The decision makers, policy shapers and influencers in Destin have high hopes for the future.
Here's what City Manager Maryann Ustick, Mayor Sam Seevers, Councilmen Jim Foreman and Cyron Marler, and Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Shane Moody had to say when The Log asked them about "The Next Big Thing" in Destin.
Maryann Ustick: City Council has recently updated the city’s strategic plan and has prioritized some critical and exciting projects including Norriego Point Stabilization, safe pedestrian crossings for Highway 98, transportation and park improvements, economic development and code enforcement. Aside from Norriego Point, I don’t have one “big project” to mention for Destin. The overall focus is on continuing to enhance our economic vitality and the quality of life for our residents. Our city staff is the essential resource to providing vital services to our residents, businesses and visitors and getting all the key projects done. Helping our staff be successful and make a difference for our city is my top priority for next year.
Sam Seevers: The next big thing for Destin should be no surprise to anyone since it has been talked about so much — the restoration and stabilization of Norriego Point. That is the top priority if we get the necessary grant funding from an outside source to make it happen. I would love to see us start on Royal Melvin Heritage Park to give everyone a harbor park. I would also like to have the pedestrian safety issue addressed on Hwy. 98.
Jim Foreman: I guess the definition of a “big thing” for Destin is completing one or more of the major projects deemed urgent to the city’s needs. On that list are Norriego Point, the alternate route through Destin, parking, safe crossing of U.S. Hwy. 98, and maintaining sound financial policy. All of them are important. I can add one to the list that has no chance of success and that is a master storm water plan. With major rain levels in the last month, the storm water has nowhere to go. Much of it finds its way into the sewer system. What happens when the waste water plant overloads?
One of these “things” I find the most appealing is extension of the Harbor boardwalk under the Marler Bridge surfacing on the north side. A plan approved years ago is already in place. Most, if not all, property is available to complete a barebones walk that would enable pedestrians to freely move “under” U.S. 98 to existing parking on the north side. This location is the gateway to Destin and despite other newspaper editor’s objections to urban planning, the area can use some fixing up.
Cyron Marler: My next big thing(s) of course, the boardwalk. I think the best shot would be the west end under the bridge. Secondly I would say at least one parking garage, maybe the one behind the community center. Just for fun I will also put the Highway 98 widening and crosswalk improvements on the list.
Shane Moody: I’m not sure of any growth trend we see right now, but one thing we’ve noticed is the change of demographics who are vacationing here. It’s something that comes up at most of our board meetings, and I’m hearing it from many of our members as well. While many tourists are still coming to Destin, they aren’t spending the money that was spent in years’ past. We’re hearing from restaurant owners and store owners that traffic may be up, but revenue and profit are not, and in many cases, revenue and profit are down. We need to be very careful in how we market this community and the tourists were drawing here. That’s a trend we don’t want to see.
We also still feel strongly in the need to look at economic diversification. Yes, tourism is the life-blood of this community, but as things change, we need more economic stability. We’re soon going to feel the effects of sequestration when the thousands of furloughed employees aren’t out spending money in this local economy.
And if the spending habits of tourists continue, we’re going to need a solid business base of good-paying jobs so that new money is flowing through our economy. This takes lots of vision and strong actions, so it’s something that won’t be easy. However, it’s something that must be done. We feel that with a new executive director of the EDC, we have a chance to start anew and build from opportunities that are there. We’re always going to take care of the tourists, but we have to do more to build a business base outside of the tourism industry.