000 people will move to area when the Special Forces group arrives.
According to DOT district spokesman Tommie Speights, more than 30,000 drivers a day travel through the SR 85-123 intersection.
“The congestion here in the area was causing issues not only on the roadway, but at the airport,” Speights said. “It was important on the project list to improve safety.”
Utility and drainage work near the intersection began in late summer.
During construction, no lane closures will be permitted on northbound SR 85 between 7 a.m. and 8:30 p.m. or on southbound SR 85 between 6 a.m. and 7:30 p.m.
“We are focused to make sure people can go to where they need to go and get to where they need to get when they need to get there,” Crist said. “These improvements will get us there.”

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

ADDITIONAL MILITARY CONSTRUCTION MONEY COMING TO THE STATE OF FLORIDA

I guess you can see by the amount of money the Department of Defense has ear marked for a number of military bases in the State of Florida, that the State of Florida will be very important for our National Security. I expect with the change in military strategy we should see some additional money coming our way, as we close up our military bases aboard, which will save the military a significant amount of money.

US Senate OK's funding for Florida military and VA construction projects. Senate approves funding for improvements. Bill now goes to conference.

The effort to base a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier in Jacksonville took another big step forward today when the U.S. Senate committed $75.9 million for two key projects at Naval Station Mayport.

The move comes just three weeks after the President signed into law legislation that gave the government’s approval but not the actual money for the projects.

The money was included in broader legislation that funds numerous construction projects at military bases and veterans’ facilities across the country.
Specifically, the military construction appropriations bill allocates $46.3 million for dredging the St. Johns River, an improvement that’s necessary for carriers to access Mayport at all times.
Currently, nuclear-powered aircraft carriers can only access Mayport with a light load and during high tide.

The legislation also includes $29.6 million for wharf improvements.
Currently, the Navy’s Atlantic fleet of nuclear carriers is based in just one port in Norfolk, Virginia.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and U.S. Reps. Corrine Brown and Ander Crenshaw, a Democrat and a Republican from Jacksonville, respectively, argue that poses a national security risk.
The Department of Defense is studying the risks and expected to make a final decision imminently on whether to move a nuclear carrier to Jacksonville.

“We’ve gotten the government’s OK for the improvements, now we just need to bring home the funding,” Nelson said following the Senate’s vote Tuesday. “Once we have that then it’s up to the Pentagon to do the right thing for national security by dispersing the Atlantic carrier fleet.”
The House of Representatives has already passed a version of the military construction spending bill that contains funding for the Mayport improvements.

The House and Senate passed spending bills now head to a panel of congressional negotiators charged with working out differences between the two versions.
Congress is expected to give final approval for the Mayport funding by the end of the year.
Besides Mayport, the spending bill also provides over $920 million in funding for a number of other construction projects across Florida. They include:• Eglin AFB - $246.49M of military construction funding for various F-35 and 7th Special Forces Group basing projects.• Orlando VA - $371.3M for new VA medical facility.• Bay Pines VA Healthcare System - $96.8M for an inpatient/outpatient facility. • Hurlburt Field - $18.65M of military construction funding for a vehicle maintenance facility, re-capitalization of an MC-130 simulator, and electrical improvements.• Pensacola Naval Air Station - $26.2M for a new bachelors enlisted housing facility and a simulator facility.• Whiting Field - $4.12M for a paraloft facility.• Panama City - $7.3M to purchase land for a new Army Reserve Center.• Jacksonville Naval Air Station - $5.91M to modify existing facilities for the Navy's new P-8 aircraft.• Jacksonville International Air Port (Air National Guard base) - $11.5M to replace a jet fuel storage complex.• Blount Island - $3.76M for a port operations facility.• Patrick Air Force Base - $8.4M for a combat weapons training facility.• MacDill Air Force Base - $38.3M for a new child development center and U.S. Central Command’s commandant facility.• U.S. Southern Command headquarters - $55.4 M for the 3rd increment of the headquarters’ project.• West Palm Beach - $26M to purchase land for a new Army Reserve Center.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

NORTHWEST FLORIDA HAS POTENTIONAL TO SURPASS THE HIGH-TECH GROWTH OF THE NORTH CAROLINA'S RESEARCH TRIANGLE

As noted on many occasions, with the new Panama City International Airport and the multi-missions/multi-services at Eglin AFB and the surrounding military bases, Northwest Florida will be on the map for both the national and international communities to not only invest, but enjoy the many things our region has to offer (like the crystal white beaches of the Gulf Coast).

By PAT KELLY / News Herald Writer
2009-11-13 20:49:06
PANAMA CITY BEACH — The new economic development czar for The St. Joe Co. told the Panama City Beach Chamber of Commerce on Friday that Northwest Florida had the potential to duplicate or even surpass the high-tech growth of North Carolina’s research triangle.
With the new Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport set to open in May, the region’s “branding” is poised to go from bathing suits to business suits, said Kevin Johnson, new vice president of economic development for St. Joe.
“You can not only have a great tan, but make a million bucks,” said Johnson, who previously served as business development vice president for the Research Triangle Foundation of North Carolina.
All that was needed to make it happen was “regional leadership,” he said, with the opposition coming from a divisiveness generated by the parochial squabbling of interests represented by “political jurisdictions.”
“The enemy of high-impact economic development progress is political jurisdictions,” said Johnson, who will encourage companies such as aerospace, aviation and defense to expand or relocate near the new $318 million airport under construction near West Bay.
When the research triangle was first formed by state and local governments in the late 1950s, North Carolina was the second-poorest state in the country, Johnson said. Today, North Carolina ranks 25th in the country and the area around the research triangle has the second-highest per-capita income in the state.
“I think we can do that here,” Johnson said.
Both Johnson and airport executive director Randy Curtis were speaking to the chamber Friday about the economic influence of the new airport, the center of a 71,000-acre state-sanctioned West Bay Area Sector Plan of long-term industrial and residential development.
Johnson said the 7,000-acre research triangle in North Carolina is one of the most prominent research-and-development centers in the United States. It is sometimes compared to Silicon Valley, Calif., another high-tech corridor now dominated by computer companies.
Johnson said the West Bay Sector, with 10 times as many acres, roughly the size of Washington, D.C., had the capacity to outstrip the North Carolina effort by creating a “new urban land form.”
The resulting development could revolutionize the economic landscape of Northwest Florida “to put a stamp on it for a new generation,” Johnson told the large chamber crowd.
“We still don’t have the numbers,” he said, noting that he has asked for labor data for 100 miles in every direction from the new airport. His research will be shared with prospective industries.
Corps letter
Curtis told the crowd the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers sent a letter Thursday to the Federal Aviation Administration, giving its approval for the 1,600-foot extension on the new airport’s runway, which will lengthen the runway to 10,000 feet.
“We are ready to go” on the extension’s construction as soon as the FAA signs off on the Corps’ recommendation, Curtis said after the meeting.
Not only are airport officials hopeful the new facility will make its projected May 18 grand opening, “it’s more than a goal; it will happen,” Curtis told the chamber crowd.
Curtis briefed the crowd on the construction progress of the new airport’s 120,000 square feet of terminal space, 2.5 miles of main access road and the facility’s 16,000-square-foot baggage handling area, which he called “truly state-of-the-art technology.”

Friday, November 13, 2009

HOMEBUYER TAX CREDIT HAS ADDED BENEFITS FOR ARMED FORCES

Here is a great opportunity for our service men and women to benefit from the Tax Credit. In our area and the missions our folks have, it will be a great plus.


SAN DIEGO – Nov. 13, 2009 – According to the National Association of Realtors@ (NAR), the recent homebuyer tax credit extension expands benefits for the U.S. military.Armed service, intelligence service and foreign service personnel on active duty and out of the U.S. for 90 days during any part of 2009 get an additional year to buy their homes – to May 1, 20ll. Another benefit is a waiver on the time of occupancy. Most homebuyers using the tax credit must use that home as a principal residence for a period of no fewer than three years or forfeit the entire credit. But military, intelligence and foreign service members do not have to repay the credit if they sell their home in less than three years if they move because of official business. “NAR is the leading advocate for private property and homeownership issues, and firmly believes that those who are in service to their country should be full participants in the homebuyer tax credit law,” says NAR President Charles McMillan. “These men and women are often hindered by hardships from full participation in the American dream of homeownership because their duty disrupts them in the buying and selling of a home.” NAR was a main advocate for the homebuyer’s tax credit extension into 2010 and its expansion to include present homeowners. Under the tax credit extension, eligible first-time homebuyers can get a tax credit up to $8,000. Current homeowners are eligible for a $6,500 tax credit, provided they have lived in the home they are selling, or have sold, as their principal residence for five consecutive years in the past eight years. Income limits for eligible homebuyers are expanded to $125,000 for single buyers and $225,000 for couples. The purchase price of the home cannot exceed $800,000. To help guard against fraud, buyers are required to attach documentation of purchase to their tax return.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

5% OF AMERICAN PLAN TO BUY A HOME NEXT YEAR

Ready, Get Set, GO!!!! That is my view of the real estate market for the Panhandle of Florida. With the confidence building and supply of quality homes coming to an end, the normal military transfer cycle, reduction of military housing on Eglin AFB, and the movement of thousands of military members to our area; I suspect we will find our area taking off quite rapidly. Just an observation. STAY TUNED.


NEW YORK – Nov. 11, 2009 – One in 20 Americans say they plan to buy a home within the next year, and they’re most likely to be 34 years old or younger and living in the South or West, according to a survey released Wednesday.Roughly a quarter of potential buyers said the No. 1 reason they would buy now is because prices appear to have bottomed out. That reason topped bargain-priced foreclosures, worries about rising interest rates and a wide selection of homes. The survey, conducted for Move.com, a real estate listings site, reveals how Americans are responding to a nascent and fragile housing recovery after three years of staggering price declines. The percentage of buyers thinking of jumping into the market was down slightly from a March survey, but up about 1 point from a poll in June. Home prices rebounded this summer at an annualized pace of almost 7 percent, according to the Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller home price index. But with high unemployment and foreclosures clouding the picture, economists debate whether prices will dip again. Recent housing figures and homebuilder earnings support a stabilizing housing market, and concerns about the expiration of federal homebuyer tax credit are moot after Congress last week extended and expanded the credit. Buyers who have owned their current homes for at least five years are eligible for tax credits of up to $6,500, while first-time homebuyers - or anyone who hasn’t owned a home in the last three years - would still get up to $8,000. To qualify, buyers have to sign a purchase agreement by April 30, 2010, and close by June 30.The survey was conducted before the credit extension. Those surveyed widely favored federal policies that kept interest rates low and helped troubled homeowners avoid foreclosure over those that helped first-time homebuyers purchase a home. And, overall, 48 percent of those polled didn’t think the government was doing enough to stabilize the housing market, whereas 42 percent thought it was.Forty-five percent of Americans worry that they or someone they know will face foreclosure in the next year. And almost 30 percent of those with a mortgage have contacted their lender in the past year to reduce their payments. One of the survey participants, Joe Handley of Harrington, Del., called his lender last December to consolidate a second mortgage and cut his interest rate from 6.75 percent to 5.25 percent.“We wanted to build up our savings for emergencies,” the 37-year-old said.His timing was prescient. In July, Handley, who works in the information technology department for the State of Delaware, took a pay cut and the $400 monthly savings from the new loan has helped cushion the blow.Almost a quarter of Americans who refinanced their mortgages have used the savings for living expenses or paying down debt, the survey found. Less than 9 percent are putting the savings toward investment or retirement.The telephone poll, which included about two-thirds homeowners and one-third renters, was conducted in October by market research firm GfK. It had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

FLORIDA'S EXISTING HOME & CONDO SALES UP IN THIRD QUARTER 2009

Look out folks. If this is happening on a state level, can you imagine what might be getting ready to happen in our local area with the growth on the horizon and the reduction of military homes. The burden is on the home builders and developers. This burden is only compounded by the access to money to build. BANKS LET THE MONEY GO. If not, you will cause prices to soar again. SUPPLY AND DEMAND. Do I say more?


Florida's existing home, condo sales up in 3Q 2009

ORLANDO, Fla. – Nov. 10, 2009 – Sales of existing single-family homes in Florida rose 33 percent in third quarter 2009 compared to the same period a year earlier, according to the latest housing statistics from Florida Realtors®. A total of 44,345 existing homes sold statewide in 3Q 2009; during the same period the year before, a total of 33,311 existing homes sold. It marks the fifth consecutive quarter that Florida has seen higher existing year-to-year home sales, according to the state association.Statewide sales of existing condominiums in the third quarter rose 56 percent compared to the same time the previous year. This marks the fourth consecutive quarter for increased statewide sales in both the existing home and condo markets compared to year-ago levels. Statewide sales activity in 3Q 2009 also increased over 2Q 2009’s sales figure in both the existing home and existing condo markets, Florida Realtors’ records show. For 3Q 2009, statewide sales of existing homes rose 2.82 percent over the 2Q 2009 figure; existing condo sales statewide in 3Q 2009 increased 0.37 percent over the 2Q 2009 level.To gain insight into current trends in Florida’s real estate industry, the University of Florida’s Bergstrom Center for Real Estate Studies conducts a quarterly survey of industry executives, market research economists, real estate scholars and other experts.“Most economists think the recession is over, but people are afraid to spend money as unemployment keeps going up, which creates problems for every sector of the real estate market,” said Tim Becker, the center’s director.On the positive side, survey respondents expressed increasing optimism about their own business outlook, and predicted great opportunities for future investment. Becker noted that the euro’s favorable exchange rate against the dollar and the availability of desirable commercial property at low prices is encouraging international investors.“Everybody thinks that Florida will rebound because we have so much going for us – the sun shines every day and there are a lot of advantages to living here,” he said. “Foreign investors see that too and believe their prospects are good for long-term investments.”All of Florida’s metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) reported increased sales of existing homes in the third quarter compared to the same three-month-period a year earlier, while 17 MSAs showed gains in condo sales.The statewide existing-home median sales price was $145,400 in the third quarter; a year earlier, it was $185,600 for a decrease of 22 percent. The 3Q 2009 statewide existing-home median sales price was 1.25 percent higher than 2Q’s statewide existing-home median sales price of $143,600. According to industry analysts with the National Association of Realtors® (NAR), sales of foreclosures and other distressed properties continue to downwardly distort the median price because they generally sell at a discount relative to traditional homes. The median is a typical market price where half the homes sold for more, half for less.In the year-to-year quarterly comparison for condo sales, 14,797 units sold statewide for the quarter compared to 9,488 in 3Q 2008 for a 56 percent increase. The statewide existing-condo median sales price was $106,100 for the three-month period; in 3Q 2008, it was $160,100 for a decrease of 34 percent.Low mortgage rates remain another favorable influence on the housing sector. According to Freddie Mac, the national commitment rate for a 30-year conventional fixed-rate mortgage averaged 5.16 percent in 3Q 2009; one year earlier, it averaged 6.32 percent.

MILITARY GET 3.4 PERCENT PAY RAISE FOR 2010

President Obama signed the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act which includes a 3.4 percent pay increase for all servicemembers. This raise is .5 percent lower than the 2009 military pay increase. However, considering current economic conditions this may prove to be a generous increase when compared to the civilian wage rates.

The 2010 military pay increase will go into effect on January 1, 2010 and will be reflected by the mid-January paydate.

This does not include the Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH), which service members get for living off base. This amount is adjusted to the average rental market in the surrounding area and a few other criterias from the previous year. These new amounts are expected to be released in mid-December 2009. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

ARMY 7TH SPECIAL FORCES TO GET OVERPASS FOR HWY 85

If you don't think the Army's 7th Special Forces is important to our region and the country. Think again. It didn't take long for the Federal Government to decide how important this overpass would be for our area and the Army. History note. Eglin AFB started as an Army Base. I believe it will come full circle and the Army is sure to play a major role in our local military population. I also believe from the happenings of the world and our military, we should get use to seeing a lot more Army Green than Air Force Blue in the near future. Also, I believe some have talked about Eglin Air Force Base being changed to Eglin Armed Forces Base.

Funding secured for SR 85 overpass
Dusty Ricketts
2009-11-04 19:05:01
CRESTVIEW — Funding has been secured to build an overpass on State Road 85 to reduce congestion as additional traffic arrives because of the bed down of the 7th Special Forces Group.
U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller has worked to secure funding for the overpass, to be located at SR 85 and McWhorter Avenue, since it was announced in 2005 that the Army’s 7th Special Forces would be headquartered on Eglin Air Force Base.
“We started the process then because we knew there would need to be some type of traffic control device there, and a red light would just slow traffic down and cause more congestion,” Miller said. “An overpass certainly makes much more sense.”
The project will include an elevated road at the entrance to Duke Field that would cross over State Road 85. The restricted road would allow military personnel and equipment to cross SR 85 without impeding traffic.
Miller said the biggest issue with the $15 million project was trying to determine who would fund it. In addition to having talks with the Army and Air Force about it, Miller met with state and federal Departments of Transportation representatives and even county officials.
Ultimately, it was decided that the funds for the overpass would come from the Air Force’s 2010 BRAC budget.
“It could have dragged on for several years,” Miller said. “The idea was to look for funding in as many areas as possible and of course access the first funds to come available.”
With funding allocated, Miller said work will now start on the design of the overpass. Planning is expected to be a relatively quick process as the military already owns the land on both sides of SR 85, so no land acquisition is needed.
Still, no timeline has been announced for when construction is expected to begin.
Construction is under way west of SR 85 on a 600,000-square-foot facility that will serve as the headquarters of the 7th Special Forces. An estimated 5,000 to 6,000 new residents will move to the region when the special forces group arrives in 2011.

Monday, November 2, 2009

ST JOE COMPANY THINKING BIG FOR THE PANHANDLE OF FLORIDA

St. Joe Co. weathers recession by thinking big
By MELISSA NELSON (AP) – 2 hours ago

SANTA ROSA BEACH, Fla. — Building along the Florida Panhandle's picturesque seaside slowed when financing dried up and the economy soured. Fences with architects' renderings of developments hide the unfinished eyesores dotting the beaches.
But the St. Joe Co.'s construction cranes and earth movers never stopped and its high-end vacation retreats and shopping centers are being built along with taxpayer-funded roads and an international airport, the nation's first since the 2001 terrorist attacks. Southwest Airlines recently agreed to service the airport, an announcement St. Joe CEO Britton Greene touted as a milestone in the company's 80-year history.

"This changes the dynamics of what we have as a land company," he said, standing in an unfinished terminal beneath a sign with the May 18 targeted opening.
Rooted in the Great Depression, St. Joe Co. was founded by a DuPont chemical heir who bought a wide swath of the Panhandle for pennies an acre.

Today, St. Joe is pushing a massive plan to transform into an international destination this region long known as the "Redneck Riviera" for its cheap motels, kitschy tourist attractions and appeal among Southern tourists. The strategy's lynchpin: The new Northwest Florida-Panama City International Airport on 4,000 acres west of Panama City donated by the company.
St. Joe's stock price jumped 6 percent to $28.63 a share the afternoon of Oct. 21 when Greene announced the agreement with Dallas-based Southwest to offer eight daily flights out of the airport. The destinations of the Southwest flights haven't been determined. On Monday, the company's stock was trading around $24 a share.

Under an agreement between the company and the airline, St. Joe will cover fuel costs if Southwest fails to break even on ticket purchases during the first three years. The company and the airport will pay up to $14 million the first year and $12 million the second year.
St. Joe Co. operated as a timber and paper manufacturer until 1996 when it got out of those businesses and turned to land development. It hired Peter Rummell, the former head of real estate for Walt Disney Co., and started selling off sections of it's then nearly 1 million acres, which had made it Florida's largest private landowner for decades.

Greene, the company's former chief operating officer, replaced Rummell as CEO in 2008.
The company today owns about 590,000 acres — including 72,000 acres surrounding the new airport — and is Florida's No. 2 private landowner behind Seattle-based Plum Creek Timber Co.
St. Joe is banking it's future on the airport and the estimated 2,000 passengers a day Southwest could bring to open that land to the rest of the country.

A chunk of St. Joe's holdings include undeveloped stretches of pristine Panhandle beaches where white sand is lapped by turquoise waters. The company has slowly developed some of those areas with high-end vacation homes, shopping centers, golf courses and hotels. It has also donated or sold thousands of acres to the state and federal government for roads that will eventually connect company properties in several counties to the airport and to the Panhandle's major interstate.

The company's detractors say St. Joe's massive landholdings and political clout have allowed it to quietly reshape the region with taxpayer money, pushing through public infrastructure projects and zoning changes with little fanfare.

Linda Young, director of the Clean Water Network of Florida, has spent years fighting the airport construction in sensitive wetland areas. But state and federal agencies have generally sided with St. Joe and she said her group is running short of money to continue its legal fight. The New York-based nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council, which also tried to stop the airport, also surrendered.

"When people say that the St. Joe Company is all powerful and that is pointless to stand up against them, I'm hard pressed to argue that," Young said.
St. Joe is unique because of its age and its vast land holdings, said Jim Wilson, a financial analyst with California-based JMP Securities. This makes it difficult to compare St. Joe to other land companies, he said.

Analysts have likened St. Joe to California-based Tejon Ranch, a publicly traded company that started in 1843 as a Mexican land grant and includes 240,000 acres north of Los Angeles, and to Irvine Company, a private firm that began as a large ranch and became the planned community of Irvine, Calif.

"In the Panhandle, St. Joe will have most if not all of the influence over how Florida develops," Wilson said. "They are in good shape financially because they have no debt and very few employees. The question is at what price they sell land and at what pace they sell it. I see that part of Florida developing and expanding, it's just a question of when."

St. Joe hasn't made it through the last several years unscathed as the Florida real estate market tanked. The company slashed more than 700 of its 1,000 employees by outsourcing its golf and resort-management businesses and moving those employees to the contractors it hired. St. Joe also got out of the home-building business and instead began recruiting construction firms as partners to build on its land.

Jerry Ray, longtime St. Joe spokesman and vice president, said the company's size and its massive land holdings have allowed it to weather to downturn.
"We exist because we were forward looking during the Depression," he said. "Because of the land assets that we accumulated back then, we do not have a peer today."

Home sales and construction are ongoing at WaterColor and WaterSound, two luxury home resorts on secluded beaches. At WaterColor, winding brick bike paths circle pastel cottages surrounded by white picket fences. At WaterSound, boardwalks cover sand dunes and lead to Nantucket-style beach homes with wide porches and breathtaking views of the Gulf of Mexico.
In one section of WaterColor, 17 homes were listed for sale at around $850,000 each and two of the homes sold in 2008. In 2009, the company priced the remaining homes for $500,000 or less and sold them all.

St. Joe Vice President Tom Dodson traces lines with his finger from the northeastern United States and the Midwest to the remote swath of Florida Panhandle where his office in the WaterSound development is located.

The airport, he says, will bring the company's vision of a new Florida to the rest of the world.
And the new Florida St. Joe plans to build will be very different from the high-rise condominiums and congested expressways of South Florida, he said.
"What people like, what people embrace about this area, is that there aren't any giant condominiums. We are creating places and you don't do that by blocking views and access to the beach," he said.

CEO Greene says the company has a chance to reshape Florida by creating new towns, resorts, shopping centers, hotels and highways in places that haven't much more than a few timber mills for generations until now.

"Because this part of the state is so new and so green we have the opportunity to be one of the leaders in job growth," he said. "We don't have the massive vacant real estate overhang that they have in other parts of the state."

Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserve

Saturday, October 31, 2009

NATIONAL BUSINESS AIRCRAFT ASSOCIATION CONFERENCE A BIG SUCCESS FOR CRESTVIEW AIRPORT

As you will see below, the Crestview Industrial Airpark has the attention of businesses throughout the world. With Eglin AFB at our doorsteps and our country's emphasises in high tech weapontry and rapid deployment, our region will be on the eyes of the country. You have heard of the silicone valley in California. Be ready to hear about the silcone valley in the Panhandle. The underlining question will be; will investors and developers have access to capital to meet this need.


Bob Sikes Airport attracting corporate interest
Brian Hughes brianh@crestviewbulletin.com
2009-10-30 18:50:49
Northwest Florida Regional Airport may not have lured Southwest Airlines, but Crestview’s Bob Sikes Airport was looking pretty attractive to several business execs attending last week’s National Business Aircraft Association conference in Orlando, said county airports Director Greg Donovan.
Speaking at Wednesday’s meeting of the Crestview Area Chamber of Commerce’s airport committee, Donovan said “several prominent companies are interested in relocating existing operations to Bob Sikes Airport.”
In addition to the $22 million that has been spent in the last three years on airport infrastructure upgrades and improvements, a major attraction is the facility’s effective residential buffer, Donovan said.
“Limiting residential development has been effective,” Donovan said. “That's very important for companies that are interested in investing money for future development.”
Another attraction was a new program being developed by the county commission. Commissioner Wayne Harris described to the committee the new pre-permitting and pre-engineering buildings program that is “in the works,” which will streamline the process to build new commercial development at the airport and in the neighboring Air Park.
One airport tenant, Sunshine Aero president Bob Keller, whose company is constructing a new hangar for its flight-testing businesses, applauded the development.
“We've been working on our permits for a year,” Keller said. “I’ll be glad to see this pre-permitting underway, because it’s a mess right now.”
Okaloosa County Airports snared a prime corner booth for its debut at the NBAA conference. In addition to three county airport staff members, a representative of the regional Economic Development Council attended. Donovan had particular praise for 10 volunteers from the business community who also helped man the booth.
“These people that went stepped up and in a lot of cases, took personal time off to do something very genuine for the community,” Donovan said, noting that most used leave or vacation time to present the airport and its capabilities to the more 30,000 business leaders who attended the highly regarded conference.
“The curious part of this was, it wasn’t just about the people who were walking the hallways and attending the show that we talked to,” Donovan said. “We were actually marketing to our fellow exhibitors.”
For example, one exhibitor at a nearby booth, Donovan said, was dissatisfied with local airport where his company is now based in Ohio, “and he was looking for a place to go,” Donovan. “The dialogue ensued over the course of a week.”
Thanks to the county and city’s representation at NBAA, “Now we have contacts we would not normally have found,” Donovan said.
In other airport business:
• “Fuel sales are breaking records” for the airport’s fixed-base operator, Emerald Coast Aviation, and customer service “is getting rave reviews.”
• The bid for service by Southwest Airlines at Northwest Florida Regional Airport generated lots of national interest in the region, benefiting all area airports. “The competition was enormous,” Donovan said. “We would’ve loved to have them. Another airline is coming and that’s a win for Northwest Florida. This was one chapter of many more to come. There will be many opportunities for air service development.”
• “We’re starting to see a rebound in passengers,” Donovan reported. Other airports are still down “quite a bit more.”
• A recent University of West Florida study shows Okaloosa County airports have more than a $216 million annual impact on the area’s economy.
• As the 7th Special Forces and Joint Strike Fighter programs gear up, “airports will play an important role,” Donovan said.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Southwest Airlines not only has brought excitement to the area; it brought a lot of attention and ideas from potentional investors to help grow the economy. The new international airport with the backing of St. Joe is sure to make travel to the panhandle a lot easier for folks around the country and outside the country. It is my belief, with the selection of Panama City by Southwest Airline, folks from the west will sure find Defuniak Springs and Freeport on the map since accessing the Airport from the west will take it south on Hwy 331 and East on Hwy 20. Stay tuned, I am sure there is a number of projects and attractoins which will be announced soon.

Southwest leads the way to economic growth
By SCARLET SIMS News Herald Writer
2009-10-29 21:56:15
SANDESTIN — Capturing Southwest Airlines as the low-cost carrier at the new international airport is just the beginning of boosting Northwest Florida’s economy, local leaders said Thursday.
“The next decade is going to be our decade,” said Janet Watermeier, Bay County Economic Development Alliance executive director. “Never have the global opportunities for Northwest Florida been greater.”
During the second annual Fall Leadership Summit, a daylong conference in Sandestin, hundreds of businesspeople and local leaders talked about working together to grow the economy.
Southwest Airlines announced earlier this month its plans to begin serving the new Northwest Florida-Panama City International Airport in May. The decision remains the talk among leaders.
Southwest hopes to expand the Panhandle’s tourism industry exponentially by convincing people who might drive to Northwest Florida to fly instead, said keynote speaker Bob Montgomery, Southwest’s vice president of properties.
Southwest is known for its low airfare. Northwest Florida has some of the highest fares in the region, but those are expected to drop when Southwest begins selling tickets in December. Low prices create a demand and that means more people will come to Northwest Florida, Montgomery said.
Other carriers will consider the new airport, said Cynthia Kennedy, Walton Area Chamber of Commerce member.
Airport Executive Director Randy Curtis said plans for the airport include construction to accommodate cargo planes. The airport also hopes to draw international travelers, Curtis said.
“It will take the entire region to make it work,” said Jerry Ray, a St. Joe Co. vice president. “What Southwest does for us is provide a global network.”
St. Joe is the major property holder in Northwest Florida and a major partner with Southwest. The company agreed to repay Southwest should the airline lose money during the first three years of operation at the new airport.
Southwest looked at serving the entire region when the company chose Bay County’s new airport, Montgomery said. Talks with the other regional airports, such as the one in Pensacola, will continue, but Southwest plans to focus on Bay County, he said.
Keynote speaker Brian Wilson said the airport and Southwest offer a golden opportunity to the region. Wilson is a veteran reporter for Fox News and part-time area resident.
“I believe that this particular part of the Florida Panhandle is poised for great things in the not-so-distant future,” Wilson said. “This is the right place, and the right time is just around the corner. The world is about to beat a path to your door.”

Thursday, October 22, 2009

WHAT WILL SOUTHWEST AIRLINES MEAN TO OUR LOCAL ECONOMY

Well folks. Southwest is on their way and the Panhandle of Florida is going to be better for it. As you will see, the impact is far reaching for our region. I am sure more information will be forthcoming, but the initial information on the impact is extraordinary.
Southwest to benefit local businesses, officials say

By SCARLET SIMS and DANIEL CARSON
2009-10-21 17:56:58
WEST BAY — Southwest Airlines will bring lower airfares and draw more businesses to the Panama City area, officials said Wednesday.
“What a low-cost carrier will do is connect us to the world,” said Janet Watermeier, Bay County Economic Development Alliance executive director.
Southwest announced Wednesday its intention to add up to eight direct flights to the new Northwest Florida-Panama City International Airport when it opens in May. The announcement comes after months of speculation about whether the airport could draw a major low-cost carrier. Southwest has about 3,300 flights a day and is the largest U.S. carrier for domestic departures as of last year, according to the company Web site.
Bodine and Watermeier said the low-cost carrier means lower airfares.
Southwest’s average passenger airfare is about $114, according to its Web site. Delta Air Lines, which has served the Panama City airport 25 years, will be competing with Southwest. Using the company Web site, a roundtrip ticket to Washington, D.C., currently costs about $500.
“While we can’t comment on future pricing, Delta is a vigorous competitor in every market we serve,” Delta spokesman Kent Landers said in e-mail.
Delta has a global connection it brings to Panama City, Landers said. On Tuesday the airline announced plans to grow its international flights, according to its Web site.
Delta and its carriers probably will lose passengers to Southwest, said Dr. Rick Harper, the University of West Florida’s Haas Center for Business Research and Economic Development. Northwest Florida Regional Airport in Okaloosa County and Tallahassee Regional Airport are also likely to lose passengers who have been driving an hour to find cheaper fares, he said via e-mail.
Capturing Southwest’s attention means the largest domestic carrier thinks highly of the areas growth potential, Harper said.

Military impact
Southwest’s arrival also will be welcomed by defense contractors and serve as a boon to area efforts in attracting future military missions to Tyndall Air Force Base and Naval Support Activity-Panama City, Panama City-based Applied Research Associates vice president Glen McDonald said.
Businessmen will have fast and affordable transportation, something that is especially important to defense contractors, Bodine said. A lot of defense contractors come in and out of the city, having Southwest might draw even more defense contractors, said Bay County Chamber of Commerce President Carol Roberts.
“It’s a win-win for everyone,” Roberts said. “More people are going to come to the region.”
Watermeier said she knew one contractor who told her that his business would double should Southwest come to Panama City.
ARA vice president Glen McDonald said Wednesday’s announcement would mean more direct flights, lower airfares and a wider choice of travel options for defense contractors.
“It will not only lower our costs, it will also lower military costs,” McDonald said.
Most area contractors fly to the Washington, D.C., area for business purposes, McDonald said, which would make daily flights to Baltimore-Washington International Airport well traveled. Southwest will fly direct from Panama City to four cities, but those locations have not yet been announced.
McDonald said the addition of Southwest’s flights would be “a big deal” for contractors, with the added competition putting pressure on existing carriers to lower their fares as well.
ITT director Matt Miller said Southwest’s arrival would make it cheaper to do business.
“It’s long overdue,” Miller said.
Defense firms have to include travel expenses when they bid contracts, another reason to applaud the Southwest decision, McDonald said.
McDonald said the Department of Defense and various military branches, when considering locations for new military missions and platforms, look at potential travel costs as a factor in their selections.
“In the past, when we’ve been up against those travel costs, we’ve lost,” McDonald said.
ARA had collected data on military, defense contractor, business and overall travel, as well as projected travel, in and out of the area and provided it to the Bay Economic Development Alliance, McDonald said.
He said that information was provided to a number of airline carriers, including Southwest.
Bay Defense Alliance and area officials have been aggressively promoting Tyndall Air Force Base as a possible future F-35 training site in light of the Air Force’s May announcement of its intentions to accelerate the drawdown of Tyndall’s two F-15 squadrons.
BDA President Tom Neubauer said the addition of Southwest would also make Bay County’s military bases more competitive with other bases for future missions.
“Getting those fares down is very, very big,” Neubauer said.

Tourism impact
Other businesses already rooted in the community will benefit, too, said Berg Steel Pipe president David Delie. Delie might fly to Washington, D.C., up to 24 times during a year, he said. More affordable flights will mean either more travel, company savings and also benefit Berg’s customers and venders, he said.
“It’s a good thing for Berg, it’s a good thing for the city,” Delie said. “We’re really excited. It makes doing business a lot easier.”
Getting Southwest also means more tourism, Harper said. That’s exactly what Coastal Vision 3000, an organization established to promote Panhandle tourism, hopes for. Southwest is exactly what the region needed, said Mel Ponder, executive director.
“When they (Southwest) come to an area, the whole area just explodes really,” Ponder said.
Tourists often decide to look at Panama City to open a business, said Gulf Coast Workforce Board executive director Kim Bodine. More businesses might choose to start up in Panama City, she said.
Ponders expects an immediate difference, with about 2,000 seats filled and flying into Panama City the first day. Bodine said area businesses see gradual improvements instead of a major burst because of the recession.
“I think we’ll see an immediate improvement; I’m just not sure how large that will be,” she said.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

SOUTHWEST AIRLINES COMES TO THE PANHANDLE

Lookout Walton and Bay Counties. If this doesn't bring folks and attention to our area, I don't know what can.


Southwest Airlines chooses new Panama City airport
October 21, 2009 11:09 AM
Pat Kelly
Florida Freedom News
WEST BAY — Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly officially announced Wednesday the low-cost carrier will come to the new Northwest Florida-Panama City International Airport when it opens in May.
Kelly’s announcement came shortly after 1 p.m. Wednesday live via “streaming video” as part of Southwest’s media day from Dallas, about 15 minutes after the start of the a Panama City briefing attended by local business leaders and government officials.
The local leaders were meeting at the airport for the expressed purpose of hearing an update on construction progress and airline marketing efforts, but Southwest’s announcement had been anticipated.
The new airport is set to open in May, and Kelly’s confirmation answers one of several questions still remaining, such as whether a low-cost carrier like Southwest Airlines is coming to the West Bay location.
Officials and business leaders in Pensacola, Okaloosa County and Panama City have been courting the coveted carrier for months, citing lower fares that can bring in more tourists and businesses.
“The Panhandle has so much to recommend it,” said U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla. and a leading advocate of the new airport serving the region. “I know that as more and more people and businesses learn about the area, we’ll attract even more jobs and opportunities.”

Monday, October 19, 2009

OKALOOSA COUNTY ASKS FOR $299 MILLION IN STIMULUS MONEY - HWY 85 EXPANSION

Okay folks. If you don't think Okaloosa County has it eyes on moving people to the North, you haven't been keeping your eyes on the ball. If part of this comes to be, it will put Crestview in the bulleye for more growth beyond what is planned.


Okaloosa asks for $299 million in stimulus money for SR 85 expansion
By KARI C. BARLOW Northwest Florida Daily News 315-4438 kbarlow@nwfdailynews.com

Okaloosa County has applied for a $299 million chunk of federal stimulus money to overhaul infrastructure in the north end of the county. The prize being sought is the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER discretionary grant, which is funded from a national pot of $1.5 billion being distributed to projects across the country. The county’s application is centered on the expansion of the State Road 85 corridor from Mid-Bay Bridge to north of the Shoal River bridge in Crestview. “That’s never been laid out in one piece before,” said Jim Breitenfeld, president of Breitenfeld Development Services, who helped prepare the grant application. “That’s the map for going forward.” The county’s proposal lays out a plan of action for the future growth headed to north Okaloosa County in the next 20 years because of changing military missions, said Danielle Slaterpryce, director of public works for the county. Among the major projects included in the grant application are: Widening SR 85 to six lanes; Widening State Road 123 to four lanes; Extending the Mid-Bay Bridge connector to SR 85; Creating a SR 85 interchange at Duke Field; Establishing a park-andride program between Crestview and Niceville, with possible solar-powered electric vehicle charging stations; Studying alternative corridors from Shoal River to U.S. Highway 90; Studying the expansion and renovation of P.J. Adams Parkway. Slaterpryce said the economic impact of the proposed projects would be significant. As early as 2012, 6,645 jobs are projected to be created, with 631 of those jobs in construction, bringing in an average wage of $45,558. By 2030, a decade after the proposed projects would be completed, nearly 44,000 jobs would be created in the region that otherwise would not have existed, according to the county’s grant application and data from the Haas Center for Business and Economic Development at the University of West Florida. Slaterpryce said federal officials will notify winners of the grant between January and mid-February 2010. “We could win the whole thing; we could win parts of it,” she said. “I think we’re a strong contender simply because this is a huge support to our military. Because of Eglin, I think we should stand out.” Widening the SR 85 corridor directly supports the base’s mission, Breitenfeld said. “It’s critical for the (military) to get the 20,000 people who work on the base … to work, to move supplies … to function.” The special forces units bound for Eglin will be operating on both sides of SR 85 near Duke Field, he added. Slaterpryce and Breitenfeld say the expansion of the corridor would be a crucial milestone for the county. “If we don’t expand SR 85, the economic impact will be tremendous,” Breitenfeld said. “It would effectively keep the northern part of the county from developing further.” The economic impact of the projects would be felt in a number of ways but particularly in construction jobs.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

CRESTVIEW AIR PARK BEING PROMOTED AT ORLANDO BUSINESS CONFERENCE

If you have been following my updates on the growth of this area and the focus on the aerospace industry, you will understand Crestview Industrial Air Park is something which should draw a large number of new businesses to our area. The State of Florida has made Crestview Airpark a target of growth with millions of dollars given to improve the infrastructure at this location. Many in the Aerospace Industry see this as a bedrock for military weapons testing and overhaul of aircraft for many years to come. READ ON -


Okaloosa County team promoting Crestview Air Park in Orlando
Dusty Ricketts
2009-10-14 16:54:19
A delegation supporting Okaloosa County will attend the world’s largest aviation business conference in Orlando next week to try to lure companies to Bob Sikes Airport’s industrial park.
The National Business Aviation Association is holding its annual convention Oct. 20-23 to promote all facets of the commercial aerospace industry. Among the 30,000 people from around the world expected to attend will be more than a dozen county and business leaders to promote the Crestview Air Park at Bob Sikes Airport.

“If we do get someone to come over here as a tenant of the industrial park, a manufacturer, an aerospace company, what ever it may be, that will bring opportunity for lenders, for banks, for Realtors, for everyone in the community to be involved with somehow,” said Derek Lott, vice president of First National Bank of Crestview and chairman of the Crestview Area Chamber of Commerce’s airport committee. “Especially if it’s a big home run like L3, NEW or Segers Aerospace. Those guys came here and they brought high-paying jobs and they brought a lot of jobs.”

All 950,000 square feet of the Orange County Convention Center’s North/South Building will be filled with exhibitors from the aerospace industry.

Lott said Bob Sikes Airport makes an attractive location for prospective businesses because of its 8,000-foot runway and its proximity to highways, the Gulf of Mexico and military bases. The local delegation also will try to sell Bob Sikes based on its location away from freezing winters of the north and far enough from the coast to be protected from most hurricane damage.
Greg Donovan, the county’s airports director, said $22 million has been spent on upgrading the infrastructure at the park in the past three years.

Donovan said county representatives attended last year’s convention with the Okaloosa County Economic Development Council and Florida’s Great Northwest. This will be the first year the county will have its own booth.

“For us to exhibit is a strong step in the right direction. If you go back a few years we weren’t marketing Crestview at all,” Donovan said.

Monday, October 5, 2009

NEW OVERPASS ON HWY 85 FOR ARMY SPECIAL FORCES & DUKE FIELD ON FAST TRACK

As you will see, the Army's 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) Headquarters is getting alot of attention and care. These improvements are just a couple of things being done to help make this the premier Army Base of the United States. As you will see, the dynamics of Eglin Air Forces Base will change and all facets of the military will be met. They are, Operations, Testing, and Training. That will mean, Eglin AFB will be on the minds of many military planners in the future.


Overpass fast-track gaining ground
By MICHAEL STEWART Florida Freedom Newspapers

CRESTVIEW — An attempt to fast-track an overpass across State Road 85 to link Duke Field and the Army’s 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) headquarters is gaining momentum. Rhonda Grice, public involvement coordinator for the Okaloosa-Walton Transportation Planning Organization, said principal players in the project discussed the timeline in a recent telephone conference. They “seemed pretty emphatic they would like people to be able to use it (the overpass) by the summer of 2011,” she said. However, Okaloosa County Public Works Director Danielle Slaterpryce cautioned completion of the project, estimated to cost between $16.5 million and $22.5 million, could be four to five years away. “By the end of the year, we will have a better idea,” Slaterpryce said Thursday at a public meeting in Crestview sponsored by the TPO. The project would include an elevated road at the entrance to Duke Field that would cross over State Road 85. The restricted road, dubbed Special Forces Way, would allow military personnel and equipment to cross busy SR 85 without impeding traffic. “This is going to be a benefit to the community and to the military,” said Lt. Col. Gary Bloomberg, the Special Forces’ integration team chief. “It is a safety issue. With the overpass, residents will be able to safely transverse Highway 85 to get to work every day.” Preliminary plans call for on and off ramps on SR 85 similar to those on an interstate highway. The relocation of the 7th Special Forces Group — the legendary Green Berets — from Fort Bragg, N.C., to Eglin Air Force Base property has prompted the urgency to complete the project. Construction is under way west of SR 85 on a 600,000-square-foot facility the unit will call home. About 5,000 to 6,000 new residents will move to the area when the 7th Special Forces Group’s move is completed in 2011.

Friday, October 2, 2009

F-35 JOINT STRIKE FIGHTER TRAINING WING BEGIN OPERATIONS AT EGLIN AFB

JSF training wing stands up at Eglin
The Associated PressPosted : Thursday Oct 1, 2009 17:29:38 EDT

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. — Eglin Air Force Base is now the official training base for fighter pilots who will fly the new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

At a ceremony Thursday, Air Force leaders officially designated the 33rd Fighter Wing as the new training command for the next-generation jet fighters.

About 60 of the F-35 fighter jets will start arriving at Eglin by early 2011. In the meantime, top fighter pilots will study how to maneuver the single-seat fighter jets using some of the world’s most-advanced flight simulators.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Crestview's 10 Screen Movie Theatre on Schedule

Okay folks. The south part of Okaloosa county will start hearing some sucking noise. It will be all the money staying in Crestview with all of the commercial development on tap to open early next year. The long awaited movie cinema will make Mr. Jack Jernigan a folk hero in Crestview for a long time. Great Job Mr. Jernigan and CCB Community Bank.


Crestview's Twin Creeks Cinema 10 on track for spring opening
September 16, 2009 8:55 AM
Brian Hughes, Florida Freedom Newspapers

CRESTVIEW, FL - The developer of the Twin Creeks Crossing shopping center and movie theatre rapidly taking shape off Richbourg Lane recently answered the burning question local cinema-goers have been eager to have addressed.
“Several screens will be digital,” confirmed Jack Jernigan, a partner with Nels Offerdahl who will be the Twin Creeks Cinema 10 operator.
Offerdahl owns two other multiple-screen cinemas in the Panhandle, including the Ridge Cinema 8 in Pace and the Gulf Breeze Cinema 4. He also operates several movie theatres in his native Louisiana.
“He’s a great (cinema) operator,” Jernigan enthused.
Progress has been rapid at the Twin Creeks Crossing site, which just a few short months ago was a forest off quiet, residential Richbourg Lane. The developers originally planned to use the new street adjacent to the Marquis Self-Storage business as their shopping center’s main entrance, however it is currently unavailable to them.
The new street, which presently dead ends at the Twin Creeks property line, could be used in the future as part of an exit loop from the shopping center, Jernigan said.
“We’re going to widen Richbourg Lane,” Jernigan explained, after utilities serving Twin Creeks Crossing are installed. These include sewer tie-ins to the city of Crestview’s system, which developers were able to negotiate with the city when county services were unavailable. A stoplight will be installed to help control traffic at Richbourg and S.R. 85.
Jernigan said the 10-screen movie theatre is still scheduled for an April 2010 opening, with the retail center planned to open in early summer. He praised area officials who have worked with the developers to realize the project.
“The county really worked hard to help us get started,” Jernigan said. “The city’s been great. They have been super.”
While the cinema has most piqued area movie lovers’ considerable interest, Twin Creeks Crossing will also contain a shopping center.
“We are just a few days away from being in a position to going out and talking to people about pre-leases on the retail center next to the cinema,” Jernigan said. “We want to pick out certain types of businesses that will really synergize with the cinema.”
While more shopping opportunities will be welcomed, it’s the cinema that most grabs the attention of local moviegoers such as recent Crestview High grad Jeremy Mitchell and his friends.
“We have a theatre in Crestview, but we’d rather drive to Destin. It’s nicer,” Mitchell said. “With this new theatre coming, I wouldn’t see the reason to drive that far anymore.”

Saturday, September 26, 2009

MOSSY HEAD FLORIDA (JUST EAST OF CRESTVIEW) WASTEWATER PLANT MOVES FORWARD

As reported, this Wastewater Plant is essential to the growth of this area. Specifically, the new Golf Course Community, which is almost completed. The easy access to Eglin AFB and other ranges on Eglin AFB Reservation makes this area a prime area for growth, especially the growth associates with the Army's 7th Special Forces Group.


Mossy Head wastewater plant moves forward (with DOCUMENT)
Kimberly White
2009-09-25 16:56:56
DeFUNIAK SPRINGS — If all goes well, a long-awaited wastewater treatment plant will be up and running in Mossy Head in a little more than a year.
Walton County commissioners earlier this week directed Polyengineering of Dothan, Ala., to send its application for a construction permit to the state Department of Environmental Protection.
The plant is expected to cost about $3 million and initially treat about 250,000 gallons of sewage per day, Commissioner Larry Jones said.
Glenn Stephens, Polyengineering’s vice president, said the plant will treat wastewater from residential neighborhoods and the 240-acre Mossy Head Industrial Park.
That park has yet to be developed. However, Stephens said county officials have told him that at least five businesses have expressed interest in locating at the park but have held off until there was a way to treat their wastewater.
While the construction permit heads to Tallahassee, Polyengineering and the county are working to apply for a $2.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“We don’t know what percent will be loaned,” Stephen said. “The USDA will determine that.”
Jones said county officials will have to wait “to see what (the USDA’s) position is and move on from there if other (funding) sources are needed.”
County grants coordinator Angie Biddle was not immediately available for comment.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

FLORIDA'S EXISTING HOME & CONDO SALES UP IN AUGUST 2009

This is great news for the local area, but may have some consequences in the very near future. With the great numbers of new military personnel coming to our area. We may not have the quality of housing available when they get here. This has been recognized by the President of the Okaloosa County Economic Development Council and he has made it known to the banking industry, real estate developers, and builder's, the time is now upon us to get ready. It should be also noted, Eglin AFB has removed over half of their family housing units and expects the majority of military families to take their housing allowance and live off base.


Florida’s existing home sales rose in August – marking a full calendar year (12 months) that sales activity increased in the year-to-year comparison, according to the latest housing data released by Florida Realtors®. Existing home sales rose 28 percent last month with a total of 13,850 homes sold statewide compared to 10,813 homes sold in August 2008, according to Florida Realtors. The state association also reported a 45 percent increase in last month’s statewide sales of existing condos compared to the previous year’s sales figure. Sixteen of Florida’s metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) reported increased existing home sales in August; 18 MSAs also showed gains in condo sales. A majority of the state’s MSAs have reported increased sales for 14 consecutive months. “For a year now, statewide sales of existing single-family homes in Florida have increased each month compared to the year-ago figures,” says 2009 Florida Realtors® President Cynthia Shelton, CCIM, CRE, a broker and director of investment sales with Colliers Arnold in Orlando. (CCIM stands for Certified Commercial Investment Member and CRE is the Counselor of Real Estate designation). “This is encouraging news, and while it shows the beginnings of recovery, the housing market still needs time to continue its gradual absorption of housing inventory that will help stabilize home prices. That is why it is critical for Congress to extend the first-time homebuyer tax credit into 2010. And, because it’s now taking longer to finalize a home sale, first-time buyers who want to take advantage of the $8,000 federal tax credit need to act quickly, or they may miss the closing deadline of Nov. 30, 2009.” Florida’s median sales price for existing homes last month was $147,400; a year ago, it was $188,500 for a 22 percent decrease. Housing industry analysts with the National Association of Realtors® (NAR) note that sales of foreclosures and other distressed properties continue to downwardly distort the median price because they generally sell at a discount relative to traditional homes. The median is the midpoint; half the homes sold for more, half for less. The national median sales price for existing single-family homes in July 2009 was $178,300, down 14.6 percent from a year earlier, according to NAR. In Massachusetts, the statewide median resales price was $310,000 in July; in California, it was $285,480; in Maryland, it was $273,769; and in New York, it was $205,000.Signs point toward continued positive momentum in the housing sector, according to NAR’s latest industry outlook. NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun predicts existing home sales will rise through the fourth quarter. “Unless the tax credit is extended, no one should be surprised to see home sales drop in the first quarter of next year,” he said. “However, the fundamentals of the housing market and the economy are trending up, and we expect home sales to generally pick up in the second quarter of 2010. The buyer psychology may be shifting from, ‘Why buy now when I can purchase later,’ to ‘I don’t want to miss out on a recovery.’” In Florida’s year-to-year comparison for condos, 4,674 units sold statewide compared to 3,222 units in August 2008 for a 45 percent increase. The statewide existing condo median sales price last month was $107,500; in August 2008 it was $158,100 for a 32 percent decrease. The national median existing condo price was $178,800 in July 2009, according to NAR.Interest rates for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 5.19 percent last month, down significantly from the average rate of 6.48 percent in August 2008, according to Freddie Mac. FAR’s sales figures reflect closings, which typically occur 30 to 90 days after sales contracts are written. Among the state’s larger markets, the Daytona Beach MSA reported a total of 686 homes sold in August compared to 573 homes a year earlier for a 20 percent increase. The market’s existing home median sales price last month was $132,700; a year ago it was $164,200 for a 19 percent decrease. A total of 135 condos sold in the MSA in August, up 27 percent over the 106 units sold in August 2008. The existing condo median price last month remained level compared to a year ago at $184,300.

Monday, September 21, 2009

NEW CRESTVIEW CINEMA SITE TAKING SHAPE

As you can see the new Crestview Movie Theater and Shopping Plaza is taking shape and should be ready for the May 2010 Grand Opening. As many has shared, this commercial project is going to stimulate the commercial markets in preparation of the growth associated with the Base Realignment Commission 2005 decision. Located on the northside of Crestview across the street of the Crestview High School; this site should be a tremendous success. Great Job Mr. Jernigan.




Saturday, September 19, 2009

TIMELINE FOR DELIVERY OF THE F-35 JOINT STRIKE FIGHTER IS MOVED UP

As you can see, the Navy needs their planes sooner than later. Guess what. They got their wish. It is quite obvious the F-35 Joint Striker Fighter is one of the most important plans ever to come to production and Eglin AFB and the surrounding area is going to be the benefactor. The questions remains for the local area. Are we ready for the demands this program and the Army Special Forces command will bring to our area, i.e. housing, commercial, and quality of life needs?

Joint Strike Fighter timeline moved up
By Andrew Tilghman - Staff writerPosted : Saturday Sep 19, 2009 9:28:23 EDT

The Navy’s carrier version of the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter will be ready for deployment earlier than expected, a Navy official said.
The Navy’s first F-35C squadron will be operational by September 2014, about six months earlier than the previous target date in 2015, said Lt. Callie Ferrari, a Navy spokeswoman at the Pentagon.
The F-35C’s timeline is critical, Navy officials say, to help reduce the “fighter gap,” the looming shortfall in fighter jets as the older F/A-18 Hornets wear out faster than the F-35Cs will arrive to replace them.
The Navy’s F-35C is slated for its first test flight later this year. The first operational aircraft will begin arriving in 2012 at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, where the first F-35 pilots will be trained, Navy officials said.
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Thursday, September 17, 2009

NOKUSE PLANTATION - A NEW FAVORITE ATTRACTION IN FREEPORT OPENS THE DOORS

At the door steps of the new Panama City International Airport and just east of Freeport is the new E.O. Wilson Biophilia Center. With the opening of the Airport early next year, I can see this attraction getting a lof of attention. Also, it should be noted, with this Nokuse Plantation having over 48,000 acres between Freeport and the Airport on Hwy 20, and the rest being wetlands, there is not much land for development. I believe we will see a lot of interest very soon.

A day at Nokuse Plantation
By KIMBERLY WHITE Northwest Florida Daily News 654-6905,ext.244kimw@nwfdailynews.com

FREEPORT — Nature enthusiasts shrugged off the wet weather Saturday and hit the trail adjacent to the E.O. Wilson Biophilia Center. A b o u t 7 m i l l i o n longleaf pines would not form a canopy over the trial if not for the efforts of Nokuse Plantation owner M.C. Davis and a team of scientists and volunteers who helped restore the land to its natural state. Many of those involved in the restoration efforts — as well as its namesake, world-renowned scientist and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner E.O. Wilson —were on hand Saturday as guests strolled through the exhibit hall. Parents snapped photos of their children climbing on the red, larger-than-life Florida harvester ant that greets visitors in the front room. Nearby, several wallm o u n t e d f l a t - s c r e e n televisions showed a video that describes the history of the 48,000-acre Nokuse Plantation. Nine acres is dedicated to the Biophilia Center, which offers children a chance to learn about the natural world and the importance of biodiversity. Schoolchildren will be able to explore nature on the hiking trails and in the learning center, which features exhibits ranging from various species of snakes and frogs to Native American tools to an active beehive with tens of thousands of honey bees. Katie Scally, the 9-yearold daughter of Biophilia Center Director Christina Scally, stood in front of a panel that explained the process of photosynthesis by using a panel of multicolored lights. Katie, a fourth-grader at Butler Elementary School, said her class will come to the center once a week for five weeks to learn about photosynthesis, pollination, the importance of prescribed burns and how they all contrib u t e t o a h e a l t h y ecosystem. One exhibit at the center allows visitors to step on a series of strips to find out what kinds of sounds different animals make. Another explains the importance of longleaf pine forests, which once dominated Northwest Florida but largely have given way to development. And out on the trail system “you learn a lot of really cool things,” Katie said “There’s even a tree where a beaver has chewed off some bark and there’s a lot of longleaf pines out there,” she added. “When you walk down the trail, you see something new every time, like a snake, a bird or something like that.” M.C. Davis co-owns Nokuse Plantation with Sam Shine. The center initially will cater solely to fourthgraders from Walton, Okaloosa and Bay counties. Future curriculums will be created for middle school and high school students. Although scientists can meet and conduct research there, Davis said the center is geared toward children. “The main purpose is to get children to fall in love with nature and develop a little bit of a naturalist in them, and be able to implement that in the rest of their lives,” Christina Scally said. They will be able to observe animals and plants along the nearly 1-mile trail, part of which consists of a wooden boardwalk that crosses a wetland. Children can pull up crawfish traps that hang from posts and identify the animals caught befor letting them go, Scally said. At the end of the trail is a screened-in, solarpowered barn where she said students can plug their computers into outlets and type their notes for the day. The center also features a 165-seat theater, several classrooms and a lab station, all geared toward students. Scally said the center is affiliated with the Chipleybased Panhandle Area Education Consortium, which represents 17 counties in Northwest Florida. The consortium has its own television channel and can send and receive broadcasts to the center. During a late-afternoon presentation, Matt Aresco, Nokuse Plantation’s director, showed a slideshow about the plantation’s activities, goals and achievements. The plantation, he said, is home to 39 rare species, including reptiles, mammals, birds and insects. Conservation is of the utmost importance “so we can pass this torch on to the next generation.” “Giving young people the chance to experience and explore nature, we hope, will inspire them to continue our efforts to protect in the future,” he said.