Editor’s note: This article has been updated to include comments from County Commissioner Brandon Newsom and BOCC Chairman Jeff Good.

The Busy Bee property will be sold to Busy Bee as the Holmes County Development Commission and Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) look to mutually end their joint venture agreement on the project.

The site is at the southwest corner of Interstate-10 and State Road 79 interchange and will see a new Busy Bee location eventually be constructed. The 86-acre site is owned by the Development Commission. 

Busy Bee made an offer to purchase the remaining acreage of what is called Project Gateway, which is also expected to house additional retail and hotel space, which was accepted by the Development Commission after some discussion.

Development Commission Executive Director Joe Rone brought the offer to the Development Commission following a March 14 site tour. 

Busy Bee and local leaders toured the Project Gateway property on Thursday, March 14. L-R Brent Melvin, David Melvin (DHM Engineering), Rickey Callahan, Mayor Larry Cook (City of Bonifay), Joe Rone (HCDC), Tracy Walker (City of Bonifay), Erica Matthews, Elizabeth Waring, Lucas Waring (Busy Bee), Lesley Hatfield (HCDC), and John Luke Waring (Busy Bee). [CONTRIBUTED]

Busy Bee originally entered into a contract with the Development Commission on June 7, 2022, to build a large service plaza. In October 2022, Busy Bee purchased 11.8 acres of the 98-acre tract for $1.8 million. 

The proposal, upon closing, would make Busy Bee the sole owner of the entire tract, which they would develop in addition to their service plaza. 

“Our board has known for years the financial impact a service plaza could make in Holmes County through jobs and fuel tax revenue, and we approached several entities,” Rone said. “When I met the owners, Elizabeth and Lucas Waring, in April 2021, I felt certain they would be the right partner based on their business expertise combined with their family’s commitment to helping rural communities.” 

The Development Commission and BOCC have an agreement for the project. However, Development Commission Attorney Ben Armstrong and BOCC Attorney Nate Nolin will negotiate an end to that agreement. Nolin said the BOCC felt they were slowing down the project. 

Tensions have also flared in recent months between Rone and County Commissioner Brandon Newsom over terms of the agreement and project, as well as aspects of the Development Commission’s operations.

“I think the decision made by HCDC was a wise one, as I felt Director Rone was in over his head. The relaxed and reactive approach to the project made me concerned that it might not succeed and that the county’s funding would soon run out, costing taxpayers $830 per day in interest with no progress or tax credits in sight,” Newsom said after the pending sale was announced. “The news of Busy Bee coming in 2022 was fantastic and I believe it will be a game-changer for Holmes County. However, this project was supposed to have zero costs for the county and we still don’t know when development will start. As per the joint venture agreement, I will be seeking the $378k owed in interest on behalf of the county from HCDC.”

Newsom said he is “thrilled to see local and new businesses thriving in Holmes County and I fully support their growth.”

Armstrong was also authorized by the Development Commission to work on closing a contract for the sale of the property to the company, who offered approximately $4.5 million, during a March 19 Development Commission meeting. The sale is expected to cover debt incurred with the project on the County’s end.

Rone said the company is “absolutely in favor” of the new Busy Bee.

The County has paid $378,000 in interest on the note, according to Rone.

“They will get that back in the first three years, probably, in the first three years (in tax revenue),” Rone said.

The sale should also pay off costs the County incurred with clearing the site, Rone said. 

The company wants to move on the sale quickly, Rone said.

“Busy Bee will still go on the site,” Rone said. “They’re going to go right up on Highway 79 and they’re going to build about 26 acres. They’re good with this going. … It’s a company that has already done business in Holmes County. They will develop it as good or better than what we’re going to do.” 

The Development Commission put in “thousands of hours” on the project, Rone said. 

The BOCC also discussed working towards ending the joint venture agreement and the possibility of the property being sold during their own meeting held right before the Development Commission meeting. 

“How do we unwind some of the other provisions that are in there…as far as the revenue share?” Nolin said. 

County Commissioner Clint Erickson is in favor of dissolving the existing agreement.

“I would just go back and discuss with them,” Erickson said. “Honestly, they’re the ones handling this, selling the property. We trust them to do this. I don’t think they’re going to shaft us. We all live in the same county. They’re going to do what they said they’re going to do.”

Nolin said the agreement could be dissolved, debt paid, and “everyone just walked away.”

“That’s what needs to happen,” Newsom said. “I haven’t been comfortable with (the agreement) from the get-go.”

Nolin and County Administrator David Corbin were also at the Development Commission meeting, with Nolin directly addressing the Development Commission.

“What would that look like on the backend if we did terminate (the agreement)?” Nolin asked the Development Commission. “We’re just opening up that conversation with y’all and talk it out with Ben. … Y’all are good at what you do and we appreciate what you all have done. We’re excited for what’s coming. The Board feels like the County has complicated things at this point for everyone involved.” 

Development Commission representatives say purchase of the site from previous ownership was a significant accomplishment on its own, stating the property was a “much sought-after property, but ownership by a public entity could provide access to the grant funding for the necessary infrastructure.” 

The property was purchased from Bush Legacy in November 2022 through a joint venture financial agreement between HCDC and Holmes County, which was then titled Project Gateway. 

The Development Commission also credits the state and Governor DeSantis’s “focus on serving rural Florida” with support for Project Gateway, which was awarded grant funding–including a $1,870,700 Rural Infrastructure Grant, as well as a $3,300,000 Community Development Block Grant Economic Development Grant. 

Since November 2022, the Development Commission has worked closely with DHM Engineering to facilitate the environmental study, infrastructure, site design, engineering, and Florida Department of Transportation plans for Project Gateway. Officials say the remainder of these grants will continue to be administered by DHM Engineering and will transfer with the sale of the property.

Holmes County’s heavy equipment operators recently spent several weeks clearing this property, costs the County will be reimbursed for. 

“We appreciate the County’s efforts to expedite the development of the site,” Development Commission Chairman Doyle Majors said. “Their investment of time and resources to clear the land contributed to the timeliness of this offer.” 

In the first three years alone, from construction to operations, the Busy Bee’s tax impact to the County is projected to be $9.7 million.

The impact of the deal is not limited to economic aspects, however. The proposal comes with a built-in promise from the Warings to earmark a tract of land for the construction of a new fire substation. 

The Warings got the idea following the site tour after speaking with Bonifay Mayor Larry Cook, who highlighted the critical need for a substation at the site.

“Last year, the Bonifay Fire Department responded to 51 accidents on I-10,” Cook said. “Being in closer proximity to the interstate, as well as to Doctors Memorial Hospital, would greatly improve our response times.”  

BOCC Chairman Jeff Good said the Development Commission has “nailed this incredible opportunity for our county.”

“As the chairman of the BOCC, I have been proud to partner with them in this effort. The business will have a positive impact on every corner of the county, not just Bonifay,” Good said. “Joe Rone, Lesley Hatfield, and the entire HCDC board members worked so hard on this project and I continue to support them in creating jobs and new revenue for our community.” 

Leave a Reply

Advertising Options

Reach your target audience with our newspaper advertising options. Our publication has a wide readership, making it the perfect platform to promote your business or event.

To inquire about advertising rates and options, please fill out the form below and a member of our team will be in touch with you shortly.

Take advantage of our high readership and targeted demographics to promote your business to the right people. From print ads to online banners, we have a variety of options to suit your needs and budget.

Don’t miss out on this opportunity to reach your target audience. Contact us today to learn more about our advertising options.

E-Mailing List Subscription

Stay informed with our email mailing list! Sign up today and never miss a beat on the latest news and events in your community.

To join our e-mailing list, simply fill out the form below. We’ll send you a weekly digest of the top stories, delivered right to your inbox.

By signing up, you’ll be the first to know about breaking news, upcoming events, and special promotions. Plus, you’ll be eligible for exclusive subscriber-only content and offers.