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Highway 90 Site Chosen For New Santa Rosa Courthouse

Santa Rosa County Board of Commissioners

Santa Rosa County Commissioners are now looking ahead and what’s next, following their selection Thursday of a site on U.S. Highway 90 for a new $35 million courthouse.

The board started out with six potential sites, but in recent weeks had cut the list down to two choices; the parcel on U.S. Highway 90 owned by Coldwell Banker and the JDL of Santa Rosa property on Avalon Boulevard.

Commissioner Don Salter made the motion for a vote in support of the Highway 90 location, after making the case that it’s the better of two good options. “It’s centrally located. Cost development is about the same as Avalon Blvd., depending on where we put it in on Hwy 90. It has potential for growth and expansion 25-40 years from now, and we need to keep that in mind as we make a decision,” Salter said.

Commissioner Bob Cole also supported the Highway 90 location for the future potential.  He suggested that in combination with adjoining property, the Board may have the ability to later create a tax incremental district to help finance a south end courthouse annex.  Also, Cole is excited by the possibility of a $26 million bridge over Pond Creek to connect the site to Hamilton Bridge Road.

But, for those initiatives and the funds associated with them are not part of the scope of the site selection. So, it came down to the just the cost of acquisition and development of each of the final sites, which is fairly comparable at a little over $3 million each.  

But, that was still too much for many of the residents who spoke at Thursdays’ regular meeting.  Jennifer Enfinger Freeman was among those who tried to steer commissioners away from buying land in favor of using property the county already owns in East Milton.  According to Freeman, “A purchase of property involves debt, which obligates all who are present and all who come after until it’s paid. If you build in East Milton, it may help to pull the progress of the city together and spur opportunity for growth and development in areas currently lacking in stimulus.”

Board members dismissed calls to build on the free county owned property, suggesting that the site chosen for a new judicial center would have to serve the needs of the people of Santa Rosa County for the next 75 to 100 years.

For a time, it looked the vote would be 2 - 2, with commissioner Jim Williamson absent and Commissioners Jim Melvin and Lane Lynchard arguing in favor of the Avalon Boulevard property.

In dollars and cents, Avalon makes the most sense for the taxpayers of Santa Rosa county in my opinion, said Melvin. 

Lynchard added Avalon has two access routes and is a little closer to the south end. However, at the end of the day, Lynchard chose to unite with Salter and Cole in support of the U.S. 90 property in order to move forward with this first step in getting a new courthouse. “I think the way to scuttle this whole process is to have a divided board right out of the gate when it comes to selection of the property, said Lynchard.

The Highway 90 Coldwell Banker site was chosen on a vote of 3-1, with Melvin opposed.  In the weeks and months to come, county staff will complete a thorough vetting of the property, with a contract contingent upon the successful passage of a sales tax referendum to fund the entire courthouse project later this year. 

Sandra Averhart has been News Director at WUWF since 1996. Her first job in broadcasting was with (then) Pensacola radio station WOWW107-FM, where she worked 11 years. Sandra, who is a native of Pensacola, earned her B.S. in Communication from Florida State University.