MILTON— The Santa Rosa County Chamber of Commerce and Tourist Information Center is relocating from their location on Stewart Street in Milton to a new building on Avalon Boulevard.
The relocation project — known as Project Welcome — is underway and the new building is anticipated to break ground in September, according to 2017 Chairman of the Board, Steve Rhodes. To break ground, the chamber must have 85 percent of the $950,000 total cost for the building. The organization currently has $695,000 — half in cash donations and half in labor and services — which is 83 percent of the total.
Rhodes and Donna Tucker, president of the chamber, approached the Milton City Council at the July 20 Committee of the Whole meeting asking if the city would like to partner with the chamber and donate funds. Mayor Wesley Meiss and Councilman Jeff Snow were absent from the meeting.
Councilwoman Mary Ellen Johnson said that she believes the city should donate some money because Milton is a proud city in a proud county and this is a good opportunity.
Councilwoman Ashley Lay said that although she loves and supports the chamber, she feels that this may not be in line with Milton’s priorities, especially since the chamber is relocating out of the city. Rhodes replied by asking that the council not think that the Chamber of Commerce is abandoning the city.
Councilman Casey Powell said that the city is currently working on finalizing the next year’s fiscal budget, so he would like to wait until the budget is complete before donating funds.
Tucker said that the chamber plans on going to every city in Santa Rosa County to see if they want to donate; she wants to make sure everyone has the opportunity to partner with the chamber if they want to. Larger donors also have the option to spread their donations over a four-year period instead of paying it all upfront, according to Tucker.
The top donors currently are McKenzie Motors, who will sponsor the board room at the new facility, and Bruce Baker, a local real estate agent who will sponsor the tourist information center. The new facility will have artifacts from area donors displayed throughout the foyer, according to Tucker.
Tucker said that the chamber looked at alternative buildings within the city and even at renovating the building they are currently in, but it wasn’t financially feasible. The current facility has only 13 parking spaces, but 22 board members. The new facility will have much more parking, a board room large enough to hold 50 board members and smaller administrative spaces, according to Tucker.
The new facility is modeled after the Asa May House in Capps, Fla., and will be made of solid wood from 50-year-old Virginia Pine. According to Tucker, the chamber researched the new location on Avalon Boulevard and found that the area has the highest traffic count in Santa Rosa County.
Tucker said the chamber received a good deal on the property and sold their current building to Jill Sport, a certified public accountant in Milton. The chamber is now leasing the building from Sport until they can move to the new location.