SOUTH WALTON — Golf carts whizzed to and fro at Grand Boulevard a recent Thursday as tourists leisurely weaved through retail stores and business people enjoyed lunch at the park.
It's been two years plus a decade since construction of Grand Boulevard at Sandestin began with the build-out of Publix Supermarket. Keith Howard of Howard Group waited 10 years for a chance to purchase the 52-acre property for development, a sale that was approved in 2007.
Restaurants like Emeril's Coastal Italian, Cantina Laredo Modern Mexican and The Craft Bar are just three of the 16 eateries that now make up the complex. Three hotels — Courtyard by Marriott, Residence Inn by Marriott and The Hyatt Place Sandestin — offer over 700 rooms for out-of-towners.
There are 27 high-end retail stores like Anthropologie and 24 service-related businesses like The UPS Store and Emerald Coast Chiropractic. Entertainment includes the Boulevard 10 movie theater and the Emerald Coast Theatre Company.
Williams-Sonoma — a kitchenware and home furnishing store — opened its doors for the first time last week. The Black Bear Bread Company, a popular South Walton cafe, opened another location this summer at the complex.
Stacey Brady, director of marketing and communications for Grand Boulevard, said growth isn't stopping there.
"Over the past couple of years we've built several new buildings and we've opened 17 new businesses since 2016," Brady said. "We built the buildings that now house Anthropologie and Pottery Barn. The development of the Town Center, where the majority of our shops are located, has been continuous since 2007. And, we still have some undeveloped space."
Seven businesses have left Grand Boulevard since 2016 — Kinnucan’s, Menchie’s, Brooks Brothers, Mitchell’s fish market, Pretty Please, Travinia and J. Crew. Three of those businesses leaving were because of nationwide closures.
Bill Imfeld, Economic Development Alliance executive director for Walton County, said the addition of Grand Boulevard to South Walton over the past decade has been a huge success. Imfeld said having shopping, entertainment and service-related businesses create a focal point — similar to a downtown — for the area.
"It's a great economic engine for Walton County," Imfeld said. "It's a place unlike anything in the northern county. It's a true asset for tourism and the rest of the county."
In addition to retail and restaurants, tourists and locals are attracted to Grand Boulevard for its green space. A group of children gently threw a Frisbee to one another in the grassy field one Thursday while their parents watched from afar on benches overlooking a fountain and splash pad.
A trio of businessmen and women who work onsite ate pizza and raspberries nearby.
Brady said another large green space on the property is used to host the annual 30A Songwriters Festival and the South Walton Beaches Wine & Food Festival.
"They give our visitors to the center lovely places to sit and enjoy the outdoors," Brady said. "They are great spaces for families to enjoy and play games and children can run around. They are also great spaces for our office tenants or staff that work here to take a break during the day and enjoy the outdoors. It’s a nice, relaxing space and gives us a beautiful location for events and entertainment."
Brady said what sets Grand Boulevard apart from neighboring retail spaces like Destin Commons is its access to businesses debuting in Northwest Florida and its local business offerings. Also, she said, that it sits directly in front of the Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort.
Golf carts carrying the resort residents drive around the complex in droves. Those residents, Brady said, help support the restaurants and businesses year-round.
"We had the first Pottery Barn, the first Anthropologie, the first Alter'd State, the first P.F. Changs," Brady said.
"Tourists are looking for businesses they don’t have access to like The Zoo Gallery, BillaBong and even Vin'tij Food and Wine. These are all locally owned businesses that visitors get excited about."
Tiffany Milbery, assistant manager for Fusion Art Gallery, agreed.
"We've seen a lot of new business come to the area, and some that have left," Milbery said. "It definitely seems like they are moving in the right direction and it's bringing a lot of new people to this area. This year has been the year of new people who are enjoying the community feel and local restaurants and galleries. It's something they don't get in their hometowns."