Florida’s Panhandle boasts some of the nation’s most beautiful white sand beaches, attracting tourists from all over the world. From Perdido Key to Apalachicola, each coastal town has its own unique character and when visitors are looking for the convenience of city amenities near the solitude of a national park, Fort Walton Beach tops the list.
For decades, a Gulf-front Best Western hotel – less than a mile from major city attractions, including the Destin-Fort Walton Beach Convention Center, Gulfarium Marine Park, and Okaloosa Boardwalk – served travelers to the city. In 2022, OTO Development, part of The Johnson Group, partnered with construction firm Robins & Morton to renovate the hotel, transforming it into a boutique property. Now part of the Tapestry Collection by Hilton, the hotel pays homage to local history as it welcomes visitors from around the world.
OTO Development invested in a down-to-the-studs renovation of the property and gave it a new identity: Beal House Fort Walton Beachfront, Tapestry Collection by Hilton. The name pays homage to Dr. James Hartley Beal, a pharmacist, educator, and early citizen of Fort Walton Beach whose vision still influences the community today. To honor Dr. Beal and the city’s culture, OTO Development worked with Pond – a full-service interior design, architecture, and engineering firm – to incorporate nods to his legacy into the hotel design.
While Dr. Beal played an eminent role in early pharmacology, he is also remembered for his extensive seashell collection comprised of more than 100,000 specimens from around the world. To reflect Dr. Beal’s personal interests, Pond integrated a nautical theme and seashell motif throughout the building, including an intricate shell mosaic on the reception wall that took an artist more than 50 hours to create.
Another seashell display leads guests to the updated restaurant and bar called The Remedy – another reference to Dr. Beal’s influential career as a pharmacist. Although hotels tend to be havens for tourists, the Best Western in Fort Walton Beach had become a gathering place for locals too, with many residents meeting there for cocktails and small bites. To preserve their rituals, part of the new design included upgrading the hotel’s restaurant and bar while maintaining its previous intimate ambiance. One element of the new design capitalized on the proximity of the restaurant to the pool deck, creating indoor and outdoor service options. However, expanding food service required a commercial-grade kitchen, which was a challenging element to construct within existing conditions.
“Because Fort Walton Beach is so close to Eglin Air Force Base, Hurlburt Field, and the airport, there are height ordinances in place for buildings,” Robins & Morton’s Senior Project Manager Matt Self said. “It’s why there are no high-rise hotels and condos in the immediate area, and why ceilings tend to be lower. We had to coordinate the addition of a full-service kitchen and commercial-grade kitchen hood within a 10-foot vertical space.”
The team developed a solution by creating the most advantageous kitchen layout for the equipment installation, but that wasn’t the last of their obstacles to overcome. While conducting a detailed analysis of the hotel’s existing conditions, the team found that they would need to perform additional upgrades within the walls.
“The original scope of work was mostly cosmetic in the guest rooms – tiling the bathrooms, replacing the drywall,” Self said. “But we found we’d also need to perform some upgrades to the wall studs. We alerted OTO Development and told them, due to these unforeseen circumstances, we’d need to add another month and a half to the schedule.”
Meanwhile, the construction team was also battling supply chain delays with the guest rooms’ Gulf-front windows.
“The 60 guest rooms facing the Gulf have large floor-to-ceiling windows, leading to the balcony,” Self said. “But the lead times to obtain the material were very long. We ordered them as soon as we could, but to complete this project on time, we couldn’t wait on the windows to progress further in construction.”
Instead, Robins & Morton built a temporary wall in each oceanfront room to protect the interior of the building from the elements until they could place the windows. Additionally, these walls allowed the construction team to simultaneously work on the balconies, where they completed additional improvements and installed privacy dividers.
Robins & Morton also upgraded onsite amenities, such as the fitness center and pool deck. To add more local flair to the pool deck and outdoor space, OTO Development hired a Panama City Beach-based artist to paint a mural so that guests would have a visually appealing backdrop for photos.
At every stage of the project, the Robins & Morton team worked overtime and weekends to make up the time lost to unforeseen conditions and help their client meet the opening date goal. Fortunately, their hard work paid off: the Beal House Fort Walton Beachfront, Tapestry Collection by Hilton opened on Memorial Day Weekend 2023, overcoming the six-week delay and finishing within the original eight-month time frame.
“The most rewarding part of this project was thinking about how many people are going to make memories with their loved ones here, and it feels great to be a small part of that,” Self said. “People take pictures with their families, and our building is in the background. We become a part of that family’s story.”