By Lisa Kopochinski
SANTA ROSA COUNTY, Fla.—Land is now being cleared for the new Santa Rosa County, Florida courthouse—a $47.5 million project that has been two decades in the making.
Located less than two miles from the U.S 90 intersection, this project—which is slated for completion by June 2021—will be a major upgrade from the nearly 100-year-old current judicial center complex in downtown Milton.
Ajax Construction is the general contractor along with architects Sam Marshall Architects and HOK.
According to an article in the Pensacola New Journal, this new courthouse project is also being viewed as an important step forward in the economic development of Avalon Boulevard, which has struggled to attract new businesses even after a widening and infrastructure project was completed in 2016.
“I guess they thought once the construction was done, everyone was going to flock to Avalon,” said Ken Dowell, the owner of a paint and body shop located directly across from where the new courthouse is being built.
“But you’ve got to have something to make people want to build here. There’s a plan somewhere, and this courthouse is going to be big for this area.”
A 2017 study found that, demographically speaking, the center of Santa Rosa County is within two miles of the Avalon Boulevard and U.S. 90 interchange, which factored into local lawmakers’ decision to build the courthouse there.
District 3 Commissioner Don Salter, who has been championing the new courthouse project since it was first discussed 22 years ago, said in a statement to local media that he has high hopes for economic development in the area.
“I certainly do think the four-laning of Avalon Boulevard, with all the infrastructure in place, including water, sewer and electrical, is going to help it become potentially the center of new business development in Santa Rosa County.”
Following a four-lane project, Avalon Boulevard has not lived up to the high expectations that county and state leaders envisioned when the project first got underway. Business has lagged behind on the road despite the economy picking up and development in Milton soaring.
Instead, as local media reported, business has boomed on nearby U.S. 90 and in the Pace area.
However, U.S. 90 and Pace are quickly building out, leading businesspeople to hope that Avalon Boulevard is the next big draw.
Salter said that the county could create a special business development district at the Interstate 10 and Avalon Boulevard interchange to give special tax incentives for new businesses. He also thinks business will naturally flock to Avalon once the courthouse is complete.
“I’d like to see businesses to support people working in the courthouse, like restaurants and lawyers’ offices. I think that’s automatically going to happen.”
The Santa Rosa County Chamber of Commerce is also hopeful that this new courthouse will bring in more development to Avalon. The Chamber is building its new location near the U.S. 90 intersection, moving from its longtime location on Stewart Street in Milton.
Santa Rosa County owns the existing courthouse structure, but the city of Milton is hoping to work with the county to make use out of either the 45,000-square-foot building or the land it is on once the new judicial complex is built. It is expected to take nearly two years for construction to wrap up on the new judicial center complex.
Since the old building is deteriorating quickly, City Council has suggested placing an amphitheater on or near where the current courthouse sits. However, County Administrator Dan Schebler has said plans for the existing courthouse building are “undetermined.”