DESTIN — The nearly 20-acre strip mall labeled "blighted" by some city officials is under contract to be sold to a foreign buyer for redevelopment. 

Destin City Councilman Parker Destin confirmed Tuesday that the city has received preliminary plans from a Japan-based investment group to purchase "some" of the parcels at the Downtown Destin Shopping Center on Harbor Boulevard. The strip mall is set to close the sale in the "very near future," according to RE/MAX Coastal Properties broker/owner Ed Smith.

"I don't know what their long-term plans are other than a mixed-use commercial retail area along with some residential apartments," Destin said.

Formerly the home of the old Lively Cinema 10, the Downtown Destin Shopping Center was once a hot spot for retail and entertainment. The decline of the property began after larger entertainment-based properties such as Destin Commons lured shoppers further east on U.S. Highway 98.

Most of the storefronts, including the old cinema, are vacant and decaying, although some businesses have remained.

The largest tenant to date is the home decor store Old Time Pottery. Smaller businesses weaved among the empty storefronts include a Dollar General, Cash's Sports Bar, Pepito's Mexican Grill and a Patio Depot.

Although the Destin City Council hopes to see the property redeveloped, not just any plan submitted by the perspective buyers will be approved.

In April, amendments were made to the city's Town Center Mixed Use Zoning District to make any future development plans for properties such as Downtown Destin a "conditional use." Parker Destin said the changes were aimed to prevent the proliferation of a single type of development, specifically apartment complexes.

"These new guys that intend to build something will now have to go through a rigorous process," Destin said. "The changes now gives the City Council tools in our tool box to to review, assess, approve or deny the plans. Over the last eight or nine months we've had our hands tied to deny other apartment complexes in the city because of the old code."

David Goetsch, a local economiist, said a mixed-use development would be the ideal fit for the property.

"A trend being used for a lot of redevelopment is mixed use," Goetsch said. "It's not a new idea, it's how cities used to be. It will be really popular in Destin if it has the right mix of retail and restaurants. It also seems to really anchor in the residential aspect of it because people tend to stay longer in one area if there are stores and restaurants that they like just downstairs. It creates a mini community.

"If I were advising the buyers, I would advise them toward mixed use," Goetsch added. "A bad fit would be another strip shopping center or plain apartments. If you're going to develop land where there is limited space, like in Destin, you want to maximize the use. Maximum use is mixed use."

Parker Destin said the property currently is owned by an investment group in Canada. Smith, who would not disclose the prospective buyers are until the sale is finalized, said he's been working on the sale for more than two years.

Smith confirmed that the public often questions the state of the property.

"People look at the property and think it must have been condemned or is in foreclosure," he said.

Destin said if the new owners want to attract anchor tenants such as a Trader Joe's or Publix, they must be willing to sink significant investments into the property's revitalization.

"It's a huge, huge parcel, and whatever goes there will likely be there for the next 50 years," Destin said. "It has to be something the council is happy with. We aren't anti-development, we're pro smart growth. You have to find the balance. There needs to be some benefit to all."