|By Tom McLaughlin, Northwest Florida
Daily News, Fort Walton BeachMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Oct. 24, 2011, 2011--OKALOOSA ISLAND -- The Air Force will try something new next year when it becomes landlord of a hotel.
An "enhanced lease program" designed to let the Air Force collect rent on an under-used portion of beachfront land should get lots of attention from military publications, according to Air Force spokesman Glenn Wagner.
"This will be a new way of doing business for us," said Wagner, manager of Eglin Air Force Base's enhanced lease program.
He said the Air Force originally began discussing doing something "four or five years ago" with a 17-acre parcel known as Test Site A-5 adjacent to the Sheraton Four Points hotel. Thought was given to developing what is known as a "shades of green" resort, or military recreation center, Wagner said.
But the idea was nixed, he said.
"In these budgetary times a military recreation center is not high on the list of priorities," Wagner said. "We're looking to rent out land not being fully utilized and using the rent to keep the base up."
The $24 million hotel to be built on the property will be owned by the Department of Defense and managed by a company called Emerald Breeze Resort Group.
It will be run like any other business on the island, Wagner said.
"The largest percentage of people staying at the hotel will not have any idea it has anything to do with the Air Force," he said.
Its military owners will not receive any special benefits from local taxing authorities, Wagner noted.
"From my understanding, and I probably understand as well as anyone, they're going to be subject to every tax anyone else is that is running a commercial business on Okaloosa Island," Wagner said.
Okaloosa County Property Appraiser Pete Smith said he has not received any information about how the hotel will be managed, but if it is treated as a commercial venture it will be taxed like any other property built on "sovereign" land.
"We can't tax land that belongs to the government," he said. "We'll tax on the improvements."
One advantage the Air Force will receive from owning the hotel is that Eglin's 46th Test Wing will be able to put a telemetric receiving dish and optical equipment on top of the building. The equipment will enhance the wing's ability to look "out over the horizon and around and over" other buildings on the coast, Wagner said.
He said the hotel was never envisioned to provide housing for "overflow" military personnel who cannot be housed on base.
There is a list of hotels that active-duty troops are given when they must find off-base housing, Wagner said. The military hotel will be among those appearing on the list.
The hotel will offer significant discounts to servicemen and women, Wagner said, but "not anything that anyone else on the island could not offer."
(c)2011 the Northwest Florida Daily News (Fort Walton Beach, Fla.)
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