CRESTVIEW — After several years of false starts and setbacks, construction on a downtown parking lot is underway. Having cleared the land, earlier this week, a crew from DeFuniak Springs-based Utilities Solutions Group busily constructed the lot’s underground drainage components.
“It’s essentially an underground storm water retention system,” Public Works engineer Fred Cook said of a large swath of gravel covering a membrane in an excavated hole beneath the future parking lot.
Originally planned for land behind Desi’s restaurant, a new location for the parking lot had to be found when the landowner withdrew his offer to sell the property to the city. The Community Redevelopment Agency, funding the project through a community block development grant, settled on the current site on Wilson Street just north of the county Elder Services office.
City officials said that since the CRA board gave its approval, the project has proceeded ahead of schedule.
“We gave them 90 days to complete the project, but they said they are aiming for 45 to 60 days,” Crestview Public Works Director Wayne Steele said, adding favorable weather conditions likely contributed to the expedited project.
The project will encompass a tree-lined lot that formerly held a residence and a dirt parking lot behind Elder Services and in front of the Sharing and Caring food bank. During construction, Okaloosa County Transit buses that typically stage from behind Elder Services will park at City Hall’s south parking lot.
“This will make a good back-up lot for City Hall,” Assistant Public Works Director Carlos Jones said.
Jones said that because CSX Corp. owns the property used as the City Hall south parking lot, if the railroad ever needed to reclaim its land, the new parking lot, just over the train tracks, could provide parking for city employees and citizens.
“They (CSX) own all that property practically right up to the mayor’s door,” Jones said.
The new parking lot will also be close to the Florida A&M University Rural Diversity Healthcare Center now open in the historic Alatex Building. When the center’s pharmacy school population reaches its anticipated 120 students, more parking in the vicinity will be needed.
However, the new parking lot is not as convenient to Main Street businesses as some people would like.
“I don’t see why they put it way over there,” Crestview resident Mary Reynolds said. “We like to meet friends at Desi’s for lunch. We’re not going to walk all that way. It doesn’t help Main Street customers at all.”