Shopping fees to fund entertainment common in area

Heather Osbourne
Grand Boulevard in Miramar Beach. [ DAILY NEWS FILE PHOTO ]

While the Destin Commons received much attention last week for its new 2% arts and entertainment fee, such charges have been a fixture along the Emerald Coast for decades.

Seaside, the Village of Baytowne Wharf, Destin Commons, Grand Boulevard and HarborWalk Village are just a few town and shopping centers that levy a fee of 1% to 3% onto customers' purchases to help fund arts and entertainment, including charity events, firework shows and concerts.

The fees are optional, but will be applied unless otherwise requested by the customer.

"Entertainment hubs like the Destin Commons, HarborWalk Village and Baytowne Wharf are basically entertainment centers for the whole area," said Peter Bos, owner of HarborWalk Village.

Bos said Destin Commons mistakenly labeling its fee a "tax" at one of its businesses has jaded the extra charge, similar to the one that has benefited his development for more than 10 years. At HarborWalk, the charge is labeled a "Village Fee."

Destin Commons came under fire after one of its stores rang up the fee as a Destin Municipal Tax, a misnomer because the shopping center is not in Destin's city limits and because the fee is not a tax. 

"It was never a tax," Bos said of the Destin Commons confusion. "It wasn't intended to be a tax. It was a simple mistake, but it blew it all out of proportion."

Grand Boulevard enacted its fee in 2012 after watching the success of a similar fee structure at Seaside.

"Most of the events have a charity component," Grand Boulevard spokeswoman Stacey Brady said. "Most of the (events) are free and open to the public. Both locals and visitors love coming to, for example, our Saturday farmer's market. There are Theater Thursdays where the Emerald Coast Theatre Company does performances throughout the entire summer season.

"We see value of the arts and entertainment program at Grand Boulevard and all it is able to fund and offer to the community."

Most centers that have implemented arts and entertainment fees have signage at the points of sale of each of its businesses explaining the additional charge. Many shoppers, however, may still be unaware the fees exist.

"Wow! I'm not paying it," Kathy Polk Armstrong said in a Daily News Facebook page comment about the fee. "Absolutely ridiculous."

Views about the fees are mixed.

"This is totally normal," Casey Trejo said on the Daily News Facebook page. "The fee helps pay for events which brings more customers, so it’s actually beneficial to the businesses. Also, to everyone who is complaining, it’s optional. Just ask for the fee to be removed if 2% is going to break the bank."

Destin City Councilwoman Prebble Ramswell said she understands the desire of shopping and town centers to recoup the costs of events and entertainment by levying a fee. Ramswell said that while visitors and locals do benefit from these events, it is important that the fee is clearly labeled as optional for customers.

"The venues around here do some amazing things and put on events for residents and visitors alike," Ramswell said. "People need to be aware of exactly what they're paying for when those fees are put onto a receipt."