Latitude Margaritaville WaterSound Part of St. Joe’s Vast Bay-Walton Plan

Latitude Margaritaville Watersound partners, Minto Communities USA (“Minto”), Margaritaville Holdings, and The St. Joe Company (NYSE: JOE) (“St. Joe”), announce that the  13 island-styled model homes will open for by-appointment preview tours April 3-24.

Due to the unprecedented interest in Latitude Margaritaville communities, and current need to avoid large crowds and maintain social distancing, advance appointments to tour Latitude Margaritaville Watersound are required. Those scheduling in-person tours or phone appointments from April 3-24 will have the opportunity to complete a reservation agreement to enter a virtual, live-streamed drawing on May 1 for the first sales release of homes. At that time, all reservation agreements from the April preview period will be drawn in random order to determine the order of scheduling appointments to purchase a new home.

Inspired by the lyrics and lifestyle of singer, songwriter and best-selling author Jimmy Buffett, whose songs evoke a passion for tropical escape and relaxation, Latitude Margaritaville’s dynamic, all-new approach to active adult living has captured the imagination of today’s vibrant and active 55-and-better home buyers. Latitude Margaritaville Watersound is the third Latitude Margaritaville to be developed by Minto and Margaritaville, and the first to be developed in partnership with St. Joe. The first two are located in Daytona Beach, Florida and near Hilton Head, South Carolina.

Latitude Margaritaville Watersound is located on Northwest Florida’s Emerald Coast between Pensacola and Panama City, near Panama City Beach, and situated in the heart of St. Joe’s vast Bay-Walton Sector Plan that encompasses approximately 110,500 acres with approximately 15 miles of frontage on the Intracoastal Waterway.

Just a short drive from the famed Scenic Highway 30-A corridor with its beautiful white-sand beaches, this region is the embodiment of the relaxed, beachy vibe that is at the heart of the Latitude Margaritaville lifestyle. The community’s initial phase is anticipated to include approximately 3,500 homes.

“This amazing property presents a stunning setting in which to deploy the four pillars of the Latitude Margaritaville lifestyle — food, fun, music and escapism — in one of the country’s most beautiful and desirable locations,” notes Minto’s Latitude Margaritaville Division President William Bullock. “The area’s natural terrain is breathtaking and the planned Latitude Town Center amenities will provide spectacular views of the Intracoastal Waterway.”

A virtual preview is available now at LatitudeMargaritaville.com/watersound where floor plans, site plans, amenity renderings and more details about the community can be viewed. Four distinct home collections, the Conch Cottage Collection, Caribbean Villas Collection, and Beach and Island Collections of single-family homes, capture the “no worries” tropical vibe that defines Latitude Margaritaville. Floor plans range from 1,204 to 2,564 square feet under air with pricing from the mid $200s.

“We’re delighted with our relationship with Minto, St. Joe, and the community we have planned for the Florida Panhandle,” shared Jim Wiseman, President of Margaritaville Development. “We look forward to this tremendous opportunity for Latitude Margaritaville Watersound, where fun and relaxation meet at home.”

Plans call for Latitude Margaritaville Watersound’s impressive resort-style amenities to include a Latitude Town Center with a Town Square for concerts, dancing and movies, featuring a thatched-roof bandshell with full-size concert stage and jumbo screen, a Fins Up! Fitness Center with indoor pool and spa, Paradise Pool with beach-style entry and Tiki Island, a two-story Latitude Bar & Chill restaurant overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway and Changes in Attitude Bar. There are also plans for tennis and pickleball courts, nature trails and a Barkaritaville Dog Park. Future planned amenities include a Workin’ N’ Playin’ Center with a Last Mango Theater, Hangar Workshop for golf cart tune ups and Barkaritaville Pet Spa. In addition, St. Joe has plans for a future full-service public marina and commercial village adjacent to the community.

“The start of tours and the beginning of the home sales process brings us one step closer to welcoming the first residents to Latitude Margaritaville Watersound,” said Jorge Gonzalez, President and CEO of St. Joe. “This location, the quality of the homes and the amenities that are planned will make this the ideal place to call home for those 55 and better.”

Image credits: Courtesy Minto Communities.

https://www.dropbox.com/sh/p5jkznrys1pq3w0/AADpmZGn3w5Avj6ffhnbfFDna?dl=0

  1. The Latitude Margaritaville Watersound sales center opens soon for tours by appointment.
  2. Latitude Margaritaville Watersound provides an irresistible concoction of food, fun, music and escapism.
  3. The state-of-the-art Fins Up! Fitness Center plans include an indoor pool and spa.
  4. A planned two-story Latitude Bar & Chill restaurant will overlook amazing views of the Intracoastal Waterway.
  5. The natural terrain at Latitude Margaritaville Watersound presents a stunning setting.
  6. Thirteen model homes, include cottages, villas and single-family homes to open soon for touring by appointment.

Important Notice Regarding Forward-Looking Statements

This press release contains “forward-looking statements,” within the meaning of Section 21E of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, including statements regarding the anticipated timeline for development, Minto’s and St. Joe’s anticipated success of the joint venture and prospective interest in a Latitude Margaritaville project in Bay County and our expectations regarding the new marina and commercial village adjoining Latitude Margaritaville, as well as the growth potential of a Latitude Margaritaville community in Bay County. These forward-looking statements are qualified in their entirety by cautionary statements and risk factors set forth in St. Joe’s filings with the SEC, including its Annual Report on Form 10-K for the year ended December 31, 2020 and subsequent current report filings, as well as the following: (1) the ability of St. Joe and Minto to successfully complete the proposed project, and (2) the continued interest of prospective buyers of a Latitude Margaritaville project in Bay County, Florida.

About Latitude Margaritaville

Latitude Margaritaville is a new portfolio of active adult communities developed by master developer Minto Communities and global lifestyle brand Margaritaville Holdings. Offering resort-style amenities, Latitude Margaritaville is the ideal destination for those looking to live the Margaritaville lifestyle as they grow older, but not up. The communities feature a resort-style pool, fitness center, live entertainment, signature Margaritaville food and beverage concepts, arts and learning programs and more. Ranked the nation’s most popular active adult community of 2018 by 55Places.com and 2019’s Best 55+ Community of the Year by the National Association of Home Builders, Latitude Margaritaville communities are now open in Daytona Beach, Florida and near Hilton Head, South Carolina. Latitude Margaritaville Watersound, located on the Emerald Coast in Florida’s Panhandle, opens April 2021. Additional Latitude Margaritaville communities are planned for some of the nation’s most popular destinations.

About Minto Communities 

Minto Communities USA, based in Florida since 1978, has represented integrity, financial strength and enduring value for over 40 years. Minto builds exceptional new homes and communities to meet every lifestyle, with more than 26,000 new homes built in 48 communities. Minto is dedicated to continuous improvement in design, quality and customer experience. These are just some of the elements that set Minto apart as an exceptional homebuilder and community developer and have earned the company national recognition that includes consistently high rankings from Eliant Customer Service Surveys. Minto has been recognized with multiple national awards from the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) for community and home design, including Best Single-Family Community Over 100 Homes for Westlake in the City of Westlake; Best Mixed-Use Community and Best Clubhouse for The Isles of Collier Preserve in Naples, Florida; and Best Clubhouse for the Harbour Isle Beach Club in Sarasota-Bradenton, Florida. Minto is also recognized throughout the homebuilding industry as an expert in developing active-adult communities. The NAHB named Minto Communities as 2019’s 55+ Builder of the Year. Minto’s Latitude Margaritaville Daytona Beach was awarded 55+ Community of the Year for 2019, and Latitude Margaritaville Hilton Head was awarded 55+ Community of the Year for 2020.

About Margaritaville

Margaritaville, a state of mind since 1977, is a global lifestyle brand inspired by Jimmy Buffett, whose songs evoke a passion for tropical escape and relaxation. Margaritaville features over 20 lodging locations and over 20 additional projects in the pipeline, with nearly half under construction, two gaming properties and over 60 food and beverage venues including signature concepts such as Margaritaville Restaurant, award-winning JWB Prime Steak and Seafood, 5 o’Clock Somewhere Bar & Grill and LandShark Bar & Grill. More than 20 million travelers every year change their latitude and attitude with a visit to a Margaritaville resort, residential real estate destination, vacation club, vacation home rental or restaurant. Consumers can also escape everyday through a collection of Margaritaville lifestyle products including apparel, footwear, frozen concoction makers, home décor, a satellite radio station and more. For more information on Margaritaville, visit www.margaritaville.com. Follow Margaritaville on Facebook at www.facebook/margaritaville, and on Twitter and Instagram at @Margaritaville. Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville | Official Site Official site for Jimmy Buffett Tour Dates and Margaritaville Restaurants, Hotels, Casinos, Resorts, Vacation Club and Products www.margaritaville.com.

About St. Joe

The St. Joe Company is a real estate development, asset management and operating company with real estate assets and operations in Northwest Florida. The Company intends to use existing assets for residential, hospitality and commercial ventures. St. Joe has significant residential and commercial land-use entitlements. The Company actively seeks higher and better uses for its real estate assets through a range of development activities. More information about the Company can be found on its website at www.joe.com. On a regular basis, the Company releases a video showing progress on projects in development or under construction. See https://www.joe.com/video-gallery for more information.

St Joe Company 2021. “Watersound”, “St. Joe®”, “JOE®”, the “Taking Flight” Design®, “St. Joe (and Taking Flight Design) ®” are registered service marks of The St. Joe Company or its affiliates.

Minto is authorized to use the Latitude Margaritaville name by virtue of a license agreement from Margaritaville

Paula Robertson (for Minto)
Paula Robertson & Associates
239-454-1454
Paula@prprUSA.com

Marek Bakun (for The St. Joe Company)
866-417-7132
Marek.Bakun@joe.com

Mike Kerrigan (for The St. Joe Company)
850-231-6426
Mike.Kerrigan@joe.com

Caroline Andrew (for Margaritaville)
FINN Partners
646-373-2899
caroline.andrew@finnpartners.com

Source: The St. Joe Company

New Pedestrian Underpass Coming to East End of 30A

New Pedestrian Underpass Coming to East End of Scenic 30A

AERIAL OF INLET BEACH

The Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County (CAA), Scenic WaltonVisit South Walton, the Walton County Board of County Commissioners, and the Florida Department of Transportation hosted the official groundbreaking of the U.S. Hwy. 98 pedestrian underpass at Inlet Beach on Friday, March 26, at 3:00 pm

This $5.6 million project will be the first pedestrian and cyclist underpass to be constructed in the county and will be located at the corners of U.S. Highways 98 and Scenic 30A.

Once the underpass is complete, it will provide safe passage for pedestrians and cyclists underneath US Highway 98 through a lighted tunnel. Scenic Walton is partnering with the Cultural Arts Alliance to create a public art component that will be part of the CAA’s Art in Public Spaces program. It will include two mid-sized sculptures installed next to each tunnel entrance and murals created on the tunnel’s interior walls. Lighting will be stylistically installed on the ceiling, and the floor will remain unobstructed for clear and safe passage. The tunnel will measure 12 ft wide x 8 ft high x 136 ft long.

A open national artist invitation will go out in April 2021, with finalists chosen in July and commissions selected in August. Concepts will be reviewed and chosen by a panel of representatives from the creative, public, and private sectors, and the community at large. Two artists/teams will create and install the sculptures, and one artist/team will create the interior murals with collaboration by local students through the CAA’s ongoing partnership with the Walton County School District.

The overall project outcome will be a safe, practical, and necessary crossing that also provides an enhancement to the surrounding area through indigenous landscaping and beautiful, engaging, and thought-provoking artwork. Artistically and conceptually, and in recognition of this underpass being the first in the area, the theme of the art installations will be “connectivity” and “relationship” among and between humans and connection with our built environment through creativity. The artwork will be installed in Spring 2022.

This project will be a continuation of existing or developing public art projects located in the adjacent communities, including the CAA’s Monarch Art Trail along South Watersound Parkway, the Rosemary Beach Sculpture Exhibition, Alys Beach’s permanent sculpture collection, and future public art installations at Watersound Origins. The underpass will be an obvious thoroughfare, but it will also add value to the practical environment and become an experience for those who live, work and vacation in our community.

What Does Record Low Housing Inventory Mean for You?

The real estate market is expected to do very well  in 2021, with mortgage rates that are hovering at historic lows and forecasted by experts to remain favorable throughout the year. One challenge to the housing industry, however, is the lack of homes available for sale today. Last week, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) released their existing home sale report, which shows that the inventory of homes for sale is currently at an all-time low. The report explains:

“Total housing inventory at the end of December totaled 1.07 million units, down 16.4% from November and down 23% from one year ago (1.39 million). Unsold inventory sits at an all-time low 1.9-month supply at the current sales pace, down from 2.3 months in November and down from the 3.0-month figure recorded in December 2019. NAR first began tracking the single-family home supply in 1982.”
(See graph below):

What Does This Mean for You?

If You’re a Buyer:

Be patient during your home search. It may take time to find a home you love. Once you do, however,  be ready to move forward quickly. Get pre-approved for a mortgage, be prepared to make a competitive offer from the start, and know that a shortage in inventory could mean you’ll enter a bidding war.  Calculate just how far you’re willing to go to secure a home and lean on your real estate professional as an expert guide along the way. The good news is, more inventory is likely headed to the market soon, Lawrence Yun, Chief Economist at NAR, notes:

“To their credit, homebuilders and construction companies have increased efforts to build, with housing starts hitting an annual rate of near 1.7 million in December, with more focus on single-family homes…However, it will take vigorous new home construction in 2021 and in 2022 to adequately furnish the market to properly meet the demand.”

If You’re a Seller:

Realize that, in some ways, you’re in the driver’s seat. When there’s a shortage of an item at the same time there’s a strong demand for it, the seller is in a good position to negotiate the best possible terms. Whether it’s the price, moving date, possible repairs, or anything else, you’ll be able to request more from a potential purchaser at a time like this – especially if you have multiple interested buyers. Don’t be unreasonable, but understand you probably have the upper hand.

Bottom Line

The housing market will remain strong throughout 2021. Know what that means for you, whether you’re buying, selling, or doing both.

Alys Beach’s Newest Restaurant, The Citizen, Now Open

30A’s newest restaurant, The CITIZEN, a coastal tavern and restaurant located within the luxury seaside community of Alys Beach, is now open. Situated on the street level of The May in Alys Beach’s Town Center, The Citizen presents approachable and innovative cuisine featuring locally and regionally sourced fare inspired by coastal communities from around the globe. As a celebration of community and a gathering place for locals and visitors alike, The Citizen boasts a dynamic food and beverage program paired with elegant and modern interior design.

Open to the public as of Friday, January 22nd, The CITIZEN is guided by long-time industry veteran and member of the Alys Beach community, Jeremy Walton. Walton brings more than 25 years of experience in the food, beverage, and hospitality industry, having worked with luxury hotel groups Auberge Resorts, Montage International, and Sea Island prior to his time with Alys Beach. He has also served as a consulting partner for James Beard Award-winning chef, Chris Hastings.

The CITIZEN features approachable, yet innovative cuisine with a menu that centers around locally and regionally sourced foods and draws inspiration from coastal communities near and far. Land- and sea-driven dishes highlight such focal points as Gulf shrimp and grouper, filet of beef and house made Tagliatelle with Benton’s bacon, vegetables, and herbs, each with beautiful preparations and accompaniments both familiar and exotic. The CITIZEN will initially offer an evening experience, with expansion into lunch and brunch offerings on the horizon.

The cocktail menu is comprised of inventive, seasonal libations organized by flavor profile and featuring reimagined classics alongside familiar favorites. The “Zero Proof” section of the cocktail menu offers elevated mocktail creations based on distilled, non-alcoholic spirits. A thoughtfully curated wine and beer list will round out the menu.

The CITIZEN is conceptualized in a celebration of food and community, a gathering space for neighbors and friends old and new. Khoury-Vogt Architects designed the space, replete with thoughtful details, functional vintage character pieces, and exquisite modern accents. The space comes together around an expansive bar, a stand-alone custom raw bar, a mixture of booth and table seating, an open kitchen featuring a seven-foot wood burning hearth, and expansive views of the Alys Beach Amphitheatre and Scenic Highway 30A.

Currently, The CITIZEN is following social safety protocols including facial coverings worn by employees, social distancing including limited capacity seating, and increased sanitation procedures. The CITIZEN will also follow Alys Beach’s standard of operations.

Long Awaited WaterColor Phase 5 Lots Open for Bidding Sept 29th

The Park District at WaterColor

The Park District neighborhood, with a focus on primary living, is the final chapter in the WaterColor community story. Featuring 41 custom homesites, the Park District homes will be vacation rental restricted, making it the ideal enclave for primary living and true second home ownership.

The Park District is adjacent to Grayton Beach State Park and the WaterColor Crossings shopping center which includes a grocery, restaurants and other services. Park District residents will have access to all of the existing amenities offered in the WaterColor community, including the sugar-sand beaches of South Walton, the WaterColor Beach Club, Camp WaterColor, miles of trails and multitude of parks. In addition, the Park District neighborhood will be home to a neighborhood pool open to WaterColor homeowners only.

20 Lots are being released initially and minimum offers start in the mid 500,000’s.  Please call or email me for full information and assistance. Cathy@30AHomeListings. come or 850.502.3422

Thirty-One on 30A Beachfront Condominium Close-Out

An Uncommon Offer. An Exceptional Opportunity.

The first Gulf-front condominium project introduced on Scenic Highway 30A in more than a decade –Thirty-One on 30A – is entering its final sales cycle with an offer that is sure to turn heads. Developer incentives ranging from just over $100,000 to upwards of $350,000 will accompany the purchase of the last nine residences as The Premier Property Group (PPG) completes yet another celebrated development and successful real-estate venture.

“It was our aim from the beginning to bring something fresh and new to the Emerald Coast, and the response we have received since closing the first residences at Thirty-One last fall suggest that we reached our goal,” said Jason White, COO of PPG. “This development’s popular standing in the market was reinforced by its attractive price point combined with a smart mix of high-end, contemporary design elements and amenities.”

Of the 27 units available in the four-story development, 17 were sold by early September 2018, when the first closings were completed at the property. Six additional transactions, including  resales, have occurred at Thirty-One since the beginning of the year. The remaining units—ranging in size from approximately 2,500-3,300 square feet—are currently listed for between $2.175 million and $3.945 million.

White noted that three of the remaining residences are designer-ready and will offer credits of $325,000 or $350,000 depending on the size and cost of the condominium. Rena Anderson, an interior design consultant with PPG and the Developer’s Representative for Thirty-One on 30A , is available to guide buyers through the process of putting the final touches on their new property, or owners can make their final choices independently. Six additional units are move-in ready and will offer a credit of between $100,000 and $200,000.

The $70 million Thirty-One on 30A condominium development was designed with a distinctive, refined lifestyle in mind that draws on the latest design trends and state-of-the-art amenities. Notably, each residence offers a large gulf-front balcony overlooking 335 feet of beach frontage (the size of a football field). That means that each of the 27 units is afforded more than 12 feet of beach compared to just over one foot in many neighboring communities.

The property offers owners an unmatched level of privacy as residences are accessed from a secure, underground garage via seven private elevators, each providing entry to four units—one on each of the development’s four floors. The garage is also equipped with a secure storage area for each residence.

Convenience and maintenance-free lifestyles are central to the vision behind Thirty-One, which offers a wide variety of concierge packages and services through Live Well 30A and La Dolce Vita. In addition, beach service is automatically included with all residences to ensure a seamless, hassle-free experience for owners. A fleet of street legal golf carts is also available that can be used for dinner outings or simply enjoying the eclectic offerings of nearby 30A communities. An onsite catering kitchen, club room, outdoor kitchen and owner’s area with firepit make entertaining easy.

For more information on Thirty-One on 30A, Contact Cathy Turner  at 850.296.2366.

Click here for photos and details of all Thirty-One on 30A units for sale

Seagrove Beach, New Construction, 2 Blocks to Beach Access and Great Cash Flow

This brand new construction 5 bedroom home under 1 million with a small pool is only 2 blocks from the beach access and with a mortgage with 25% down after rental management fee, taxes, insurance and utilities could still cash flow over 10,000 per year! Call or email me for costs breakdown, survey, specification sheet, rental projections, etc. Cathy Turner 850.502.3422 or Cathy@30AHomeListings.com

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Ecotourism in South Walton

Spotlight on Bird Watching

Visitors may flock to the Emerald Coast for our sugar-sand beaches and unspoiled landscapes, but our unique natural resources extend far beyond coastlines and waterways. The Choctawhatchee Audubon Society calls our region the most biologically rich area in the U.S. in terms of the number of living creatures. From sea turtles to bottlenose dolphin to great blue herons, the species who pass through our area are plentiful and diverse.

Our local communities embrace ecotourism, which can be defined as sustainable tourism. It includes authentic experiences that are distinctive to the local region, and it differs from mass-market tourism in that it exists because of the place. Simply put, it cannot be outsourced.

Consider bird-watching, for example. The Emerald Coast is a hotspot for this pastime because of the variation in habitats and its position within migration routes. Our location near both saltwater and freshwater make this an ideal habitat for a variety of birds.

Notably, Florida is home to the third largest number of bird species behind Texas and California–states with much more land mass. The region is home to coastal seabirds, shore birds, wetland birds, birds-of-prey, migratory birds and introduced species. The warm temperatures allow native birds to stay year-round and provide nesting locations for migratory birds.

Coastal seabirds nest on the shoreline and are often seen diving just offshore for saltwater fish or gathered in groups on piers. Those common to the panhandle include the double-breasted cormorant, aningha and eastern brown pelican.

Shore birds also live on the shoreline but they do not hunt in the ocean. Native species include the red knot, the American oystercatcher and the dunline.

Wetland birds require freshwater wetland habitats like marshes, swamps, lakes and rivers to survive. Species like the great blue heron, snowy egret and white ibis build nests of grass and mud at the water’s edge as do other waterfowl, like ducks.

Perhaps most well-known, the Panhandle’s birds-of-prey include the osprey, bald eagle, swallow-tailed kite and red-shouldered hawk. They live in the treetops of forest regions near freshwater sources because they feed on amphibians and fish. Florida boasts one of the highest populations of bald eagles in the U.S.

Introduced species include those that aren’t native to the area but that were introduced here, typically by humans who released them into the wild. They can be dangerous to the area because they have no natural predators, allowing them to overpopulate. As a result, they often negatively impact native birds. Our muscovy duck is an example.

Each year, our area hosts a variety of ecotourism events that connect locals and visitors with our varied natural resources. Programs like the Choctawhatchee Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count tallies the welfare and presence of birds in the area. Volunteers assist with the count that collects photos, recordings, and as many details as possible about the local bird population.

The Emerald Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau also hosts Nighttime Educational Beach Walks that educate people about sea turtle migration, egg-laying, and the species’ importance to local ecosystems. The presentation teaches people to recognize tracks, identify threats to the population, and watch for them during visits to the beach.

Other ecotourism offerings include Grayton Beach State Park, Topsail Hill State Preserve, Eastern Lake Bike Trail, and the Cassine Garden Nature Trail.

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National Geographic Names South Walton on Best Trips 2019

The Emerald Coast is making global waves again. National Geographic recently named South Walton to its list of Best Trips for 2019, confirming what communities served by The Premier Property Group have long known: our region offers much more than just beautiful beaches. Citing the vast and varied marine life and the local efforts to protect natural resources, the National Geographic team chose South Walton as one of only three U.S. destinations to make the list.

The magazine is not alone in its applause. In 2018, Forbes called South Walton Florida’s Best-Kept Secret.

Comprised of 26 miles of beach, 16 communities, and four state parks, South Walton welcomes more than 4.1 million visitors annually, of which almost 40% are return guests. A 2018 report noted that each visitor to the area delivers an economic impact of about $1,126.

Built within the last 30 years, the 16 communities of South Walton are as unique and varied as the residents and visitors who grace their boundaries. Some are known for their architecture, some for their laid-back atmosphere, and others for their eclectic offerings. Artists, ecotourists, foodies, adventurers, athletes and shoppers alike find something to love about the area, whether they’re drawn to cutting-edge developments, extraordinary experiences or simple beach lifestyle.

Last month, we showcased the Underwater Museum of Art (UMA), recently named to Time’s Greatest Places of 2018. This uncommon offering combines the beauty of sculpture with the utility of an artificial reef to create a scuba destination unlike any other. The UMA launched in 2017 to provide a necessary habitat for a wide variety of marine life. Because the museum plans to add new sculptures annually, visitors can return every year to explore the new additions and the growing numbers of species that call the reef home.

Ecotourism opportunities are endless, extending from rare dune lakes that are only found in a few places around the world to the miles of trails that wind through South Walton. Countless varieties of marine life and animal species reside among the sugar-white sand and emerald waters, including the Great Blue Heron, the bottlenose dolphin, and endangered sea turtles.

Those who love South Walton for its charm enjoy unique shopping, spectacular restaurants, locally-caught seafood and inviting resorts. Outdoor amphitheaters play host to numerous shows and performances, and the farmers’ markets allow shoppers to support the local economy while enjoying the best of our local natural resources.

The neighborhoods of South Walton, each with its own personality and history, draw visitors of all ages and stages, primarily from the Southeast and the Midwest. Roughly 94 percent of visitors spend time at the beach, and more than three-fourths come to relax with family.

Visitors to the area create more than 22,000 jobs and generate a total economic impact of $4.4 billion annually, and those numbers continue to grow. For those already invested in the area, property values remain sound and profitable, as both Walton and Okaloosa counties repeatedly demonstrate growth in real estate closings. Simply put, it’s a great time to own property on the Emerald Coast.

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Underwater Museum of Art off the Coast of Grayton Beach

Emerald Coast Exclusive: Underwater Museum of Art

Beyond the obvious beauty of the Emerald Coast, there’s a deeper, more elusive splendor situated less than a mile off the shores of Grayton Beach State Park. Recently showcased in Time’s famed Greatest Places of 2018, the Underwater Museum of Art (UMA) resides about 57 feet under the Gulf of Mexico’s emerald green waters, marrying the beauty of sculpture and the life-sustaining power of artificial reefs.

The UMA’s permanent underwater sculpture garden, launched in 2017, draws a wide variety of marine life and provides a vital habitat in the form of a living reef. Conceived by Allison Wickey, president of the Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County (CAA), the UMA attracts art lovers and marine wildlife in a mutually beneficial partnership.

Wickey called the local UMA a perfect storm of ideas. She developed a love for the snorkeling reefs established by the South Walton Artificial Reef Association (SWARA), and she simultaneously discovered the existence of other sculpture reefs around the world.

“I wondered why we weren’t doing something like this ourselves,” Wickey said. “We have so many artists here, but I wasn’t sure if it was even possible because the idea seemed so pie-in-the-sky.”

She pitched the idea of the sculpture garden to the SWARA board, and the organization immediately embraced her vision and joined forces with the CAA. And the rest is history.

The UMA offered its first call to artists in 2017 and dropped its first round of sculptures in 2018. By the end of 2019, the garden will be home to 19 permanent underwater sculptures.

The sculptures must be made of marine concrete, stainless steel, aluminum, limestone, marble, or other natural material to avoid harming the environment. As the team learns more about the process moving forward, Wickey expects it may lean more toward concrete pieces because of the increased durability.

Each year, the UMA determines how many sculptures it intends to add and issues a call for artists. Interested artists can submit an application with a sculpture idea. The top submissions are then reviewed and chosen by a jury, and new sculptures are added to the museum.

The entire effort has morphed into a collaboration between a number of local organizations. Emerald Coast Scuba in Destin has adopted the UMA, providing scuba certification for some of those in leadership and also by working to keep the site clean. Additionally, when Walter Marine out of Orange Beach comes to Walton County to drop a reef for SWARA, the UMA is able to piggy-backs onto the trip and drop its own sculptures. The partnership reduces expenses for the UMA and makes for a very efficient process.

The sculpture garden is a dive-site only due to its depth and isn’t suitable for snorkeling. While there is currently no tracking of visitors to the UMA, Wickey said that Emerald Coast Scuba takes people out to the site weekly. She also said that those interested in seeing the sculptures should contact Emerald Coast Scuba for more information.

“This began as a grassroots effort and we had very little experience with anything like this,” she said. “We’ve learned every step of the way, so it will be interesting to see how it evolves over time.”

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