|By Dusty Ricketts, Northwest Florida
Daily News, Fort Walton BeachMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
November 1, 2009 - OKALOOSA ISLAND -- Construction on Okaloosa County's first fourstar hotel is not expected to start for six months to a year because of the economic slump.
Construction on the Hilton Emerald Coast, a 450-room luxury hotel, was expected to begin in February. However, Ozean Development LLC, said the project still is a go.
"This project is going to get built," said Joseph Winkeler with Ozean Development. "I've been meeting with state government, local government, everyone I can possibly meet with to get the project rolling. I think it's good for the economy. We definitely think it's a positive for Okaloosa County. Okaloosa County does not have a full-service hotel."
Despite some encouraging signs in the market, Winkeler said banks still are not loaning money to c o m m e r c i a l p r o p e r t i e s . Instead, he said Ozean has gotten some quasicommitments from noni n s t i t u t i o n a l d e b t m a rkets, but is still working out its capital stack, which i n c l u d e s c a s h , m e z z anine financing and senior debt financing.
All of the entitlements for the project have been completed. Once the financing is completed, Ozean will apply for a building permit from the county to start construction immediately.
The project is expected to create 1,000 construction jobs over a 24-month period and another 400 to 475 fulland part-time jobs after the hotel opens.
County commissioners approved plans for the Hilton Emerald Coast last December to be built on the north side of U.S. Highway 98 next to the Elks Lodge and across from Beasley Park.
The Hilton will offer three restaurants, a full-service spa, a 140-slip boat marina, a water park-like pool area and a pedestrian bridge over U.S. 98 to Beasley.
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