Roughly one year after the state Department of Transportation wrapped up widening of Avalon Boulevard, business owners say they’re ready for a commercial boom.
The $40 million project, which started in August 2009, was plagued by numerous delays before its fourth and final phase was completed in February 2016. The more than six years of construction along Avalon Boulevard took their toll on motorists, forcing many to rely on alternative routes while traversing Santa Rosa County.
Now business owners want those motorists back.
“The businesses that survived that (construction) do need people to support them,” said Nick Farkas, who owns and operates the Pork and Spoon restaurant on Avalon. “I still talk to people who say, ‘I never take Avalon Boulevard.’ A lot of people just got used to taking other roads.”
Farkas, who opened his eatery in September 2015, said he wants people to know that the years of construction greatly improved traffic flow.
“It’s a beautiful road,” he said. “Now it’s really convenient to go down Avalon to go to Pensacola.”
Many long-time residents say traffic is flowing more smoothly through the area.
“I think it’s a lot better,” says Robin Bingham, manager at Avalon Cleaners. “It’s good. It was just two lanes and now it’s not!”
Jon Casey, who owns Casey’s Nursery and Landscaping with his wife, agrees that the road is safer but fears it’s turned into a “speed trap.”
“Rarely a day goes by that we don’t see people being stopped,” he said.
County Commissioner Bob Cole, who championed the project after taking office 14 years ago and secured more than $13 million in federal funds for the project, said he’s had only positive feedback from residents.
“I do know it was well overdue and I’m glad we finally have it open,” he said. “Now with multiple lanes, you feel a little safer. I’m really happy with the way it transpired.”
Cole and Farkas say Avalon Boulevard has the potential to draw more business to the area.
“I’d love to see some other restaurants open and get more competition going,” Farkas said. “I’d love for people to think about the Avalon corridor as a place to go eat — not just Highway 90.”
Cole said he and other commissioners would welcome more businesses and county officials are exploring ways to offer incentives to those looking to locate in Santa Rosa County.
“Whether that’s a mom and pop that wants to open a hot dog stand, there should be incentives available,” Cole said.