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Five new St. Joe hotels in two counties

Nathan Cobb
nathan@waltonsun.com
Walton Sun

PANAMA CITY BEACH — By 2021, visitors will have five new places to stay along the Gulf Coast.

With peak season continuing to grow, the St. Joe Company announced Monday plans to build a hotel adjacent to the newly opened Panama City Beach Sports Complex. With this addition, the company will have five ongoing construction project to build hotels in Bay and Walton counties.

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“This area is really booming from a tourism standpoint,” said St. Joe spokesman Mike Kerrigan, who added these are the first hotels the group has built in Bay County. “We saw some opportunities to develop some land that we’ve owned for several years into some new properties."

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He added that each of the five upcoming locations are tailored to compliment their surrounding areas.

They include the 120-room Homewood Suites by Hilton, found adjacent to the sports complex; the 255-room Embassy Suites, located on Front Beach Road next to Pier Park; the 143-room Hilton Garden Inn, near the Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport; the 124-room TownePlace Suites, adjacent to Frank Brown Park; and a 75-room boutique inn, found next to Camp Creek Golf Course in Walton County.

All are expected to be complete in 2021 with the exception of TownePlace Suites, which will open this summer.

“They’re (all) really very unique and they will service a very specific type of traveler,” Kerrigan said.

With only one of the four Bay County locations on the beach, Commissioner Phillip Griffitts said the hotels will add some variety to the area.

“Some additional inventory off the beachfront is great for the business traveler, as well as the ball clubs that are coming in for sports,” he said. “Not everybody has to stay on the beach.”

Griffitts, along with Mac Carpenter, Walton’s planning director, agreed the developments would also increase bed-tax collections and boost the local economy.

“As more and more people find out about the beauty of Walton County, we’re going to be subject to receiving more and more visitors, regardless of the amount of advertising the tourist development council does,” Carpenter said.

“We’ve got a lot to offer here and St. Joe is absolutely doing what any smart business operator would do in capitalizing on the situation,” Griffitts added.

He added that for Bay County, more tourists mean more money to rebuild infrastructures.

“Not only do those people pay into the bed tax, but they also contribute to the half-cent infrastructure tax that (Bay) County has,” Griffitts said. “For every dollar they’re spending, half a penny goes toward repairing our roads, putting in new sidewalks (and) all types of infrastructure projects.

“... The tourist are helping the residents of Bay County shoulder those expenses,” he added. “While they’re here ... they’re spending money.”

Along with offering individual amenities for guests, hotels also effectively manage large crowds, Carpenter said.

“Walton County just has not had as many hotel developments as surrounding counties,” he said.“Typically, because we’ve been a more residential development area.”

Looking ahead, all believe the hotels are a step toward creating an area not bound by a set tourist season.

“We expect more of a year-round economy in a lot of these hotels,” Kerrigan said. “It’s part of our plan to create some more diverse revenue generating businesses that are producing recurring income.”

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