Mayors lament strip club situation

Staff Writer
The Destin Log

Elected city leaders may not be able to comment on the particulars or the possibility of a strip club settlement, but a gag order can't stop tears.

"It has been probably for me one of the most difficult situations ever," Mayor Sam Seevers told the Destin Area Chamber of Commerce's Destin Forward Class on Wednesday.

"When I took the oath of office, I swore to uphold the United States Constitution, so help me God,” she said choking back tears. " But it's been horrible … I really feel for everybody; it's a bad situation."

The fight over what could become the city’s first strip club has been ongoing since 2009. In that time, the city has faced a pair of First Amendment lawsuits and an outcry from some in the community who say the city must fight the Atlanta area developers set on opening The Runway on Airport Road.

The latest twist came in a Feb. 2 court document, which notes that the "parties participated in an all-day mediation" on Jan. 24 and negotiations continued, which ultimately resulted in an "agreement in principle.”

"While the parties are optimistic that the matter will be settled, it is premature to discuss this action," the document reads.

The "tentative agreement" is not final until it's approved by the city council. They will hear from city attorneys at an executive session on Feb. 24 at 5 p.m., and then will have the opportunity to make a motion and vote after the closed session ends. While the executive session is not open to the public, the special meeting, which starts immediately afterward, is open to attendees.

While he hasn’t been and won’t be privy to those discussions, the city's incoming mayor also feels strongly on the matter. But he recognizes that the city's hands may be tied.

"That business is highly against the DNA of our community," said Mel Ponder, the city's mayor-elect who will take the gavel in March.

Unfortunately, he said, Destin is in a situation where a settlement was "legally brokered" years ago.

"I want to honor the courts of the land," he said. "That doesn't mean we have to be in favor of that, but we just have to honor it."

Ultimately the strip club's success is up to us as a community, Ponder said.

"It's either gonna thrive or it's gonna die." And if the community upholds its ideals, "it'll whither," said Ponder.