Catching up with Kisela: Former city manager shares life after Destin

Matt Algarin

For former City Manager Greg Kisela, life is pretty good more than a year after leaving the city of Destin to take over as Walton County administrator — a job he held for about a year.

“I’ve been golfing a bit and working around the farm, but I’m ready to get back to work,” he said.

Sitting down with The Log recently, Kisela, who was Destin’s city manager for nearly 8 years, says he has no regrets about leaving the city or his decision to go to work for Walton County.

Kisela was selected as Walton County’s administrator in May of 2011 and officially took office June 21 after an emotional farewell in Destin. About a year after he was hired, Kisela left his position, saying it wasn’t a good fit for him.

“I think the personality of the manager has to be in line with the community,” he said. “I knew very quickly in Walton County that I was not a good fit. I believed they were interested in doing things differently, and soon learned that wasn’t the truth.”

“It was just a situation where their expectations and my expectations were different, and at that point the manager has to leave,” he added. “I wasn’t interested in changing myself.”

Looking at his time in Walton County, Kisela said the key is to learn from your mistakes, admittedly “learning a lot last year.”

As for his time in Destin, the experience was very rewarding. Kislea said the city was able to accomplish a lot, given the limitations created by the continual decline in property taxes due to the downturn of the economy.

“Looking back, there are three things I would hang my hat on,” Kislea said. “I would look at the completion of the first phase of beach restoration, which went all the way up to the Supreme Court, completing the Town Center and putting things into place in the Harbor District.”

Completion of the Mountain Drive project, the purchase of Royal Melvin Heritage Park and working toward the harbor boardwalk were “great” accomplishments, Kisla said.

If the city can find the funding to bring Heritage Park to life, Kisela says it would be the “signature piece” along the harbor.

“Destin doesn’t ever want to lose that unique piece,” he said.

While he currently lives in Paxton, Kisela comes to Destin at least once a week, so he still keeps his eyes on what’s happening in the city he called home.

Looking at the new harbor boardwalk, he knew that the project was going to happen; it was only a matter of when.

“It was very contentious and I understand both sides of it,” he said. “It was very frustrating with all of the legal fees involved.”

But now that it’s completed, Kisela said the value it offers Destin is second to none. He said the goal of the boardwalk was to create “connectivity,” and that’s exactly what has been done.

As for the major issues Destin still faces, they are not much different than they have been over the past few decades — traffic, parking and growing pains.

“The connector road between Beach and Benning would help tremendously, since they are not going to six-lane Hwy. 98 through the Harbor District anytime soon,” Kisela said.

When The Log asked Kisela what he might have done differently during his time in Destin, he took a minute, and then turned his attention to the Town Center CRA, which has been struggling in recent years.

“Hindsight is always 20-20, but if there was one thing I would have done differently, it would have been not leveraging the town center as much as we did,” he said. “At the time, we were extremely conservative, but I don’t think anybody understood that these property values were going to deteriorate as much as they did.”

Looking at the CRA, which is mainly situated along the Main Street corridor, the city will have to pay more than $900,000 out of next year’s budget to make up for the shortfall in the town center. Kisela told The Log that if anyone had told him back in 2005 that the Town Center CRA would have lost 40-45 percent of its tax value, he would have called them crazy.

For Kisela, the solution to fixing what ails the town center is redevelopment, which would help to pump up property values.

“I’m a little disappointed that Main Street didn’t take off, especially when you spend the kind of money that we spent,” he said.

With a year’s break under his belt, Kisela said he is currently looking to get back into the workforce, but it would take the right opportunity to grab his attention. He has already had opportunities presented in South Florida, but they were not what he was looking for.

“I don’t want to make the same mistake that I did when I went to Walton County — I’m being very selective,” he said. “I’ll know by the end of the year if I have enough fire in my belly to do something.”