PANAMA CITY BEACH — Becky and Jim Entrekin say it is nice to know they were the first people to move into Latitude Margaritaville Watersound.
Located along State 79 near the Intracoastal Waterway in Bay County, the Jimmy Buffett-inspired community recently began welcoming its first wave of residents after more than a year and a half of construction.
The community, designed for those 55 years old and older, is being built on land owned by the St. Joe Company through its partnership with Minto Communities USA and Margaritaville Holdings. It marks the third Latitude community.
"We know people who are waiting two years, (but) our timing worked out (perfect) for us," Becky Entrekin, 75, said. "We sold our home real quick ... and we just kind of thought this was meant to be."
She also said that while she and her husband originally did not think anything of being the first to move into the community, fellow residents now jokingly refer to them as "the famous people" who always will be known as the first to call Latitude Margaritaville Watersound home.
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Married for 18 years, the Entrekins moved from Collierville, Tennessee. They first heard about the brand while visiting Hilton Head, South Carolina, where one of the other two Latitude communities is located.
The two said they closed on their home Oct. 25 and began moving in that day. They paid about $365,000, which included about $67,000 of upgrades. Their home features two bedrooms, a study and two bathrooms.
"We're both getting older and we wanted (to live) somewhere that if something happened to one of us, the other could manage," Jim Entrekin, 67, said. "(With) all the activities that will be going on, there (always will be) something to do."
William Bullock, president of the Latitude Margaritaville Division of Minto, said it is "a pretty incredible accomplishment" for the community to have gotten to this point so quickly, considering all the challenges ignited by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The first wave of the development will include 3,500 homes, which range from about 1,200 square feet to more than 2,500 square feet.
Bullock, who noted more than 180 homes are under construction, said he expects about 60 will be occupied by the end of the year.
"It's a credit to our organization that (it has) been able to dial this in and create an efficient process and be able to end up moving in happy home buyers within a year of the first execution of a contract," he said. "The hardest thing you can do in a new community is get that first closing. From here on out, it's upward and onward."
In addition to out-of-state buyers, Ellen and Ricky Benton, former Panama City residents, were among the first to move into the community. They closed on their property on Nov. 3 and like the Entrekins, began moving in the same day.
The couple of 41 years noted that they moved to Bay County in 2008 from McDonough, Georgia.
The Bentons said they realized they wanted to live in a Latitude community after touring the Daytona location in 2019. It was there they fell in love with the brand's laidback and community-oriented lifestyle.
"A lot of (our fellow residents) don't know the local restaurants, the local shopping places, so we've been able to share (that) with them," Ellen Benton, 64, said.
"They've asked us all kinds of questions — most we can answer, some we can't," Ricky Benton, 64, added. "There is a super diverse mix (of people here)."
Since the couple still will live in the same area they have called home for more than a dozen years, Ricky Benton said they "get the best of both worlds."
Their new home features three bedrooms and three-and-a-half bathrooms. They purchased it for almost $600,000, which included about $135,000 of upgrades.
"It's going to be great," Ricky said. "We're only a few miles from the beach ... (and) we're (also) right here on the Intracoastal Waterway. Plus, we have everything (we need) in (the Latitude community)."
"We just love living here," Ellen added. "We're not just saying that."
This article originally appeared on The News Herald: Latitude Margaritaville Watersound near PCB welcomes first residents