Final phase begins on John's Pass project

The garage is finished as are some retail buildings in the Hubbard family's renovation and expansion.

Published July 2, 2006

MADEIRA BEACH - Beginning next week demolition will start on three commercial buildings along the boardwalk, marking the beginning of the last phase of redevelopment for Hubbard Enterprises at their John's Pass properties.

"We knew we were going to be changing the face of John's Pass," said Patty Hubbard, the chief financial officer of the family-owned company that started the at-times controversial redevelopment three years ago. "We knew some people would like it and some wouldn't."

The project raised the most ire in town when the only visible component was its five-story parking garage, the first part of the construction. Residents and visitors complained the garage was a blight on the landscape, but Hubbard reassured them the scene was only temporary.

Now that the end of the project is in sight, the garage has been covered on three sides with two tall stories of retail shops and restaurants. The last phase of development will raze three older buildings along the John's Pass boardwalk and replace them with two-story buildings and an upper-level boardwalk. That last portion of the $14-million development should be completed by the end of the year, Hubbard said.

The project took what was an open parking lot and converted it into 12,000 square feet of commercial space wrapped around 327 parking spaces. The new boardwalk buildings will replace 6,000 square feet of space with 12,000 square feet, meaning the entire project will quadruple Hubbard's leasable space.

"People can't afford to hold vacant property," Hubbard said, adding that her family's property taxes went from $70,000 a year before the project started to $120,000 last year.

The new development will add a lot of revenue to the property with the possibility of as many as 28 storefronts. Hubbard said nearly 90 percent of the space is already rented. She has combined some of the spaces so tenants can have larger spaces.

The largest single tenant will be A.J.'s Seafood and Oyster House, which will occupy two stories and 9,000 square feet on the upper level of the west side of the garage looking out over the John's Pass outlet into the Gulf of Mexico. A.J.'s is a version of a restaurant in Destin and will also include the Sportsman's Lounge. Those facilities should open some time this summer or fall, Hubbard said.

The rest of the retail space around the garage is completed and businesses are already operating there, including a crepe restaurant and a clothier. Others to come soon are a coffee house, Asian restaurant, ice cream shop and more. Hubbard said she is close to signing an arcade with an indoor miniature golf course.

The tenants of the boardwalk buildings being removed are awaiting their new spaces. This includes Hubbard's Marina, which is operating out of a tent behind the construction site. The family's Friendly Fisherman restaurant will continue to operate throughout the work.

The city will be replacing the John's Pass boardwalk between now and year's end, Hubbard said, but will start with the 300 feet in front of her property because it is already vacant and construction will not disturb any business there. At the same time, the project will develop its two-story structures that will also connect by raised walkways to the garage and its shops.

The buildings being demolished are between the Friendly Fisherman and a new metal-roofed building nearest the John's Pass bridge, which is under construction. That existing building will remain, but its roof will be made into part of the deck that will front the second story of the new shops. That second story will be set back in a layer from the existing boardwalk and will cover parking adjacent to 128th Avenue.

Hubbard said the new construction is being designed to be storm proof. In addition to being raised above the floodplain and built of concrete-filled foam, the ground-floor windows are designed to hold back flood waters and the doors have steel plates to seal the structure against the elements.

"This building is a bunker," she said.

Paul Swider can be reached at 892-2271 or pswider@sptimes.com or by participating in itsyourtimes.com .