The Inlet Beach area is the next hot thing, lending a welcome to visitors
If you have driven east along U.S. Highway 98 recently you might be surprised by all the new landscaping and white buildings that have gone up in what used to be quiet, sleepy Inlet Beach.
The largest development is 30Avenue.
Built out of need
30Avenue developer Brian Corr said building the center began out of need.
He had moved to the beach and was working from his home, but his wife wasn't happy with that arrangement and told him to find an office. When he couldn't find one nearby he decided to build one.
"I found that property and tried to think what I could do with it. Then I heard that Tim Creehan was searching for a location in the area and I thought it was a good fit," said Corr.
Corr now has 25 buildings on the property occupied by restaurants, shops and offices in 100,000 square feet. He is approved for another 30,000.
"I didn't have any trouble leasing the spaces," he said. "There is a constant flow of people interested."
All the buildings are white, for which Corr had to get a variance, as white is not on the list of approved colors for U.S. 98's Scenic Corridor.
"We wanted something to fit in with the area and 30A dead ends into our complex," he said. "White is fresh and clean and never goes out of style."
The vision early
Chef Tim Creehan, owner of Cuvee 30A, was one of the first to buy into moving his business to Inlet. He recalls he made the decision three Super Bowls ago in February 2014. The impetus for him making that decision was the nearby community of Rosemary Beach.
"I had heard about The Pearl and I was catering an event nearby, so I thought I would stay there for the weekend," he recalls. "I tried to get into a restaurant for dinner and couldn't. They were all full. I walked around and saw children and their parents dining on filet mignon instead of chicken nuggets and knew this area was going to be a very affluent area."
Creehan then put the word out that he was interested in moving out there, and when Brian and Tina Corr approached him about being the anchor restaurant at 30Avenue across the highway, he took it.
"They had space for parking and that was very attractive to me," he said. "Everything about it screamed success."
Since the complex was new and out of the way for many on 30A, Creehan thought the first year might be slow.
"But we stayed cash positive the first year, and since," he said.
This prompted Creehan to sell his Destin restaurant.
Now, after two years open, Creehan proudly says that on most days he doubles what he did in Destin.
"I felt the affluence was moving this way and I am fine dining, so it made sense to me," he said.
Beat the rush
Another developer at Inlet Beach is John Freer, owner of Shades Restaurant.
Freer opened Shades at the Loop in 2002, which proved to be a successful venture.
Last year, he built The Crossings, also painted an off-white, which various boutique shops have moved into.
He is now developing a spot at North Lakeshore Drive, and plans to open an oyster bar.
However, Freer said his main project right now is his campaign to get an underpass approved for the intersection of 30A and U.S. 98, and he is extending the pathways and wants landscaped medians that create a welcoming sight.
"Our objective in doing this is to create a walking community," he said.
Asked why he chose to invest in Inlet Beach, Freer said, "It has always been a hidden area with great beach access and local residents -- a diamond in the rough waiting to be developed. I just wanted to get ahead of the rush. We don't want big-box stores. We want to keep it community oriented, like an extension of 30A, and a gateway to the beaches."
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