Walton County Tourist Development Council Director Jay Tusa told County Commissioners at Tuesday's Board meeting that he and County Manager Larry Jones are looking into the possibility of doing a land swap with Eglin Air Force Base.
Tusa said they originally contacted Eglin about selling a piece of property to the county, but Eglin was not interested in selling any of its land. However, base officials did indicate they might be interested in a land swap.
"It would be appraised value for appraised value," said Jones.
The county wants a parcel on U.S. Highway 331S, a prime location for the county as it searches for a high-profile piece of property on which to build a new visitor center.
The only problem is that Eglin has never done a land swap before and is a bit unsure how to proceed. If approved, a land swap could take a year or more.
The land on 331 currently has a tower that could be removed or relocated, but Jones said he was told Eglin does not intend to tear down the tower.
District 4 Commissioner Sara Comander said she has dealt with Eglin on property before, and making the deal happen in a year is unrealistic.
"They don't give it up easy. They don't want to, they don't have to," she said. "If we are going to have to buy a piece of property to put this [visitor center] on, why not just buy a piece of property now."
Former TDC director Jim Bagby encouraged Commissioners to deal and not get in a rush as the county owns a lot of parcels near Eglin that could be swapped.
However, Comander indicated she would like to get a new visitor center built in a timely manner.
Local resident Alan Osborne told Commissioners that the process will take more than a year. He said he had looked at the property and the building located on it, and the building has not been used for years. However, he believes the tower is going to be used for something.
"Make them an offer of a place to put those antennas — something they don't have for that parcel. Put in a formal request. You may can trade some property that you have no use for for a crown jewel on 331," he said.
"If we miss this opportunity will we have another?" he asked.
District 3 Commissioner Melanie Nipper said she is pretty sure there is property in her district that Eglin would be interested in.
Tusa and Jones were directed to search for properties in Districts 3 and 4 that might interest the Air Force.