First Friday Feature: Reynolds' rap (1 of 4)
What’s happening in Downtown DFS?
"Coming to 'Town'," was special when I was growing up," said Wanda Hardy Brannon, a native of DeFuniak Springs (DFS) and graduate of Walton Senior High School, Class of 1970. "Coming back in 2003, after being away for 30 years, downtown felt old and tired. But not anymore. I love the new look and new shops."
Reynolds Henderson, real estate investor and entrepreneur, is responsible for much of the Baldwin Avenue restoration to which Brannon referred. He has bought, renovated and leased several Baldwin Avenue retail spaces including Perla Baking Company, Setco Services and the former First National Bank building. And he is excited about the potential he sees for future economic and business growth in DFS and Walton County.
In addition to his work downtown, Henderson is a member of Triumph Gulf Coast's board of directors, so he is keenly aware of Walton County's funding status. And as a former member of Northwest Florida State College (NWFSC) Board of Directors, he has an informed perspective of Walton County's workforce training and education. So, The Herald-Breeze sat down with Henderson for a Q&A to discuss his insights about responsible growth and development in DeFuniak Springs and Walton County.
Herald: What prompted you to begin restoring properties in Downtown DFS?
Henderson: I have always been interested in historic preservation and have formerly owned and renovated historic buildings in Alabama. One afternoon I was returning to Florida after a visit with family in Alabama and happened to take an accidental detour straight into downtown DFS. It was then that I saw the rich history and overlooked potential of revitalizing the picturesque DeFuniak Springs and Baldwin Avenue.
Herald: Why is Triumph funding important to Walton County?
Henderson: Triumph Gulf Coast was a non-profit set up after Florida's $2 billion settlement with [British Petroleum] BP. Triumph is a $1.5 billion trust fund set up statutorily to create a more resilient economy in the Panhandle. The legislation allocated 75 percent to eight affected counties along the Panhandle’s coast.
Walton County is guaranteed 5 percent of this allocated money. Funds can be used for public infrastructure projects to incentivize companies to create jobs that provide wages over the median income. The funds can also create workforce education to train a workforce (CTE-Career Technical Education) through third-party certificate training (CAPE level).
Herald: Do we have a trained local workforce to support sustained growth?
Henderson: No, and we are nowhere close. Triumph can assist in providing funding, but we need local leadership to create the programming ideas and apply. Northwest Florida State College is our statutory provider in this county for these types of training programs. The college recently built new training facilities at their Chautauqua Center campus, on Highway 90 in DeFuniak Springs, partially through Triumph funding, The new programs offered include cyber security, drone training, structural welding, and construction trades just to name a few. However, they have failed to properly implement these programs, and the campus is not functioning due to a lack of leadership.
As Henderson and other business owners and organizations continue to revitalize DFS providing resources, recreation and entertainment; residents may, once again, enjoy a sense of excitement and anticipation about going to “town.”
"I remember shopping in Wise's Department Store, Quality Clothing Stores and the Dime Store, then stopping by King's Hardware to say, ‘Hi’ to Uncle Elbie [Hardy],” Brannon recalled. “I hope that soon every space will be filled, and people will once again feel the way I did about coming to ‘town’."
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