SHALIMAR — Most Okaloosa County Tourist Development Council members agreed Friday to contribute $6.5 million in county bed-tax money to the city of Destin’s public beach initiative.
Destin officials hope to combine that money with funding from other sources in order to buy one or more beach parcels in the Crystal Beach area for public use.
They have been looking at eight parcels that stand between Henderson Beach State Park and the county-owned James Lee Park and range in price from about $3 million to $17 million.
According to city information, there are 13 public beach access points within Destin: 11 are city-owned, one is owned by the county and one is owned by the state. But parking is limited at the city access points and many of them only provide entry to limited public beach frontage.
At Friday’s meeting, Destin Mayor Gary Jarvis said the city has committed $2 million in city money for its beach initiative and is also seeking $10 million to $12 million in Triumph Gulf Coast funding.
“We’re asking for $6.5 million from you,” Jarvis told the TDC. “We want to show (Triumph leaders) there are multiple stakeholders on board. Our tourism economy is at stake.”
He added that any beach lots purchased by the city would be accessible to anyone in the county.
In response to a question from TDC Chairman Bruce Craul, Jarvis said parking areas for the potential new beach site(s) would depend on what land is purchased. He said most people who would use the possible new beach lot or lots would get there by walking, riding bicycles or driving golf carts from nearby homes.
Craul later noted that Crystal Beach, jam packed with short-term rental properties, has the largest concentration of bed-tax payers in the county’s bed-tax district. And Jarvis said Destin generates more than two-thirds of the overall, annual bed-tax revenue.
After further discussion, the council voted 7-1 to approve the city’s request for $6.5 million. It will need the County Commission’s final approval.
TDC and Fort Walton Beach City Council member Mike Holmes cast the lone “nay” vote on Friday after expressing uncertainty about Destin’s public beach initiative. TDC member and Destin Commons’ Marketing Director Heather Ruiz was absent from the meeting.