City of Cocoa Beach, Florida
A gem on Florida’s Space Coast
With an unbeatable natural setting, Cocoa Beach rides the wave of top economic development expansion
Life’s a beach, some would say. For Cocoa Beach residents this adage stands true every day they step out their door. As a city of 12,000, Cocoa Beach is anything but a sleepy small town.
Serving over 2.5 million tourists annually, the community offers 6 miles of ocean beaches, a variety of park and recreation amenities, excellent accommodation options, and a wide range of fabulous entertainment and dining choices to suit every taste. Located on Florida’s Space Coast, visitors and residents can gather on the beach to experience the awe of a space launch from Cape Canaveral Space Launch Center, a spectacle not to be missed. For surfing enthusiasts, Cocoa Beach is a haven and has been rated the best surf spot in the US, by the travel blog, Park Sleep Fly.
It’s always been a tourist-centric community,” says Mayor Ben Malik. “Of course, the growth really exploded during the Apollo program, the first space race.” When the Apollo program ended in the 1970s, Cocoa Beach and all of Brevard County felt the effects, as a large portion of the workforce migrated out of the area, causing the real estate market to plummet and unemployment to soar.
When the space shuttle program was closed in 2011 similar effects were felt, but Malik maintains it was to a much lesser extent. “Frankly, it was one of the best things that happened because it forced the diversification of our area into the commercial sector that has taken a center stage now. Right now, the entire region is a hub of high-tech defense, aeronautics, and avionics. We have literally 1000s of engineers coming here with all these industry clusters that we have.”
With this diversification comes a need for more permanent housing, and Cocoa Beach is making it happen. The Drift will bring 220 units to the city. Robin R. Hayes, City Manager, describes, “We have four new building potential opportunities for us here in Cocoa Beach, and that’s one of them. It will be two facilities, approximately six to eight stories in structure and height.” A 412-unit condominium development by BVH Investments will also bring more housing options to the city, which Hayes notes is a much-needed opportunity.
“That will change the number of residents that we’ve been able to open the doors to, so to speak. We’ve been pretty much landlocked, so any opportunity we have in which we can look at permanent residents with a permanent tax base associated with their homes, that’s important.”
In other development, Driftwood Capital is finalizing plans for a $380 million Westin Resort and Convention Center, which will have 502 rooms. “There is some funding from the county tied to that convention center through the use of our tourism dollars. So that’s a great opportunity for us,” relays Hayes.
A new build of the Westgate Cocoa Beach Resort, is also in the plans, at an investment of approximately $80 million. “It will be 116 rooms, and it’s attached to our pier. Our pier is one of our signature areas to visit. It is a privately owned pier, but we have a great working relationship with Westgate,” she adds.
For Mayor Malik all of the development happening in Cocoa Beach is a welcome sign, and something he believes was long overdue. He elaborates, “The only reason I got involved in government 10 years ago was because Cocoa Beach had just kind of languished for the past 20 years. We had very archaic and restrictive land development codes, that frankly drove away any outside investment in our community, to the point where we had not one new major building built in 20-something years.”
With a long process to get buy-in from residents, and a referendum to increase height limits, Malik says the city is finally starting to see the fruits of that labor. The Westin Resort and Convention Center will be the only 5-star resort in the county, something which is needed to retain the high-profile companies who are currently in the area.
“We have companies such as L3Harris, SpaceX, Blue Origin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman United Launch Alliance, we have really high-tech companies in aerospace and defense. They want to stay local, but they have migrated to Orlando because we didn’t have a venue that was nice enough to host them,” asserts Malik. “So, this convention center, the hotel, and resort, will be a game changer for the entire region.” Recognizing the importance of this addition to the city, the county commissioners awarded a $30 million grant from the local bed tax to the Westin project.
As a tourist city, events and festivals are part of the fun at Cocoa Beach. Surf festivals are a major draw, including the annual charity event, Surfing Santa’s, where sleighs are traded in for surfboards and Santa tries to catch some waves. With hundreds of Santa’s participating, this event draws a huge crowd every year.
“We’ve been working a lot at sponsoring different events that the bigger organizations do in our towns, such as Surfest and Thunder Boats,” says Karin Grooms, Public Information Officer. “It helps not only the businesses, but it helps with recognition for the city. These events are usually worldwide. Cocoa Beach has a very positive name across the eastern seaboard, especially the west coast. So, we try to assist and help with the surf contests or any other worldwide event that would come here, just trying to focus on these small businesses here in town that put on these larger events.”
Cocoa Beach is also looking into an incubator program, as Hayes explains, “We’ll look at our downtown, look at possible incubator programs in the sense of potential businesses that might wish to open, we’ll work with the owners of the facilities and try to support them from that perspective.”
Likewise, the revitalization of a downtown district designated as a Community Redevelopment Area (CRA) is underway. “It’s an area of our downtown that was considered many years ago as a blighted area. So, it comes with some restrictions on how the funding can be spent. As part of that area, we can definitely look at some facade improvements,” she says.
“I think that will go a long way in supporting the downtown businesses, but also supporting those owners who may invest in the incubator program that we’re putting together, as well as just overall growth of our downtown.”
Several years ago, the city took on the challenge of parking, adding a parking garage to the CRA district. As another way to support businesses, Cocoa Beach has dedicated some parking spaces for restaurant and business clientele to park and shop. “We definitely feel that we are a contributor to the downtown in the sense of helping some of our businesses re-establish themselves,” says Hayes.
Strong partnerships are key for the city, and Cocoa Beach relies on companies like Florida Power and Light, who are a huge source of support during hurricanes. As for other partners, Cocoa beach is proud to be the original location of Ron Jon Surf Shop, and to have a good relationship with the company, often working with them on events. “Many years ago, they spent quite a bit of capital in investing in Cocoa Beach and in the surfing information out there. They put it out on billboards, they were the big advertising marketing firm that stood up and took care of a lot of that for the city,” acknowledges Hayes.
She adds that support from Brevard County, as well as Governor DeSantis and Senator Mayfield, are all important in the continued success of Cocoa Beach. “We received $36 million from the combination of the two $12 million appropriations from the state toward a grant for our capping program- environmental protection along our shoreline of our golf course. The county gave us the other $24 million,” she reports.
“Those are partnerships that we just wouldn’t know what to do without. They’ve been an integral part of what we’ve done here in Cocoa Beach.” Of course, a city like Cocoa Beach couldn’t survive without the valuable partners in the hospitality industry, the hotels and motels, the restaurants, and all the many businesses that support tourism.
Mayor Malik asserts that the Space Coast EDC is another important relationship. He conveys, “They are one of the strongest EDCs in the state. We were written off after the shuttle program ended, and what we are seeing now is literally two billionaires, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, going head-to-head 15 minutes away from Cocoa Beach, winning billions of dollars worth of contracts. That market is a trillion-dollar market valuation. I mean, they’re talking about 300 launches by 2035. It’s just going to keep booming.”
As for what else the future holds, Malik says a reinvestment in aging infrastructure is on the table. “It’s not exciting, like a $400 million hotel or a park or something like that, but it has to be taken care of.” With that in mind, Cocoa Beach is sure to move forward as a thriving city, filled with possibilities.
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AT A GLANCE
Cocoa Beach, Florida
What: A tourist destination on Florida’s Space Coast
Where: Brevard County, Florida
W+J Construction – www.wjconstruction.com
In the realm of construction, you are only as good as your last project. Being able to build a portfolio that stands the test of time and demonstrates a creative edge is the key to moving one step beyond others in the field.
Longevity is also the name of the game. For W&J Construction Corporation, staying in the construction race and landing the most sought-after contracts is what it has built its stellar reputation on. W&J is the oldest general contractor in Brevard County, set to celebrate its 58th anniversary in March of 2023.
Formed in 1965 the company has moved from strength to strength and has been the driver behind high-profile projects including prominent buildings and launch complexes at the Kennedy Space Center as well as many of the exhibit buildings at the KSC Visitor Center. W&J Construction continues its aerospace work today by focusing its efforts on private industry projects in the area and has added many projects to its top-performing portfolio.
Another key relationship W&J Construction has built and continuously fosters is with the county where it traces its roots; Brevard County. The construction company has built many municipal buildings within the county including fire stations, police stations, a courthouse, public works facilities, and community centers. It maintains close links with the county and the cities within and takes on projects to benefit its valued residents.
Basing its business model on key pillars including building and maintaining strong relationships with its clients and hiring top talent and working diligently to retain its staff has led the construction firm to keep its competitive edge.
Drawing its team from some of the top construction firms in the country, W&J Construction has been able to almost double in size from 17 employees to 38 in just the last 10 years alone. With such growth, strong relationships and top construction projects on the horizon, W+J Construction is certain to be a leader in the construction industry.
With decades of experience under its construction belt, W&J Construction has thrived through economic downturns and construction slowdowns and still continuing to grow, proving that with the best business practices, long time experience, and putting the client relationship first it continues to come out on the upper rung of the construction ladder.
Ron Jon Surf Shop – www.ronjonsurfshop.com
Ron Jon Surf Shop has been bringing the surf, skate and beach lifestyle to visitors from around the world for over 60 years. Cocoa Beach is home to the company’s flagship store and corporate offices. The 52,000-square-foot store is the World’s Largest Surf Shop, encompasses more than two acres and is open daily.