EDITORIAL: Destin loses faith in freedom

Staff Writer
The Destin Log
The site of the proposed strip club along Airport Road is still garnering plenty of controversy and discussion as court battles continue

Editor’s Note: This editorial first appeared in our sister paper, The Northwest Florida Daily News.

Perhaps you can’t legislate morality, but you can certainly put a price tag on it. In Destin the price tag is $2.15 million. That’s the sum the City Council will pay to keep a strip club from opening on Airport Road — $1.75 million to make the club’s potential developers a little richer and $400,000 to buy the land on which the club would’ve been built.

The deal was announced Monday night. Residents cheered. They shouldn’t have. Paying off a strip club operator sets a terrible precedent, burdens taxpayers and allows City Hall to thumb its nose at the free market.

Destin has fought the strip club’s Atlanta-based developers since 2008, even though the proposed site was in an area the city had designated for precisely this kind of business. Residents didn’t want it there.

With Monday’s deal, Destin has made it clear it will use the city’s purchasing power to thwart any private business that doesn’t meet a neighborhood’s, or City Hall’s, ideas of propriety. The message will not go unnoticed. Expect other “controversial” enterprises — a topless bar, a shop selling sex toys, whatever — to make plans, spook the locals and, in return for pulling out, demand a fat check from City Hall.

The fat check, by the way, is not a one-time-only expense. By buying the land on which the Runway’s dancers would’ve jiggled, Destin has taken it off the tax rolls. It won’t generate property taxes, and city taxpayers will be responsible for its upkeep.

Well, the club’s critics might say, that’s just money. Bigger principles are at stake here. Indeed they are. Market freedom, for one.

In previous editorials, we suggested that if the strip club opened and did solid business, then perhaps Destin’s prevailing values could accommodate such activity. If the strip club didn’t draw customers, it would close. The free market would have decided its fate.

City Council members apparently didn’t trust the market to make that decision. Fearing the club might open and thrive, they decided to buy it out instead. Using other people’s money, of course.

Did we say the price tag is $2.15 million? It’ll be higher. In bad precedent-setting and diminished respect for freedom, the costs to Destin will keep mounting.