City Manager Update: Special Events in Downtown Fort Walton Beach

City Manager Update: Special Events in Downtown Fort Walton Beach


Since 2012, the City of Fort Walton Beach, through its Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) has aimed to revitalize the Downtown Fort Walton Beach area through several ambitious projects and programs: creation of a Downtown Business & Entertainment District, development of a master plan to renovate the Fort Walton Landing, adoption of a golf cart friendly community, development of a comprehensive Downtown Master Plan with the main goal of rerouting U.S. 98 around Downtown, and creation of a partnership with the Downtown business community and non-profits to sponsor community events that would bring hundreds, if not thousands, of people into the City.

CRAs were created to spark economic development, revitalize blighted areas, and generate a “buzz” within core areas of cities. The Fort Walton Beach CRA has accomplished that through the projects and programs, especially since the 2012 CRA Plan Update. In the 2012 CRA Plan Update, there is a specific strategy to “implement an annual promotional program and funding for the CRA, geared towards bringing visitors to the area and area businesses”. The promotional program has helped create events, such as Concerts at the Landing, which brings hundreds of visitors to the Downtown area each Friday for 10 weeks between May and July, and New Year’s Eve, which allowed businesses to thrive on a night when the area was empty in prior years because of the wide variety of local NYE events. The program has also allowed existing events, such as the Musical Echoes Native American Flute Festival, the largest of its kind in North America, and the Latin Salsa Festival to expand. Both of these events bring thousands of visitors to the area each year.

On just about every weekend, there is some sort of event in the Downtown area. From 5K runs to Art Walk to the Downtown FWB Farmer’s Market to the Holiday Market, the promotional program through the Fort Walton Beach CRA has allowed these events to take off and become successful.

But, with every program, there comes a time to stop, assess the successes, and revise the guidelines to make the program bigger and better. Every five years, the CRA updates its Plan, which is what the City is currently doing. Through the new CRA Plan Update, the City’s consultant, Tindale Oliver, is assessing the success of the promotional program and will provide recommendations on improvements to the guidelines in the future.

We are also closely watching the 2018 Legislative Session, as there are two bills (House Bill 17 & Senate Bill 432) that could drastically change the way CRAs operate. SB 432 has a provision that would specifically prohibit CRAs from funding special events or festivals.

With the ongoing CRA Plan Update and the proposed legislation at the State level, the City has decided to suspend the promotional program for 2018 to allow Tindale Oliver to assess the program and to determine which direction the State moves in relation to CRAs. Concerts at the Landing and the 4th of July will continue in 2018 as those are City events, but any other event will not be funded in 2018.

The City remains committed to the revitalization of Downtown Fort Walton Beach and will continue to explore other options to support events in the area. We ask you stay informed and involved as we move forward; it will take a true community effort from all of us to protect and grow what we value most.