FORT WALTON BEACH — City officials eventually might try to sell the property that contains the Northwest Florida Fairgrounds.
At a workshop on Tuesday, the City Council discussed the possibility of declaring that parcel and nine others around the city as “surplus” properties, or ones the city might not have a need for any longer.
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Revenue from the sale of such parcels would be used to help pay off the debt borrowed to build the city Recreation Center and, more recently, to develop the field office complex.
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The city has almost $6.4 million left to pay on the $8.5 million it used to develop the rec center, and the first payment on the $12.5 million it borrowed to build the field office complex is due on July 1, according to city spokesman Doug Rainer.
At an upcoming regular meeting, the council plans to decide whether to formally designate any of the 10 properties discussed Tuesday as surplus in order to move forward with their potential sale.
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Of the 10 parcels, the one containing the fairgrounds, also known as C.H. “Bull” Rigdon Fairgrounds and Recreation Complex, is the largest and would have the highest asking price.
This property at 1958 Lewis Turner Blvd. covers a little more than 26 acres. It has a potential selling price of about $4.2 million, according to information from the city’s real estate broker, Realty House, of Fort Walton Beach.
The city’s long-term lease of just more than 15 acres of the overall site to the Northwest Florida Fair Association expires in 2022. The annual lease rate is just over $6,420.
The highest and best use of the overall site would be multi-family and single family residential uses due to the lack of road frontage on Lewis Turner Boulevard, according to Realty House and city information.
If the city doesn’t renew the lease with the fair association once the lease expires, everything on the property, including a handful of buildings, becomes city property, City Manager Michael Beedie told the council on Tuesday.
He said the buildings are in “dire need” of demolition.
“We haven’t had any discussions about extending the lease recently,” Beedie said.
Brian Sparling, who has served as the fairgrounds manager since Jan. 31 and as the Northwest Florida Fair Association president for the past five years, told the council that the association would like its lease renewed.
He also said Beedie’s comments about the buildings being in need of demolition were “interesting” because the association has memorandums of understanding with entities including a school and Gulf Power to use the structures, most of which were built in 1974.
“We’re at no cost to the city,” Sparling said. “We pay rent. We pay our utilities. (The fairgrounds site) is not a big moneymaker” but attracts people who boost the local economy.
The fairgrounds hosted 10 events during the first quarter of this year before the coronavirus crisis hit, he said. The pandemic has led to the cancellation of 16 events, but 10 others still are scheduled for this year, Sparling said.
An annual fair has been held at the property since the early 1970s. The 2020 Northwest Florida Fair is scheduled for Sept. 29 through Oct. 3. Other events at the fairgrounds include gun shows, antique shows, dog shows and science fairs.
At Tuesday’s workshop, Councilman Nic Allegretto noted that the property that includes the fairgrounds stands across the street from the city Golf Club and next to the land for developer Joe Odom’s planned mixed-use development called Freedom Beacon Park.
“Out of all the (potential surplus) properties, this one seems to be the hottest,” Allegretto said.
“Absolutely,” Beedie said.