2012 Destin Year-End Review: The blessings and problems of progress

Whether it was brainstorming by Destin’s leaders in the early ’90s, the formation of the Destin Harbor Task Force in 1999, the Destin Chamber of Commerce’s Vision 2000, or the formation of the Harbor Community Redevelopment Agency in 2003, a harbor boardwalk has been on the minds of city leaders for a long time. In 2012 it became a reality.

In a year that saw Norriego Point take multiple shapes, 2012 was a witness to the boon and bane of progress.

Beach restoration made a significant jump forward. Helicopter tourism took off, sparking a public outcry and countywide moratorium on the industry.

Heavy construction equipment returned to Destin with early signs pointing to a redevelopment boom. And after decades of mere talk, the unified harbor boardwalk was born.

Here is a month by month breakdown of the year that was.  


• Citizens and councilwoman Sandy Trammell concerned about duck hunters shooting near homes.

• Decades in the making, the city of Destin breaks ground on the harbor boardwalk project. Property owners are inconvenienced by the work, and that’s why crews make a substantial effort to keep the day-to-day impacts as limited as possible.

• Fishing Fleet Marina has two boat slips available for the first time since it opened in 1995.

• Destin’s Dog Park officially opened with more than 100 pet lovers and four-legged friends in attendance. Almost one year later, the park is regularly packed with pet owners and their pups.

• Carmike Cinema to open at Grand Boulevard by spring break of 2013. Almost a year later, the exterior building is almost complete.

• Gambling casino possible at Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort, according to owner Tom Becnel. The idea is later quashed by vocal homeowners as the Legislature tables an expansion of gaming in Florida.

• In an attempt to make Destin a more walkable community, city leaders unanimously agree to spend $121,373 on a pathway project near the Community Center.

• The city decides to purchase a total of 11 iPads for the seven councilors, mayor, city manager, IT director and city clerk to help reduce the amount of paper they are using.

FEBRUARY • With 3,020 votes cast in Destin, Tuffy Dixon, Sandy Trammell, Jim Wood and Cyron Marler take seats on the Destin City Council.

• The city’s proposed new ordinance would allow for the use of small-scale energy generation systems such as solar panels and wind turbines as an accessory use in all zoning districts.

• Since October, the tip of Norriego Point has again hooked into the mouth of the harbor, causing passage to be single-vessel. City leaders once again summon a dredge. City then declares a “crisis situation” for Norriego Point, and agrees to a stabilization plan using vinyl sheet pile walls in an attempt to keep the sand from eroding into the harbor mouth. Months later the wall would be tested and found wanting.

• Mayor Sam Seevers says in her annual State of the City address that 2011 was a “year of progress” in the city of Destin despite some tough challenges.

• The city enters the Destin dog park into the Florida City and County Management Association’s Program for Excellence. The public/private partnership impresses judges and wins top honors.

MARCH • City leaders agree that the time is not right to purchase compressed natural gas vehicles after months of research and debate.

• The city of Destin unanimously agreed to restrict boat parking along portions of Norriego Point for safety reasons and to avoid further erosion caused by boats pulling away.

• Destin Snowbird Club, with 2,006 registered members, bids farewell to Destin and the Emerald Coast until next year.

• Dredge work is well under way along Norriego Point as more than 10,000-cubic yards of sand should ultimately be removed from the mouth of Destin harbor.

• Influx of spring breakers plus new cell towers are to blame for sluggish service on smartphones.

• Tuffy Dixon, Cyron Marler, Sandy Trammell and Jim Wood, with their families and significant others by their sides, took the oath of office as newly elected officials.

• Peter Bos, CEO of Legendary Inc., said there wasn’t much going on along the harbor five years ago, but now it is a source of civic pride.

• After a raid of four Destin specialty shops and a recent statewide crackdown on the distribution of controlled substances known as “Spice” and “bath salts,” city leaders want to see this dangerous trend nipped in the bud, but their hands might be tied. The fight continues throughout the year with the attorney general banning more synthetic drugs in December.

• The drowning of 22-year-old Stephon Noray brought the dangers associated with recreating in Destin’s East Pass and the power of Mother Nature to center stage. The incident mirrored a drowning in May 2011. Officials agree that in the wake of recent drownings lifeguard service should be extended to East Pass. However, it takes another drowning months later before lifeguard service is extended to the dangerous area.

• Callie Kaltz becomes the third sibling to wear the crown of Miss Destin. Sisters Meredith and Emily were past Miss Destin winners in 2004 and 2007.

• Destin Water Taxi is currently operating in its first season in the Destin harbor and its immediate surrounding waters.

APRIL • While Councilman Tuffy Dixon may think there are too many stop signs along Mountain Drive, city planners say they are all required by the city’s land development code and state and federal regulations.

• City leaders make wish list for their vision of Destin in 2027: An amphitheater with a variety of performing arts experiences; easy access to the harbor; mixed use, walkable neighborhoods; trolley system; gateway park to the harbor; and community gathering places.

• The 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Atlanta dismissed the constitutional claim by the Crystal Dunes Owners Association that the city of Destin and the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office deprived them of their procedural due process and equal protection by not enforcing trespassing rules on their beachfront property.

• Unattractive, unflattering and ugly are a few of the words used to describe the no parking signs, placed by the Florida Department of Transportation at the request of Eglin Air Force Base, leading up to the city’s welcome sign and the Marler Bridge.

• After an unsuccessful attempt to increase the size of the no wake zone in East Pass in 2010, city leaders are once again trying to move the no wake zone to the south for safety purposes.

MAY • The long-awaited restoration project along the city's western beaches might be closer to reality than ever before as council unanimously agrees to enter into an interlocal agreement with Okaloosa County for the west Destin Project, which would be the first step for the city to be able to proceed with the project that would ultimately place approximately 831,000-cubic yards of sand immediately east of Destin's East Pass.

• Former Okaloosa County Tourist Development Council Executive Director Mark Bellinger, who resigned earlier in the week in wake of growing scandal about funds used for purchase of yacht and his home, died May 4 of an apparent drug overdose outside of Pelham, Ala. The scandal shined a light on TDC spending and led to calls for more oversight. Bragg Farmer, Destin finance director, meanwhile, said the city of Destin has the proper checks and balances in place to prevent any sort of unauthorized spending.

• Gov. Rick Scott told The Log during a visit to Destin that tackling the tough red snapper regulations boils down to having the feds study the area fisheries more in depth.

• With a tremendous amount of air traffic in Destin, officials from the Federal Aviation Administration scold parasail businesses and say “rogue operators” are giving the industry a bad name.

• City leaders search for ways to combat the issues they are having along Norriego Point, as patrons have been spotted walking on and sliding down the dunes, carrying glass bottles, walking their dogs and building fires. Councilman Jim Wood calls it the “wild, wild West.”

• City of Destin looks to fill a vacancy as Larry Hines steps down from the council in an attempt to gain the District 5 seat on the Okaloosa County Board of County Commissioners. He fails to beat out former city councilman and Boat Captain Kelly Windes who easily wins the seat.

• More than 110 volunteers showed up on Norriego Point to plant about 33,000 sea oats and install sand fencing after an earlier dredging project wiped out most of the plants. Many of the new oats become uprooted during the tropical turbulence of hurricane seasons.

• Residents up in arms over proposed helicopter tours near Kelly Plantation. Complaints are also pouring in about Timberview Helicopters. Lifting off and landing in the parking lot at Destin Commons, the copter company thrills tourists but residents complain about the noise and worry about the safety of taking off and landing over a busy U.S. 98 — especially after one of the copters is forced to make a hard landing in a sand pit behind a condo.

• City leaders agree to hire “park attendants” along Norriego Point for holiday weekends and the peak summer season who would educate users of existing city regulations, monitor for safety, enforce regulations and monitor user activities for violations warranting action from the Sheriff' s Office. By the end of the year, council votes to empower deputies to fine violators.

JUNE • Freedom Communications announces the sale of its properties in Florida, including The Log and the Sun, and North Carolina to Halifax Media Group. The transaction, terms of which were not disclosed, closed without a hitch.

• Boater gridlock, the cost of water and other factors prompted the city to remove its engine flushing station at the Joe’s Bayou boat launch.

• City leaders voted unanimously to request that the county’s zoning requirements for helicopters be in accordance with the city’s requirements to have helicopters take off and land at the airport.

• Churches reach out to Destin’s student foreign workforce following death of Bulgarian student worker on her bike on way to work in Miramar Beach. The outreach is a success with hundreds of students regularly attending church dinners at Destin United Methodist Church, which also provided many bikes for the students.

• The beaches at Jetty East took a beating as Tropical Storm Debby whisked away quite a bit of sand and sea oats. The storm also uprooted “no boat parking” signs from Norriego Point.

• Beach Helicopter pulls down its sign, but representatives for the business say they are still planning on launching copters between BankTrust and LongHorn Steak House, while Timberview will no longer make flights out of Destin Commons. County commissioners, meanwhile, issue a moratorium on any new applications for helicopter tour businesses until December.

•After more than 20 years and thousands of hours spent planning, conceptualizing and dreaming, city leaders cut the ribbon on Destin’s unified harbor boardwalk.

JULY • In light of the TDC spending scandal and what officials see as a misleading lease arrangement, the Okaloosa County Tourist Development Council moves to close its welcome center at HarborWalk Village with the option of later opening a new one somewhere in east Destin.

• With Capt. Cannonball (Cliff Atwell) at the helm, the Buccaneer pirate ship, docked at HarborWalk Marina, set out July 2 for its maiden voyage with a full ship in search of treasure. The four-deck, 102 foot ship becomes the biggest vessel in the harbor.

• Although development has been slow in the city in recent years, a large-scale project is primed for construction this year, as Georgia-based Davis Development plans to build a luxury apartment complex next to the Alexan-Henderson Beach. The project is but one of many redevelopment efforts to gain traction in the city in the coming months.

• Timberview Helicopter’s flights out of Destin Commons have been grounded by an Okaloosa County Circuit Court, but can continue to fly out of the Destin Airport. Timberview resorts to hovering about 30-50 feet from the ground before starting the actual tour. The “marketing ploy” irks Councilmen Larry Hines and Jim Wood.

• U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio greeted about 150 people as he entered the Books-A-Million store at Destin Commons to sign copies of his book “An American Son.”

• The Weather Channel’s Jim Cantore predicts bad things on the horizon and told attendees at the Destin Area Chamber of Commerce breakfast that the Emerald Coast is “overdue” for major hurricane activity. Cantore’s prediction turned out to be all wet.

• Destin Log wins three first place awards and one second place in Florida Press Association 2011 Better Weekly Contest. Matt Algarin won a first place for City Government reporting and a second in Business Reporting. Tina Harbuck won first place in Outdoors reporting and Pam Griffin won first place in Arts and Entertainment.

• A 23-year-old DeFuniak Springs man was arrested July 12 for drunk driving after allegedly running a red Ford Explorer into the Olin Marler building and smashing through an exterior wall of the Florida House of Destin restaurant along U.S. Hwy. 98. Early damage estimates were $400,000.

• Just two months after questioning the future of the Destin Seafood Festival, organizers say the Destin tradition is on track to be better than ever.

• Crews have repaired the outflow conveyance system at Coleman Lake, sealing up the leaky lake.

AUGUST • A traffic jam in front of Chick-fil-A in Destin on Highway 98 was the talk of the day on Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day. The day was championed by former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, who lives in Walton County, after he became upset by the criticism of the fast-food chain and its president Dan Cathy, who said that his company supports the biblical definition of the family unit.

• The former LA Lounge was given a new name and a new outlook as Club LA, geared toward being a rock venue in Destin and pulling in more rock bands to bring bigger concerts to the area.

• Typically flying high over the skies of Destin, Timberview Helicopters has now taken to the waters of Choctawhatchee Bay as they take off and land on a barge at Crab Island.

• A 62-year-old Ohio man drowned while snorkeling off the east jetty. After three drownings in almost the same place in two years, the fire chief moves to station a lifeguard, WaveRunner and lifeguard chair near the finger jetty for the rest of the season.

• The Shed BBQ and Blues Joint at HarborWalk Village closed its doors after offering up some of the areas favorite barbeque since 2010.

•As meteorologists tracked Isaac’s westward shift, gas stations, grocery stores and local home improvement stores were busy as residents and visitors prepared for a potential impact. Isaac eventually made landfall in Louisiana, but Norriego Point took a beating, with waves crashing from both the pass and the harbor. Holiday Isle also had waves crashing over the seawall and threatening upland structures as the storm stole more sand from the already eroded beaches.

•After a $1 million donation, Destin is one step closer to having an arts amphitheater. The money from the Dugas Foundation will go toward the Mattie Kelly Arts Foundation’s Amphitheater and The Village Green located at the Mattie Kelly Cultural Arts Village in Destin. The venue will be in place by spring 2013.

SEPTEMBER • Former councilman Jim Foreman was unanimously chosen by city leaders, out of a group of three applicants, to serve as its interim councilperson to fill out the rest of Larry Hines’ term.

• Destin Elementary School brings back its music program after going two years without one due to lack of funds. The new DES music teacher, Omar Hart, is a songwriter and he also teaches drums and piano lessons at Destin School of Music and Dance.

• Okaloosa County Commissioner James Campbell arrested on four counts of official misconduct and four counts of perjury; he faces misdemeanor perjury charges for failing to report, as an elected official, four large payments he received from the nonprofit council that manages Niceville’s annual Boggy Bayou Mullet Festival. Campbell denies “criminal intent” but the charges are still pending.

• City leaders unanimously agreed to issue a resolution of support for an air traffic control tower at Destin Airport to the Federal Aviation Administration, urging them to make grant funding available for construction. The proposed tower would cost about $3 million to build.

• La Famiglia in Destin to expand and open a second location in HarborWalk Village in the space previously occupied by Camellia Grill.

OCTOBER • West Destin beach restoration project moves forward as contractors have until Oct. 16 to submit bids for the project, which will place an estimated 550,000 cubic yards of sand along a 1.7-mile stretch of the city’s western beaches, immediately to the east of East Pass.

• Pompano Joe’s feline mascot PJ passes on after 14 years.

• Destinites will have three men to choose from as they elect a new city councilman Nov. 6 — Rodney Braden, Jim Foreman and Andy Stempki.

• Organizers at HarborWalk Village say the 34th Annual Seafood Festival brought in more than 70,000 people in it’s three day run, 20,000 more than last year.

• Hotels get swept up in Destin’s mini-redevelopment boom. The Hampton Inn is gutted to make way for a third floor that will add 26 rooms as part of a major renovation. Meanwhile, at the nearby Holiday Inn, which once boasted Destin’s revolving restaurant, the room section of the east building demolished to make way for a new tower, swimming pool area and lazy river.

• A spate of poor test results for the Destin area has city leaders pondering how they can improve local water quality.

• The old Destin Diner, at the intersection of Airport Road and U.S. Hwy. 98, was recently purchased by a local developer who plans to restore the diner into a fresh concept.

NOVEMBER • The Destin Area Chamber of Commerce formed a job-creating partnership with representatives from the chamber, the city of Destin, the Economic Development Council of Okaloosa County and business partners throughout the community to spur economic development in Destin.

• Jim Foreman will remain in his seat on the city council dais after voters give him the nod.

• The future placement of the 60-foot Big Eli 16 Ferris wheel in Baytowne Wharf in Sandestin is hinging on approval from Walton County’s planning commission.

• With plans on file at City Hall, developer Claude Perry will put down about 150-feet of brick pavers from Dockside Oyster Bar on the west to the Howard Group’s parcel (near KJ’s) on the east. The move will eliminate a stretch of gravel that boardwalk walkers must traverse.

• City leaders agreed to a contract with Great Lakes Dredge and Dock for the restoration project in the amount of $6,776,000 for the long awaited West Destin Restoration project.

• With a unanimous vote, Okaloosa County Commissioners essentially sequestered Timberview Helicopters to operating out of the Destin Airport.

• On the first day of registration for the Destin Snowbird Club 2012-2013 season, 130 new and returning members were signed up.

DECEMBER • Rave Motion Pictures in Destin will be sold to AMC Entertainment Inc. No changes are expected

• First Amendment Foundation says Destin’s economic planning needs to stay in the sunshine after councilman Jim Bagby worries that the group wouldn’t be subjected to the open meetings law.

• Harbor Docks owner Charles Morgan selected to serve as grand marshal of this year’s 27th Annual Christmas Parade.

• City leaders were presented with the Norriego Point Management Plan which details how the city would make recreational improvements along the point, such as the construction of a picnic pavilion, an interpretive trail with educational signage to promote protection of the dunes, and the creation of two new embayments for additional water-related activities and boat-kayak parking, bike racks, an access road and parking spaces, underground utilities, trashcans and drinking fountains and restrooms at the pavilion. The prospect of paving parts of the point raise the ire of at least two councilmen.

• Councilman Jim Wood told his colleagues he would like to regulate the beach chairs that are a common sight along Norriego Point during warm weather.

• Zerbe Street tops the city’s list of 48 roadways in need of repair after its annual assessment was completed.

• Council members agree to pass Norriego Point management plan with parking and the road not included.