FWB to address downtown parking woes


TONY JUDNICH @Tonyjnwfdn

FORT WALTON BEACH — The city’s downtown master plan slated to be completed sometime this summer will include recommendations to address parking issues, City Manager Michael Beedie said Friday.

A dent in the available public parking occurred Wednesday when the Gulfview Hotel made it to the heart of downtown. The building’s relocation caused the loss of 12 to 15 parking spaces at its new site.

Beedie said in an email that it will take a few more days to finish placing the old hotel on its new foundation at the city-owned lot at 115 Miracle Strip Parkway S.E. just west of Harris Insurance Services. That city lot had more than 30 parking spots before the old hotel was moved there.

The building eventually will include a welcome center, a retail shop, a Billy Bowlegs museum and leased office and meeting space. Beedie said the city staff will begin issuing bids to complete the necessary exterior renovations such as roof, painting and electrical system work, over the next couple of weeks. A firm that will manage the building could be hired by early June.

“I am hopeful that the building will be ready to begin operation within four to six months,” Beedie said.

But some residents have lamented on social media the loss of parking spots at the hotel’s new site. In addition, concerns about the lack of parking downtown are discussed occasionally at Fort Walton Beach City Council meetings.

Although a parking study conducted for the city in 2015 “showed that sufficient parking capacity exists for the existing land uses (to not include special event times or proposed future land uses), a large percentage of the parking available is clustered within a few areas and/or private and restricted in use,” Beedie said.

The city has several large public parking areas in the heart of downtown. For example, an unpaved lot on the northwest corner of Florida Place and U.S. Highway 98 has room for 72 vehicles and a lot directly across U.S. 98 has room for about 30 cars. Another lot immediately west of the Landmark Center property on the northwest corner of Perry Avenue and U.S. Highway 98 has about 119 parking spaces.

But overall, Beedie noted that nearly 35 percent of the available parking south of U.S. 98 and nearly 60 percent of available parking on the north side is private parking available only for specific businesses.

“Further, as downtown continues to redevelop and host additional and larger special events, times where a noted parking deficiency exists will continue to increase,” Beedie said.

He said the firm that is crafting the downtown master plan is assessing the recommendations from the 2015 parking study and will provide suggestions to address parking issues.

For example, possible solutions during special events include remote vendor parking, remote employee parking, remote parking with shuttling and making Brooks Street a one-way road, Beedie said.