The Fort Walton Beach Holiday Inn Resort looks like a normal Florida resort with a large beach ball on top. However, that beach ball isn’t actually a design element, it instead doubles as a complex military radar installation. With permission from the Associated Press:
The combination resort hotel and military test site opened in late May in an unusual partnership between the military and private business in a time of tighter military budgets. In exchange for allowing the Innisfree Hotel company to build the 152-room resort on Air Force land, the military was able to construct a rooftop station that receives radar signals and a secure conference room for classified meetings. The dome hiding the military equipment is painted red, white, blue and yellow like a beach ball.
While the Air Force has done other projects with private companies before, this is the first time it has ever merged a base with a hotel, said Mike Spaits, the base spokesman. The dome was added to the radar installation to make it “less military and more visitor-friendly,” said Wesley Mason, a contractor who helped develop the project. The military presence is unobtrusive and limited to a few people, often contract employees without uniforms, who work on the roof.
The hotel was a win for both sides. It allowed the military to make use of small section of beachfront it owns on Okaloosa Island that is cut off by commercial developments from the rest of the Eglin’s more than 17-mile expanse of beach, Spaits said. The military couldn’t make good use of the land for beach training exercises or test missions without building a tower or other structure to place equipment above the surrounding hotels, restaurants and shopping centers. Innisfree is paying the military about $190,000 a year in rent, the Air Force said. It allowed the hotel company to build on a prime beachfront site surrounded by popular attractions.
Chris Nixon, who oversees testing at the range, said Test Site A5 is a coveted posting for workers who monitor testing and equipment because of its view overlooking the pool and the beach.“It is a popular place to work,” he said with a laugh. The most important benefit of the partnership however is the morale boost it provides military families who get discounted rates at the resort. “Young airmen who would never get a chance to stay in place like this can bring their families for some R and R,” he said.