DESTIN — The city of Destin sent a cease and desist letter to Destin Commons on Wednesday following an unauthorized "Destin municipal tax" levied at one or more of its stores.

The letter, delivered to a Destin Commons attorney, demanded the outdoor shopping mall immediately stop collecting an alleged "Destin municipal tax" of 2% charged to all sales. The letter also said to remove the terminology from any and all receipts or in-store signage.

Destin Commons management did not respond to repeated requests for comment Wednesday, but told the Daily News on Tuesday the 2% fee levied at one store was supposed to be entered into the computer as an arts and entertainment fee. However, it was entered into the system incorrectly, according to management.

A sign at that store's register, which was signed "Destin Commons Management," used both "tax" and "fee" in its description.

"An Arts & Entertainment Fee of 2% (Destin Municipal Tax) has been added to all purchases $600 or less in order to provide guests with free entertainment, cultural activities and signature events to enjoy during the year," the sign read.

The letter from Destin said it never authorized the Destin Commons to collect a municipal sales tax, nor is the shopping center even located in the city. Therefore, according to the letter, usage of the wording by Destin Commons or by any of its tenants is unauthorized and misleading.

Gulia Metcalf, owner of Pink & Blue Avenue, which was flagged for calling it a municipal tax, said Destin Commons General Manager Robert Perry and Marketing Manager Brooke Zannis set up the "Destin municipal tax" terminology on her computer system.

 

Metcalf said she felt as though she and her business were being blamed for fraudulent activity they had no part in. 

"They came into the store and I showed them what I have on my computer, my options, and they don't have a way of adding an arts and entertainment fee," she said. "There was no option to create something else that wasn't already pre-built. All they had was a federal tax, state tax and city tax already.

"I said it would be misleading if they said 'Destin tax,'" Metcalf continued. "They took a picture of the wording and said they'd bring a new plaque that would explain it in case people have any questions. I didn't do it. It (the sign) was brought by them."

She said adding the arts and entertainment fee to her customers' purchases was not an option, but required by Destin Commons' staff.

Heather Ruiz, the shopping center's senior director of marketing and leasing, said Tuesday the arts and entertainment fee is to help Destin Commons stay competitive in the market. The fee is only used to fund arts and entertainment.

Metcalf said tenants already pay $1 per square foot a year for marketing and media, which also helps fund special events, shows, displays, signs and more.

According to a Destin Commons business contract, the money collected from the tenant marketing fee can also be used for the salaries of a marketing director and related administrative personnel.

A press release from Destin on Wednesday afternoon indicated it was the city’s understanding that any reference to a municipal tax was in error, and that Destin Commons and its businesses involved were trying to correct the matter.

Zannis, according to the Destin Commons' receptionist, would not speak with the media Wednesday. Perry did not return multiple calls for comment as of late Wednesday afternoon.