Opponents pack city hall in advance of possible settlement vote

Matt Algarin
The City Hall Annex was packed Tuesday night, as residents showed up in full force to voice their opposition to the proposed strip club on Airport Road. Those wanting to address city leaders waited through a three-hour meeting to share their thoughts.

Although the City Council was advised not to comment, that didn't stop local pastors, area youth and the average resident from pleading, praying and demanding that city leaders reject a possible settlement, which could lead to the city’s first strip club on Airport Road.

"No matter how this got this far, fix it," Beth Henry told the council. "We the people are trusting you to use your wits to protect the families in these neighborhoods."

"Make them not want it; make them go away," she said of the proposed club's developers. "Only you can stop this. You are accountable for the part you play in this, big or small; we all are."

While there was no scheduled item related to the proposed strip club — The Runway — on Tuesday night's City Council agenda, more than 100 people packed the City Hall Annex, with 35 directly addressing the council.

A majority of those in attendance were part of the group Citizens for a Greater Destin, which has been petitioning against the proposed club for months. They even went as far as starting an online petition, which garnered 2,191 signatures.

Patti Terjak, a spokeswoman for the group, told city leaders that when she looks out the back windows of her Kell-Aire Gardens home, she stares at the building that would give way for the proposed club.

"I understand the strip club can happen; we don't have a lot of say in that," she said.

The group, which encouraged the masses to attend Tuesday's meeting, is fighting against the 2010 settlement agreement between the city of Destin and the late Terry Stephenson, which allows the club to not only open, but serve alcohol.

Joe Parks told the council that having such a venue so close to school-aged children doesn't make sense.

"Serving alcohol, when kids are getting on and off the bus across the street and you have a church half a block down the road... " he said. "You have to stand for something."

"You've got to think ahead, and if you don't, the future is looking really, really bad," Parks added.

Residents both young and old spoke out. A child, who couldn't have been more than 10 years old, approached the podium, telling city leaders "please, think about me and say no."

A teenager, who lives on Airport Road, sobbed when it was his turn to speak, telling the council that there would be negative impacts to the city's children if the strip club was opened.

"If we agree to let this business take seed in our community, it will spread into our neighborhoods, into the children, and into their hearts," he said.

Another Kell-Aire Gardens resident, Elizabeth Smith, told city leaders the strip club belonged "in the sewer."

"I'm 84 and I don't like to stay out this late, but I came out here for a purpose," she said. "For goodness sake, please don't start the sex-oriented business or industry that you are talking about in this park."

While many of the speakers wanted to show their opposition to the strip club, some of the city's pastors offered more than just an opinion, they offered help.

Kevin Wendt, from Grace Lutheran Church, told the council that the church community is behind them in this difficult time.

"I own this with you, I'm not here to point fingers," he said. "I'm part of the greater body of Christ of Destin."

"Those that are for us are greater than those that are against us," he added. "What is it you need? A number? People? How can we partner here? Can you give me a number so we can go to our people? Please, let us partner with you."

Representing his congregation of 1,800-plus, Pastor Barry Carpenter urged the council to "stand strong," as the churches would give them all of the support they need.

"We are custodians of not only today, but of the future as well," he said.

Dan DuFault, president of Citizens for a Greater Destin, went as far as urging city leaders to hire new attorneys, as current Land Use Attorney Scott Shirley was part of the legal team that negotiated the 2010 settlement with Terry Stephenson.

He also said the city could delay voting on this measure until the new council was seated after the March 11 City Council elections.

"We would like you to vote no," he said, telling the group to delay the decision if they couldn't bring themselves to shoot down a settlement.

Rev. Mike Hesse from Immanuel Anglican Church summed things up and suggested this is an uphill battle that can be won.

"As you come to make the decisions about what to do, remember David and Goliath," he said.


City leaders are set to meet in an executive session Feb. 24 at 5 p.m. where they will be briefed by the city's legal team in regards to a proposed settlement offer. Once the closed-door session is complete, the council will have the opportunity to vote on the proposed settlement or take no action.