By REID TUCKER with photos by JEFFREY POWELL
The next few months should be busy ones indeed for the growing business community in northern Walton County, as several major retailers are set to open in Mossy Head and DeFuniak Springs. However, it’s easy for the facts to get lost amid the deservedly excited speculation, so here’s a breakdown of what to expect between now and the first of 2015.
Love’s Travel Stops and Country Stores brings jobs to Mossy Head
Undoubtedly the biggest of the new businesses coming soon to the north end of the county will be Love’s Travel Stops and Country Stores, which first broke ground earlier this year. Love’s, the first tenant at the Mossy Head Industrial Park, located just off Interstate 10 at the intersection of U.S. 90 and U.S. 85, will finish construction and open for business by Aug. 28, with the grand opening ceremony scheduled for Sept. 5. The sprawling Love’s facility will also house a truck service and tire center as well as McDonald’s and Subway restaurants, all of which adds up to a massive impact on the local economy, said Walton County Public Information Manager Louis Svehla.
“Right now we’re looking at 80 new jobs being added, and that’s just for the businesses that are already in place,” Svehla said. “More land is available for purchase at the industrial park, so expansion is possible. By the time the other contracted businesses like Sleep Inn and IHOP are built and open, there should be between 150 and 170 total new jobs created.”
In addition to the obvious benefit that comes with new jobs for area residents, early projections show that the businesses at the industrial park will generate approximately $70 million in annual sales, Svehla said. There’s more good news in store for the industrial park too, as Walton County has gained access to $7.4 million set aside in this year’s state budget to complete work on infrastructure at the site. Svehla said there should be money enough left over to develop and construct a wastewater treatment facility capable of moving 250,000 gallons per day to provide services to the industrial park and the rest of the Mossy Head community as well.
Triangle Chevrolet Buick to open new location on U.S. 331
The venerable local Chevrolet and Buick dealership has been around for some 80 years in all, but for half that time the corporation known as Triangle has done business from its showroom on the corner of U.S. 90 in downtown DeFuniak Springs. That will change come November, as the company gears up for the completion of construction of its new location on U.S. 331 S along the city’s biggest business corridor. Triangle General Manager Taylor Lathinghouse said the new building (all 18,000 square feet of it) was, like many of GM’s newest crop of automobiles, designed with efficiency in mind.
“We purposefully built it with a smaller showroom to make more room for a bigger, more modern service department and sales lot,” Lathinghouse said. “We don’t need to keep our cars inside the office to sell them. They need to be out where they can be seen. If we want to be around another 40 years we need to be closer to the traffic.”
Lathinghouse expounded on the idea of the opportunity for space management being the key behind the change in location from U.S. 90 to U.S. 331. A state-of-the-art ventilation system in the shop was designed for maximum air flow and comfortable year-round working conditions for repair technicians, while the larger lot will enable Triangle to put as many as 230 vehicles on display – twice what is currently available.
Triangle broke ground on the new construction last fall, but heavy and constant rains through the winter and into this spring pushed back the completion date of the new dealership location, Lathinghouse said. Nevertheless, the project is expected to wrap up sometime in November of this year, now that the roof is finished and shop equipment is being installed. The word is still out on what kind of grand opening bash the dealership will through, but Lathinghouse joked the odds don’t look good on seeing a giant inflatable gorilla in the new Triangle sales lot anytime soon.
Get ready: Taco Bell projected to open before the end of 2014
While the other two businesses mentioned may have either greater economic impact or more historical significance, City Councilman Mac Work said there’s no doubt that the long-awaited Taco Bell location in DeFuniak Springs has drawn the most public interest by far. For Work, who spent months recruiting Taco Bell and the project’s Tallahassee-based developer to open a new location in DeFuniak, the late December finishing date can’t come soon enough.
“I have never seen so much anticipation for the opening of a fast food restaurant,” he said. “People are actually getting livid about [Taco Bell] not being open already. My phone rings off the hook at times with people calling to ask about what’s being done out there.”
Though construction is nowhere near as far along as it might be due to the aforementioned heavy rains bringing to light unforeseen problems involving both runoff and a high water table, progress has now begun in earnest, with more dirt being moved by the day. The Taco Bell site is located near Sonic, Burger King and other fast food restaurants just off U.S. 331 S, and it’s expected to be a huge draw for both locals and passers-by desirous of a meaty meal at any hour of the day or night. Work said around 12 jobs are likely to be created once the restaurant opens now that Taco Bell needs at least three shifts to serve breakfast and lunch and to keep the drive-through window open past midnight.
By REID TUCKER with photos by JEFFREY POWELL