Recent developments in the Navarre area include a Neighborhood Walmart, a Family Dollar, a fitness center, an assisted living facility and a Marriott SpringHill Suites hotel and restaurant.

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NAVARRE — Interest in commercial real estate is on the rise in Navarre as officials strive to meet residents' requests for restaurants, retail services and youth related entertainment.

As the Navarre population rapidly approaches 50,000 and commercial buildings are more than 95 percent occupied, real estate officials say there is only one solution to resolve the community's growing needs: development.

"The market is great for purchasing commercial real estate right now," said Mark Miller, president of Navarre Area Board of Realtors. "There is a good supply of available parcels of land and prices are excellent compared to those in other coastal communities."

Miller said although commercial sales in Navarre have been slow over the past several years, the population growth and demographics are beginning to increase the interest in commercial development.

Navarre residents want some control over what developments that will be built, according to District 4 commissioner Rob Williamson. 

"I think for years we have heard Navarre residents don't want to become another Destin," Williamson said. "I think it's time we turn our focus on to what we do want to become."

Williamson said what residents want are additional retail stores, restaurants and businesses catering to youth. 

"What residents don't want is a similar traffic situation as Destin," Williamson said. "Destin is much more tourism focused. A Destin Commons would not be supported in the Navarre area like it would in the Destin community."

Shannon Ogletree, executive director for the Santa Rosa Economic Development, said the climate for additional retail growth is feasible.

"In terms of type of stores, I would think more category killer stores like a sports store, a cosmetic store, home goods, etc. would do quite well," he said.

According to Miller, there are currently 78 commercial properties available in the Navarre area. Two of those include empty lots along Gulf Shore Drive on Navarre Beach.

Recent developments in the Navarre area include a Neighborhood Walmart, a Family Dollar, a fitness center, an assisted living facility and a Marriott SpringHill Suites hotel and restaurant.

Williamson said although the addition of the Navarre Beach hotel was a significant addition, he believes more can be done with the 3-mile stretch of Gulf Boulevard. 

Although residents hope to avoid Navarre becoming a tourist trap, tourism is still "vitally important to Navarre," according to Williamson. He said beautification, increased access to the beach and additional parking are just some of the efforts to attract tourists to the area.

"I think what we need to do is focus on what we can do to make it more attractive for small businesses, whether that is related to tourism, military or anything that supports the community."

Ogletree agreed, saying for the area to grow in the retail sector Navarre needs to continue to increase the daytime population and further increase the tourism market.

"As that rises we will see new growth in retail," Ogletree said.

In January, the Santa Rosa County Board of Commissioners will begin meetings to construct a Master Plan to decide Navarre's future as it relates to commercial and tourism development.

"People want to have a say on how Navarre is developed," Williamson said. "Residents don't want outlet malls or water parks. I think you come up with a plan by having a public comment period and then come up with a master plan to better specify what you want to see in the community."