When Dana Matthews hung out a shingle in Destin in 1983, there was no Emerald Coast Parkway, no Mid-Bay Bridge. There was one bank and only three other attorneys in town.
He had graduated from the law school at Florida State University, and did trial work for 2½ years in Tallahassee before moving back to the coast. He was confident that Destin would grow.
“It may sound cliché, but I was 27 years old and Destin resonated as my destiny,” Matthews said.
His confidence would be challenged. The savings and loan crisis and its deleterious effects on especially a tourism- and real-estate-based economy came to a head as Matthews was trying to establish himself. That meant “having to do a little bit of whatever you could find to do,” often in exchange for goods or services: fish, haircuts, restaurant credits, car washes.
But Matthews would persevere through those lean times, and the real estate market began to heat up in 1987. Loans were easily come by and what Matthews affectionately refers to as “realestate.com” survived until 2008 when the bubble burst. Meanwhile, Matthews had made real estate his specialty.
Today, Matthews, who has seen the Gulf Coast economy cycle multiple times since 1983, is the founding partner of a regional, full-service law firm, Matthews & Jones, that comprises a dozen attorneys and has offices in Destin, Niceville and Crestview. (A fourth office is planned for Blue Mountain Beach.) The practice is engaged in both litigation and transactional aspects of the law.
The firm, Matthews likes to say, “remembers the past and is prepared for the future,” and recognizes the critical importance of “investing in our clients. Invest in your clients and you invest in the communities you serve.”
Matthews and his associates have done much to shape the Florida Panhandle. Matthews helped bring about Destin-area projects including Emerald Grande, Majestic Sun, Ariel Dunes, Seacape and Regatta Bay, Palazzo in Panama City Beach, and numerous subdivisions.
“Development is not for the meek,” Matthews said. “It can be very difficult, especially if you find yourself dealing with officials with a no-growth posture.
“My hat is off to my developer clients. Without them, we wouldn’t have general contractors. And without general contractors, we wouldn’t have subcontractors or tradesmen or laborers.”
Matthews & Jones serves clients throughout Northwest Florida and in Georgia and Alabama. Matthews’ activities are concentrated on the “island” – between the Destin Bridge and Phillips Inlet. He works with developers on projects from concept to completion, assisting them with everything from land acquisition to closings with end users.
On the island, the real estate business is good and has been for the last four years, Matthews said. The strength of the market has much to do with the region’s nationwide, even international, reputation as a place like no other.
“People come here from everywhere and they say, ‘Wow, I want a piece of this,’” Matthews has observed. “In the last few years, we have seen a brand new set of developers arrive and a lot of deals are being transacted in cash. People had been hoarding their money and now they’re investing in real estate again.”
As an example, he cited the recent purchase, with $8 million in cash, of a Gulf-front lot at Alys Beach on 30A.
“Our area’s reputation grew and all of a sudden we started getting Nashville money, Hollywood money, inside-the-beltway money, old New England money,” Matthews said. “These buyers are enjoying our restaurants and riding our bicycle trails and they look just like me and you, but they may have $100 million. But, you know, everybody gets along.”
Indeed, Matthews said, he and his firm are not given to any class-consciousness.
“It’s our goal to provide services that are a good value to our clients, to deliver results and to be involved in the community,” Matthews stressed. “Our lawyers do pro bono work, they serve on the boards of non-profit organizations, and they participate in leadership classes at chambers of commerce.
“And in the process, they learn how the community is integrated.”
The community has grown, and Matthews & Jones has grown with it. Much has changed. Today, attorneys take their offices with them in the form of laptop computers. Law firms advertise.
“I’m old school,” Matthews said. “In reading this, you are using a medium that I came to kicking and screaming. Now, I couldn’t get along without it. In a relationship business like ours, there is no substitute for face-to-face interaction, but IT has made us much more efficient.
“Here at Matthews & Jones, we look forward to bringing visitors to the 850 website legal insights from the various components of the law in which we have proven expertise. Insights result from experience and insightful people and, at Matthews & Jones, we have both in abundance.”