Everyone wants to be 'connected,' Destin Mayor Bobby Wagner says

Tina Harbuck
The Destin Log

Although he ran on “revive, reclaim and sustain,” newly elected Destin Mayor Bobby Wagner has come to the realization that his theme should be “connectivity.”  

After knocking on doors and talking to thousands of people throughout the community and serving on council, “I now realize what the theme is and what we all had in common was to be connected,” Wagner told the crowd gathered Thursday for the 29th annual State of the City address. 

Destin Mayor Bobby Wagner

He then went over, systematically, six strategical goals the city set in 2022 and showed how connections served well to achieve those goals. 

Strategic Goal 1: A financially sound city providing service excellence. 

He talked of how funds used to come through mainly from the millage rate. 

“We spent $23 million in capital improvements … but that’s not coming from us, but from an outside source. From our partners,” Wagner said. 

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Some of those improvement funds he talked of were for the emergency stormwater pump and parks. 

He thanked state Rep. Pat Maney and state Sen. George Gainer for their support in helping to secure funds for these projects. 

“It’s just amazing as to what we can do on all levels of government,” Wagner said. 

But to achieve real change and progress, “it has to start within … and this city deserves the best,” he said. 

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He talked of how the city is now in a position to hire and then hold onto employees. 

“We have to have a fully staffed work force,” he said. 

“Our employees are the foundation of the city,” he added. 

Strategic Goal 2: Provide and enhance quality of life and safety for families. 

By connecting with the Okaloosa County Sherrif’s Office, Destin has seen a decline in vehicle burglaries in 2022. 

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In 2021, Destin had 108 vehicle burglaries within the city limits. But through a public service campaign, as well as educating people and the sheriff targeting offenders, car burglaries decreased by 68 percent. 

“That’s not a fluke. That’s a testament to technology and community … and the power of communication,” Wagner said.  

He also talked of how Morgan Sports Center was booked for tournaments in the summer and how the city leagues were to capacity. 

“We are also enhancing our quality by utilizing our connection with Henderson Beach State Park,” he said. 

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City residents can acquire a pass to the park at a reduced rate. 

“You’re missing out,” Wagner said, if you don’t take advantage of that. 

Strategic Goal 3: Economic development and revitalization. 

“I found while campaigning that one of the biggest frustrations was our building permits,” he said. 

The city has now created a process that has decreased the time by 50 percent, he said. 

In 2021, Destin had $98 million in permits. It was up to $172 million in 2022. 

“That’s a good show of growth, but we need to make sure we grow strategically, sustainably and for the residents,” he said. 

He talked of how the city has revitalized the Harbor District by replacing the wooden decks with a more sustainable resilient material. 

“And it looks much better,” Wagner said. 

The city is working on updating Clement Taylor Park on Calhoun Avenue as well as finishing up Royal Melvin Park on Harbor Boulevard. 

And the Main Street city center is now part of the discussion, he said. 

Strategic Goal 4: Effective, efficient and aesthetically pleasing infrastructure. 

“I can’t think of a better project than the undergrounding (utilities) of 98 and eventually all of Destin,” Wagner said. 

“I think this will bring us into the 21st century,” he added. 

By putting the utilities underground, it would create an aesthetic street scape but also protect “our beautiful heritage trees from being butchered,” Wagner said. 

"I’m most excited … that Destin will be in the forefront,” of showing how cities are to be built, “he said. 

“I think it’s important to protect our heritage,” but at the same time “inspire others” so they can take the ideas back home, Wagner said. 

Strategic Goal 5: Improve mobility and connectivity. 

“As we all know traffic in Destin is horrible, there’s no way around it,” he said. 

“But what we can do is start thinking outside the box,” he said. 

“There are only so many lanes we can create. At some point we’ve got to come up with ideas to alleviate the traffic,” Wagner said. 

He said after two-decades of discussion, the “cross-town connector” is ready to be completed. 

He thanked Okaloosa County for its part in connecting with the city for the recent beach acquisitions. 

Wagner also liked the idea of the Okaloosa Island pedestrian pathway to Destin and would like to see it go all the way to the Walton County line in the future. 

“We need other modes of transportation,” he said. 

Strategic Goal 6: Green and sustainable environment. 

“We are the luckiest fishing village and that is a resource that we’ve come to love and be famous for,” Wagner said. 

“We’re all interconnected, and we must stay together to preserve what we’ve been given,” he said. 

He talked about how the overhaul of the pumping station has helped the harbor and he also bragged on the Destin Youth Council and its beach cleanups and future initiatives. 

“They are the next generation … and we’ve got to teach them what we know,” he said. 

“To me, the goal of having a green and sustainable environment is what we need to focus on … the other is no good if we destroy the very thing that brought us here to begin with,” Wagner said. 

“And none of these things (goals) could have happened without the connections,” he said. 

So, in his next four years as mayor, Wagner said he would not only like to see the city reclaim, revive and sustain, but the same for the businesses and citizens that connect with them.