Grayton Beach parking lot may be upgraded with bus station, restrooms and outdoor showers

Jim Thompson
Northwest Florida Daily News

GRAYTON BEACH — Upgrades to what is now an unpaved public parking lot on Walton County Road 283 near Walton County Road 30A are being designed for portability in the event that the lot might someday host a parking deck.

That was among the information shared during a public workshop Wednesday on the proposed improvements to the parking lot. In addition to paving, improvements are slated to include a main building comprising an indoor waiting area for shuttle bus service, a covered area under which buses can be boarded, restrooms and outdoor showers to accommodate visitors to the nearby beaches.

Walton County approves $2.3M land purchase for Grayton Beach public restroom

More details on the main building, parking lot 

That main building is being designed primarily for visitors to the area, according to a conceptual plan from Santa Rosa Beach architect Russell Johnson, who is working with DRMP Inc., the engineering firm under contract to the county, on the conceptual plan for the parking area.

The building will include indoor and outdoor benches along with a kiosk where people can get information from the Walton County Tourist Development Council (TDC) on attractions and even buy souvenirs.

A secondary restroom and storage structure also is planned for the site. That facility is set to be located adjacent to a section of the parking lot that will remain unpaved, and is primarily intended to serve employees of businesses along and near the CR 30A corridor.

Both buildings are designed in the "coastal cottage" style, featuring lap siding and metal roofs, that defines much of the area's architecture.

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Beyond the building, the parking lot is planned to contain 118 spaces along with accommodations for a handful of recreational vehicles and golf carts, as well as electric vehicle recharging stations.

No specific costs have been worked out for the project, which would be funded with some of the millions of dollars in revenue collected annually through a 5% "bed tax" paid by visitors staying in accommodations in the south end of the county.

The TDC acquired the tract about five years ago from a developer who had planned to put a hotel on the site. The tourism agency has been using it for parking for a couple of years.

Background: Plans discuss 30A parking structure, alternative modes of transportation

What are the next steps?

The next step in the process, according to Brian Kellenberger, the TDC's director of beach operations, will be to present an initial design proposal to the Walton County Board of County Commissioners for review. If commissioners approve the proposal, further design work will be done for review by commissioners, with the commission eventually deciding whether or not to proceed to contracting and construction.

A potential timeline could see the project go out for bids early next year, with construction potentially completed by next fall, Kellenberger said at Wednesday's forum.  

A schematic diagram from Russell Johnson Architect PL shows the layout of a building proposed for a parking lot on Walton County Road 283A. The building is proposed to include restrooms, outdoor showers, and indoor and outdoor benches for waiting on shuttle buses.

As currently envisioned, the improved parking lot is intended to become a hub for a public transit system, still being envisioned, that would be designed to significantly cut vehicular traffic that clogs CR 30A and other area thoroughfares, particularly during tourist season.

Visitors to Grayton Beach take a free shuttle that runs from downtown Grayton Beach to a public parking lot on County Road 283 just north of the intersection of County Road 30-A.

A shuttle currently links the lot with the nearby Grayton Beach community, which attracts a large volume of visitors. The lot also had served as a stop for a pilot transit program that had taken visitors and local workers along 30A, but that initiative was hobbled by difficulties in finding drivers and problems with the used vehicles procured for the initiative, according to Kellenberger.

Still, Kellenberger said Wednesday that a system that is successful in getting workers and day-trip visitors to park and use shuttles to get to their final destination will prove its viability. And from there, Kellenberger added, "We believe that the seven-day visitor and the resident, recognizing that they now have a transit system that has the two main components of frequency and consistency ... will park their car and leave it at their accommodation or their house and will use the shuttle system.

"I think that's logical, because the two things that make people use public transportation are congestion on the roadways ... and a lack of availability of parking at the resort communities or retail and commercial districts they're going to," he said.

But, as Kellenberger also noted, the parking lot also has been identified as a potential location for a parking deck as part of a countywide mobility plan now under consideration. If that proposal comes to fruition, it's possible that it could affect whatever improvements are made to the parking lot in the interim time period.

A typical summer day on Hotz Avenue, Grayton BeachÕs main road and commercial district. The charming townÕs public parking has not been able to keep up with its growing popularity with visitors over the years.

And so, at Kellenberger's direction, the structures are being designed to be portable so they could be moved to serve some other public transit hub.

"There's a lot of work between the thought process and the actual product (a transit system) running up and down 30A," Kellenberger said, "but we're working on it, and that's why we've decided that this building will be a public transportation building, a restroom building, and have some space for a tourist development kiosk where we'll be able to put out our information ... ."

There was little public comment at Wednesday's sparsely attended forum, but there was some concern expressed about an architectural rendering's depiction of large tour buses waiting for passengers.

Kellenberger acknowledged the problematic nature of putting tour buses on the two-lane CR 30A, and indicated that there have been no decisions made on the types of shuttle vehicles to be used for a public transit system.

Overall, though, Kellenberger expressed some optimism about the developing plans for the parking lot.  

"I feel comfortable we'll move forward with it."