Fort Benning’s Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation has pumped almost $10 million into restoration efforts at the Destin Army Recreation Area in the past few years to create an “authentic resort” along Florida’s Emerald Coast, said William Moore, the complex’s business manager.
There have been major overhauls to most of the lodging units, including the 20 studios and 18 villas that sit on the 15-acre Army property along the shores of Choctawhatchee Bay. Additional projects are either under way or planned.
“We’re trying to give it more of an upscale feel,” he said. “We’re making this an authentic resort.”
The Army began upgrading the two- and three-bedroom villas in 2009. A $1 million renovation was aimed at redoing the bathrooms and kitchens and replacing the concrete block walls. The interiors were finished this year and feature new bedding, drapes and furniture.
The studios across from the swimming pool, which had been hotel rooms, sat empty for two years because of water damage from Hurricane Ivan in 2004, Moore said. In 2008, workers ripped up everything down to the studs and did a complete $850,000 overhaul.More than $1 million is being spent converting another hotel building into studios with full kitchenettes. A new fitness center will be housed on the second floor. DFMWR officials said they hope to wrap up that project by the end of summer season.
Five years ago, an old hotel next to the bay was turned into 14 one-bedroom apartments. Moore said the recreation area is trying to secure funding for a series of apartment upgrades in 2011. The bathrooms, surfaces, tiles, carpets, walls and kitchenettes are among the amenities and items targeted for replacement.
When summer season ends, officials will put $850,000 into completely renovating the 14-unit hotel on the property near the Army Marina, he said. The rooms will receive new insulation and soundproofing. The rewiring portion may include fiber optics for Internet access.
Moore said the recreation area has Wi-Fi service for guests, but connections are sporadic because of the facility’s proximity to Eglin Air Force Base and some technology issues need to be worked out.Flat-screen plasma TVs are now in nearly every unit, he said. Since 2007, the facility has doubled its maintenance team and improved housekeeping services by contracting out the staff. It became a 24-hour operation during the peak summer season last year.He said the upgrades stem from a “change in philosophy” and trend toward facility improvement across the DFMWR spectrum.
“We have the opportunity to offer better value and an equal product to what’s found outside the gate,” he said. “We know how to take care of our people better than they do.”
In 2011, officials plan to install a splash park and put in a tiki bar at the pool, Moore said.The Destin Army Recreation Area dates to the 1930s. It served as an Army lookout post during World War II and later became the Fort Benning Rest Camp. Cabins soon began sprouting on the old campground and villas popped up in the 1970s.
Within the past decade, the complex still had gravel roads and no outdoor lighting or landscaping. It’s now been paved throughout, and there are even lights at the tip of the 200-foot pier for night viewing of sea life.
Al Gelineau, Fort Benning’s DFMWR director, said infrastructure investment at the Destin Army Recreation Area is key to the organization’s long-term success.
“No one wants to stay in a place that is rundown and not well maintained,” he said. “Soldiers and families deserve the best possible accommodations at an affordable price.
A nice, clean, modern and well-maintained facility is all part of delivering the Army Family Covenant and honoring our commitment to Soldiers and families.”Moore said Ivan washed out the beach that used to line the bayside. An effort is being made to restore the beachfront, but it’s unclear how soon that might happen.
A recreation programmer will be hired this spring to coordinate kayak tours, barbecues, kids’ functions and other activities on the property, he said.
“The last piece of the resort puzzle is that programming aspect we never had before,” he said.
A $200,000 property management system will be set up by summer, allowing guests to make online reservations for rooms, activities, equipment, tours and events.Further information on Destin and the Destin Army Recreation Area can be read in this week’s Sports and Recreation sections.