MADEIRA BEACH, Fla. - A large portion of John's Pass has a new owner, the outspoken real estate tycoon Ben Mallah.
"It is probably... one of the largest tourist attractions we have in this area," Mallah told FOX 13's Josh Cascio.
Mallah's new waterfront property, from the Friendly Fisherman restaurant to the bridge, and the garage behind it, includes a mix of restaurant and retail spaces. Mallah says it all needs a lot of TLC.
He made the purchase for $17.2 million. Previously, it was bank-owned.
"We need to fine-tune everything, get everything cleaned up, looking good, and we definitely need to spruce things up," he said.
The buildings house Hooters, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., Gray Jewelers, Florida Fantasy Fishing Camp, Hubbard's Marina, Kilwins, Friendly Fisherman, and a handful of other small shops. Mallah said he wants to fill empty storefronts and add more entertainment for guests.
He says this is both business and personal.
"I've been coming here since the day I stepped foot in Florida which was 16 years ago. We love coming here," Mallah said. "We want to keep the place active and thriving."
Several business owners told FOX 13 they have high hopes for this new, local owner.
"I think it's nothing but a plus. I think it's going to bring more people to this area," said Larry Butterfield who runs the Kilwin's gourmet chocolate and ice cream shop.
"We're looking forward to the docks being improved even maybe expanding... We're looking forward to being able to grow our business," said Dylan Hubbard, of Hubbard's Marina.
Mallah says of all his current work, John's Pass is a top priority. He hopes to see the work coming together within a year.
"I'm working on 20 different jobs but this one is at the top of the list," he said.