Is earmarking $300,000 for the proposed cross town connector project good business for the city? At least one city councilman says no.
"For now, I've got to tell you, I don't see it," Councilman Tuffy Dixon told his colleagues during a recent City Council meeting. "I don't see that we can get this road funded."
Known as the cross town connector, this project would essentially be an alternate East-West route that would run parallel to U.S. Hwy. 98 from Beach Drive to Benning Drive. The proposed $300,000 in funding would be for engineering and design work.
The city already owns a portion of the property that would be needed for the project, but there is still additional property and right-of-way that must be secured before the project could move forward. They must also have the design and engineering work done before proceeding.
The land at the center of the connector was a mobile home park in the '70s, which evolved into the Destin Campground. At one point, the property was home to 47 travel-trailers, 22 mobile homes and others living in tents. At the time, then City Manager Greg Kisela estimated that it would cost between $12-15 million to buy the campground land, other parcels and build the actual roadway.
According to records from the Okaloosa County Property Appraiser, the city purchased the 5.09-acre parcel in 2008 for $4,397,500. They also spent $323,000 for engineers to study what alignment the road should have west of the campground as well as almost $450,000 for two houses next to the campground and $100,000 to demolish them and the campground buildings.
Before the city purchased the property they had it appraised on two separate occasions. In November of 2006 the property appraised for $3,550,000, then it appraised for $5,245,000 in December of 2006.
When a city purchases a property they are not allowed to purchase it for more than the "market value," so the purchase price of $4,397,500 works out to be the average of the two appraisal prices.
Fast forward to 2013 and the property doesn’t appear to be worth as much as what the city paid for it roughly five years ago. According to preliminary assessments from the property appraiser, the land is now valued at $697,327. In 2008, the assessed value on the property was $958,849, according to tax collector records.
"Property values are so different now than they were back then," Mayor Sam Seevers said, noting that the local bypass for Hwy. 98 was among the "top priority" projects that emerged from a recent visioning session.
"Trying to cure the traffic woes for our citizens is very important,” Seevers said. “We're going to try and get some funding — hopefully we could get some money from the increase in the gas tax."
For Councilman Jim Bagby, moving forward with the cross town connector project is vital to the city's future.
"If we do one thing in this city, we have to open up that second corridor," he said. "We will not continue to grow if we don't get our transportation infrastructure fixed in this community, period. If you are not growing, you are dying."
Looking at other projects in the city, Bagby added that the connector is far more important.
And Councilman Jim Foreman agreed.
"In my estimation, this is one of the most important projects we could put on our capital improvements," he said. "I think the whole plan when we purchased the campground... was to ultimately put it together and get it done."
But Dixon didn't appear to be sold on the project, as funding will be tough to come by.
"I just don't see where we have true benefit for spending that money on that project.”