FORT WALTON BEACH — One of the biggest changes ever to occur to the city’s downtown area is planned to take place next Tuesday night, when the 112-year-old, wood-framed Gulfview Hotel is slowly rolled to its new home.
City Manager Michael Beedie called the relocation a once-in-a-lifetime event in which “the city and the entire community partner to preserve the oldest building in Fort Walton Beach by moving the building, intact, down U.S. Highway 98 to its new location in the heart of downtown.”
Mayor Dick Rynearson said he plans to watch every minute of the move.
“It’s an epic event for sure,” he said on Monday.
The relocation of the two-story, roughly 5,500-square-foot building by Ducky Johnson House Movers of Marianna is planned to start at about 8 p.m. Tuesday, April 17 and take at least three hours.
The donated structure will be moved from 12 Miracle Strip Parkway SE about a quarter-mile east to a city-owned parking lot at 121 Miracle Strip Parkway SE, next to Harris Insurance Services.
At its new site, the building will include a welcome center operated by the Okaloosa County Tourist Development Department, a retail shop operated by the Greater Fort Walton Beach Chamber of Commerce, space for the William Augustus Bowles (“Billy Bowlegs”) Museum and leased office and meeting space.
City officials on Monday were finalizing details on the street closures and traffic detours that will take effect before the building is moved.
At 7 p.m. April 17, First Street between Beal and Eglin parkways will be restricted to local traffic only. People who want to visit downtown businesses and/or watch the building relocation will be able to park along First Street and other roads to the north.
At 8 p.m., U.S. 98 will be closed between Beal Parkway and Florida Place. Vehicle access to Brooks Street will be allowed only via Perry Avenue and points east.
Eastbound U.S. 98 traffic will be detoured north on Beal, east on Hollywood Boulevard and south on Eglin Parkway to either Florida Place or Perry Avenue.
Westbound U.S. 98 traffic will be detoured north on Perry Avenue or Florida Place, continuing north on Eglin before going west on Hollywood Boulevard and south on Beal.
While the city has the ability to keep the streets closed and traffic rerouted until 5 a.m. Wednesday, April 18, the streets should reopen and the normal flow of traffic should be restored well before then, city Utility Services Director Daniel Payne said.
Gulf Power employees will temporarily relocate utility lines and other equipment before the building move and put everything back in place immediately after the move.
“There might be some small-scale outages, but the goal is to keep everyone in service” during the overall relocation, Payne said.
Restaurants, bars and other downtown businesses plan to offer special deals for customers and a band might perform on the closed portion of U.S. 98 on the night of the building move, chamber President/CEO Ted Corcoran said.
“For those of us who are able to see (the relocation), it will definitely be worth coming downtown and seeing this,” Corcoran said. “It’s going to be amazing.”
The old hotel currently rests several feet above the ground on I-beams and blocks at its original site. Workers plan to place remote-controlled hydraulic power dollies under the structure on Thursday or Friday, said Donald Barbee, project manager for Ducky Johnson House Movers.
On moving day, the building will be carried on the dollies, without the assistance of a truck, to its new site at a rate of up to about 5 mph, Barbee said.
He said the new hotel weighs about 200 tons (or 400,000 pounds). But it’s far from the heaviest move conducted by Ducky Johnson House Movers, which was founded in 1963.
The company’s portfolio includes the relocations of a 1,500-ton apartment complex in Mobile, Alabama and a 500-ton, three-story, concrete-slab house from Orange Beach, Alabama, to Pensacola, said Barbee, who has worked for the company for 37 years.
Ducky Johnson House Movers is no stranger to Fort Walton Beach. It relocated the house that now serves as the Magnolia Grill, as well as the old schoolhouse and post office that now are part of the city’s Heritage Park and Cultural Center.
Last Friday, workers from the moving company built the new foundation for the old Gulfview Hotel at its new site next to Harris Insurance Services.
Barbee indicated that moving the historic structure between other buildings that stand between the old hotel’s current spot and U.S. 98 might be the toughest part of the relocation.
“Just getting out of that parking lot and getting it squared onto the road … it’s going to be tight coming out from those buildings,” he said. “But we knew that from the start. It’s not a big surprise or anything.
In January 2017, the City Council accepted the donation of the old hotel from its previous owners, Tom and Nicole Rothrauff and the Wyninegar family. The Rothrauffs plan to build their new home on the old hotel’s original site after the building is moved.
The city has $300,000 in Community Redevelopment Agency money to pay for moving the structure, setting it up, making various repairs and upgrades and performing other tasks. The chamber has pledged to provide $50,000 from various donors for the overall project.
Map of route: