The Walton County Chamber of Commerce held its monthly Power of Business luncheon April 2 at Baytowne and hosted three power players who talked about the state of development in South Walton, and what's to come.

Addressing the lunch crowd of more than 100 people were the Howard Group's John Heiser, Crystal Beach Development's Jay Odom, and standing in for Sandestin Development owner Tom Becnel was Sandestin Real Estate's Kitty Whitney.

Howard Group

Grand Boulevard is looking forward to the upcoming second-annual South Walton Beaches Wine & Food Festival that will take place the last weekend in April, said Heiser. He said the Boulevard still has 2,000 square feet to develop as the development group is planning for growth in the lot across from the cinema.

Heiser was excited to announce the addition of Another Broken Egg restaurant on the Boulevard, which is set to open this summer.

He said that Silver Sands Outlets, with more than 100 leased spaces, is looking to expand, and the Howard Group is working with Florida Department Of Transportation for six laning of U.S. Highway 98 from Tang-o-Mar in Miramar Beach to Airport Road in Destin. He said the project is moving forward faster than anticipated.

Seeing a record year last year were the Boulevard's Marriotts, Heiser reports.

Crystal Beach Development

Odom noted his longevity in the area, beginning at Shalimar Elementary School.

He said he has seen a lot of things happen he never thought would happen.

"Back then, Destin was the stepchild of Fort Walton," he said. "It's changed. Fort Walton is now more of a permanent market."

Odom called his Hammock Bay project "a 15-year overnight success."

He said there are 1,300 residents there now and believes the development offers a tremendous opportunity for building lots off the beach. He believes the strong growth at the beach will drive people north of the Choctawhatchee Bay.

Odom likened South Walton to Hilton Head.

He said the intersection of U.S. Highway 331 and State Road 20 in Freeport will be the epicenter of new development in 10 years. Odom said Freeport is being proactive and aggressive in anticipation of what they see coming.

"Hammock Bay hopefully will be a leader in that," he said. "It's a very family oriented community. With us seeing us tremendous growth along the beach, in 10 years Freeport will be the newest town on the beach."

He said in his developments he has seen a need for activities for people in the communities because of the amount of time spent online where people don't leave home as much any more. He called it a need for connectivity.

"I've seen tremendous growth," he said.

Odom said he has contributed to that growth, with more in the works.

Despite past opposition to the project, Odom said his Grayton Grand will come out of ground with 153 rooms, a pool, and restaurant, which will be built at the busy intersection of County Roads 283S and 30A. Odom says the hotel will be family oriented, and only one of three on 30A.


Becnel bought Sandestin Development in 2010. There are two projects currently in the works on the 2,400-acre property. The first is the resort's new welcome center being built at the northeast corner of the entry onto the resort from U.S. Highway 98. In addition to serving as a welcome center, the three-story building will also house human resources. This project's estimated completion date is December.

Becnel's second project is Osprey Point, a 76-unit development that is still in the process of getting approval. It will be built on the Bay northeast of Jolie Island on Heron Drive.

Whitney said with less than 300 properties now available for sale on the resort, Osprey Point is needed as a viable property to sell.

Sandestin Healthcare Services has now been open for three months on the resort. Whitney said the concept is concierge style health care in a partnership with physicians. Whitney said it can be used for tourists needing medical attention or celebrities can come here for surgery and have a place to rehab. The facility currently operates on a cash basis.