Construction on a 32-fueling station Busy Bee station underway on U.S. 98

PANAMA CITY BEACH — It’s not common to formally break ground at a construction site with the building already taking shape in the background, but officials with the St. Joe Company and Johnson & Johnson Inc. on Thursday were delighted to do it anyway.

As more than 70 local officials, Beach Chamber of Commerce representatives and other business leaders stood by, the two corporate partners formally marked the start of a 15,500-square-foot Busy Bee convenience store and gas station at the northwest intersection of Nautilus Street and Panama City Beach Parkway.

Participating in the event were St. Joe President and CEO Jorge Gonzalez, Johnson & Johnson Inc. Principal and Chief Executive officer Elizabeth Waring, Panama City Beach Mayor Mike Thomas, Bay County Commissioner Robert Carroll, Florida CFO Jimmy Patronis, St. Joe Senior Vice President (Commercial Operations) Dan Velasquez, and Busy Bee CFO Lucas Warren.

Gonzalez told the audience it was fitting that the groundbreaking took place on the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Michael, even though the original date for the event in late August had to be postponed because of the potential threat from another storm, Hurricane Dorian. Noting Bay County’s steady recovery from Michael, Gonzalez said, “We’re making progress one day at a time, one groundbreaking at a time.”

Elizabeth Waring, principal and chief executive officer of Johnson & Johnson, the parent company of the Busy Bee franchise, said she is “very excited” that her company is expanding its operations to include the new Panama City Beach facility.

“This new Busy Bee will be ideally situated in close proximity to the Pier Park area and the new Panama City Beach Sports Complex making it a convenient location for Panama City Beach residents and visitors,” Waring said.

Sited on a 2.6-acre lot, the Busy Bee will include 32 fueling stations at 16 pumps and a full-service convenience store including a quick-service restaurant. The $5 million project will operate on a 24/7 basis once it opens in early 2020, and will have 60 employees, officials said.

The facility is a joint venture of the two companies, in which Johnson & Johnson Inc. will operate the store. It is anticipated that, when complete, the Nautilus Busy Bee will be the largest convenience store in the region and is intended to be the first of multiple Northwest Florida locations owned by the joint venture.

The Busy Bee is one of at least 30 new residential, commercial or hospitality projects in Bay and Walton Counties that St. Joe has or intends to begin in 2019.