On Tuesday, Walton County Commissioners voted to follow the Tourist Development Council’s advice and not go forward with the immediate purchase of the Golf Garden property. A second motion passed for the county to look into other sources of funding and to research whether the two groups could split the cost.
SANTA ROSA BEACH — After months of debate, it’s still undecided if Walton County will purchase the Golf Garden property.
RELATED (JULY 2019): Walton eyes Golf Gardens purchase
RELATED (JULY 2019): Walton residents petition for Golf Garden purchase
RELATED (AUG 2019): Walton commissioners vote to negotiate the purchase of the entire Golf Garden property
RELATED (SEPT. 2019): Golf Garden purchase up in the air
On Tuesday, commissioners voted 3-1 against using tourist development taxes to buy the 35-acre parcel in Miramar Beach. Instead, they decided to look into other funding sources and potentially try to split the cost with the TDC.
The decision came by way of a feasibility study that claimed a recreational complex or amphitheater — the two proposed uses for the area — wouldn’t significantly benefit tourism.
“I think there’s some misconceptions with the citizens,” Richard Veldman, chairman of the TDC, told commissioners Tuesday. “TDC funds cannot be used for the benefit of residents. ... Our job is tourism, and we would rather see you spend that money ... to continue to purchase beach accesses and parking for the tourism industry.”
According to Rob Hunden with Hunden Strategic Partners, the group that conducted the feasibility study, benefits from the development would "leak“ into Okaloosa County.
He believed the developments would be better suited for a different and larger location.
“It is our opinion that a good material amount — and our estimate was between 40-60% of the spending and impact, especially the taxable spending — would flow over the Okaloosa County line,” Hunden said. “If you’re going to make an investment as a county, you don’t necessarily want to see 40-60% of that return go to your neighbor unless they were part of the deal.”
For Commissioner Danny Glidewell, those numbers don’t add up. He listed several nearby condominium complexes that would also benefit from the proposed development of the golf course.
According to information from the meeting, the majority of data used in the study was collected from Smith Travel Research, a third-party group to which rental properties don’t report. It primarily comprises hotels, which only account for about 10% of South Walton’s lodging.
“You’re working for the TDC, the TDC has the bed tax numbers, why didn’t you use accurate reliable numbers?” Glidewell asked. “Those places have been bed-tax collectors in the county for 35-40 years. ... There’s a whole list of people that y’all left off.”
Hunden responded that even though hotels “are only about 10% of (Walton’s) total, they are generally indicative of the same types of seasonality as you’re getting from the other properties.”
For Commissioner Trey Nick, who drafted the motion to take the TDC’s recommendation, the decision was an easy one.
“I understand the need for this community to have a green space and to have a park,” he said. “After reading this feasibility study, my common sense tells me it doesn’t make sense.”
Since tourist development taxes must be used to promote tourism, he and the other commissioners worried that purchasing the property for the proposed purposes might be illegal.
In the meantime, officials will look into other possibilities to add the Miramar Beach amenity.
“This is an opportunity which will not come along again,” Glidewell said. “Miramar is on the cusp of redevelopment and we’re not going to have any opportunity to do anything with that because we’re passing on the only opportunity. ... I think it’s a shame that we would pass on this, and 10 years from now, we’re all going to be wondering, ’Why didn’t somebody do something in Miramar?’“