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Nov. 29--With a preliminary approval in place to construct a Tier III project near Crystal Beach, developers for the Henderson Beach Resort project are moving forward with a scaled back Tier I hotel -- for now.

"The owners want to vest their property rights and move forward with phase one of this project," said Shannon Howell, of Devcon Services Group, who has been associated with the project for the past six years. "We could, and probably would upgrade this project in the future."

The project is expected to be called the Henderson Beach Parkside Resort Hotel and would be a 170-room luxury hotel adjacent to Henderson Beach State Park. The four, possibly five, story hotel would feature a restaurant, spa, retail, and recreational features.

Dunavant Gulf LLC, who submitted the Tier I application, expects the project to cost, at minimum, $46.04 million, and create more than 600 jobs locally.

Howell told The Log that the current Tier III preliminary approval remains active until developers secure their Tier I development order. The Tier III design calls for a mixed-use development that would feature a convention center, water park, and multi-density residential units, in addition to the hotel.

All told, the entire Henderson Beach Resort project would total four buildings, some off which could possibly be Tier III.

"With a project like this, they really need as much intensity and density to make the numbers work," Howell said of the complete project.

Tier III developments offer developers the most intensity and density of all developments in the city. Currently there have been no Tier III projects built in Destin.

As part of recent Tier III discussions, city leaders have considered creating a new future land use category called Henderson Beach Resort, which would be located south of Hurricane Lanes and west of Matthew Boulevard and the Henderson Beach Inn property near the state park.

While some city leaders have questioned the creation of the new future land use, calling it "spot zoning," city planners say the area would be a "transition zone" for projects in the Crystal Beach area.

Residents near the project spoke out against the project during a recent City Council meeting, saying the project would "ruin the character" of the neighborhood. Developers countered by saying the project would be top notch and fit the character of Crystal Beach, while offering the area much needed hotel units and jobs.

"These are the types of jobs that Destin needs right now," Howell told The Log, adding that Destin and similar communities are seeing vacationers take shorter stays, which is where the benefit of hotels come in. "This is going to be an upscale project for Destin."

Since the Henderson Beach application is for a Tier I project, it does not require the approval of city leaders. Planners can pass the application through as long as it meets all of the necessary criteria.

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