Jim BreitenfeldDHA Executive Director Works to Bridge Destin Harbor’s Past and Future 

{mosimage}Jim Breitenfeld believes hope floats, and he believes it does so in the Destin Harbor. Breitenfeld, executive director for the Destin Harbor Association (DHA), is a strong proponent of the idea of growing the harbor through controlled development. He talks energetically, but purposefully, about the changes the harbor association, which was founded five years ago, is experiencing and the opportunities and challenges that will come with those changes.

Breitenfeld, who originally moved to the area 16 years ago, has extensive experience through positions held with various chambers of commerce and economic-development organizations. He also has operated Breitenfeld Development Services since 2000. His background was a natural fit for the DHA, and he was tapped to head the organization two years ago.

Breitenfeld sat down recently with Emerald Coast Magazine’s Lori Hutzler Eckert to discuss the state of the Destin Harbor Association, the future of the harbor, and the controversy over redeveloping the area that serves as the genesis of the historic town.

What is the Destin Harbor Association and what is its goal?

We are an association of businesses and individuals that have a strong interest in working for the preservation and enhancement of the Destin Harbor District.

With more than $1 billion in planned redevelopment on line, what tops the list of concerns for the DHA?

Part of the challenge for the harbor association, the city and everybody involved is to make sure that the development is compatible with the core and essence of the harbor, which is the fishing fleet. The fleet is what makes Destin different.

How do the Community Redevelopment Agency’s efforts affect the harbor and the association’s plans?

The CRA, which is currently in the design process, really is the key to what’s going to happen in the harbor area. Now more than ever, the CRA holds the key to the harbor’s future. The public infrastructure improvements that are planned – which includes the boardwalk, streetscapes, landscaping, stormwater management and public accesses –all are critical if we are going to see private development mature.

The Emerald Coast real estate market has experienced a slowdown in the past year. How does this change affect the evolution of the harbor?

I think this adjustment is a result of current mortgage rates, insurance availability and costs, and taxes. All of those factors lead us to believe that while the development we anticipate will occur, it may be delayed by six months or so. We are still seeing significant local and national interest in harbor projects. Folks are just taking a bit of time to readjust their numbers.

Commercial development in the Destin Harbor has sparked a strong division of opinion within the community. How do you react to the opposition to redeveloping the harbor?

Development, if it is done right, is an evolution. I think communities that are done are really done, in the negative sense – because it is my belief that development is a pendulum. It is either moving forward or backward, and if it stops, you are not going anywhere.

Some members of Destin’s fleet are supportive of the changes to the harbor, while other fishermen fear losing their livelihood. What do you want the fleet to know?

We need you. It is that simple. The future of Destin Harbor is dependent on the fleet being successful.