Condo Action on Emerald Coast

Several new condominium projects announced in Destin-Fort Walton Beach will boost the upscale room block for the Emerald Coast Conference Center.

The projects include the Emerald Grande at HarborWalk Village, a 13-story, 281-unit luxury condo high-rise with a 9,300-square-foot European spa, set for a 2007 opening. The complex overlooking Destin Bay also will have an 8,700-square-foot conference center with breakout rooms and boardrooms.

On Okaloosa Island, near the Gulf Island Seashore National Park, the six-story Meridian project will break ground this summer and open in 2008. It will have 265 luxury condo units, a marina and a restaurant.

"When you combine the hotels and the various condos that offer room rental, we can put together significant room blocks in close proximity to the center, and that is going to get even better with the new condo projects under way," said Sherry Rushing, director of travel industry sales for the Emerald Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau.

The CVB currently can put together 800- to 900-room blocks for the largest conventions using area hotels and existing condos. Rushing said properties near the conference center, which has 35,000 square feet of net meeting space, include the 335-room Ramada Plaza Beach Resort and the 233-room Holiday Inn of Destin.

Joe Huffine, planner for the Tennessee Farm Cooperative, said price, amenities and accessibility for his members throughout that state are factors that have made Destin-Fort Walton Beach its annual-meeting site for the last 18 years.

Huffine said that although room rates have surpassed $115 a night, he still finds the Emerald Coast a good bargain, especially compared to other Florida beach destinations like Miami, whose average daily room rate is nearly $130 a night, or Palm Beach County, at more than $140 a night.

"There is a pretty good variety of lodging options in the Fort Walton Beach-Destin area at a lot of price points," he said. "And you can't beat the destination for activities our group likes: golf, sport fishing and simply going to the beach."