By DOTTY NIST
There was much to celebrate at the Walton County Tourist Development Council’s (TDC) Oct 15 annual meeting, and shades were de rigueur.
Past years’ versions of the event were held inside and included detailed presentations and slide shows. In contrast, following up on an idea by new TDC Executive Director Jim Bagby, this year the approximately 200 guests were directed onto the gulf front deck at the Hilton Sandestin. There they socialized and were treated to hors d’oeuvres and music. Later there were remarks, presentations of awards and honors, and a champagne toast.
“Most successful organizations live their brand. This is our brand,” Bagby said to the gathering.
“Our goal is to improve our community and visitor engagement,” said Bagby, who took the helm as TDC director in May.
Bagby reported more than 3 million visitors to Walton County’s beaches over the past year, putting the county in the state’s top 10 for visitor spending, even though it ranks 41st in population. June and July bed tax collection were reported to have risen 75 percent over the past three years.
Bagby proudly announced that the TDC had funded more than 20 events over the past year and that there had been 57 sea turtle nests on the beaches for the season.
Another achievement mentioned was Walton County’s planned large-scale beach restoration project’s status as a federal project, with construction on the $61-million project anticipated to begin in late 2014. Federal project status will ensure that, once nourishment takes place, the federal government will provide necessary renourishment in order for the beaches to retain their profile for the next 50 years, Bagby noted.
Highlighted at the event were the community’s artists in all categories. Non-traditional mosaic artist Mary Hong received the 2014 South Walton Artist of the Year award. In line with this year’s expansion of the Artist of the Year program, now in its 13th year, artists in other categories were honored as well, including: Mike Whitty, Performer of the Year; Chandler Williams, Photographer of the Year; Juan Adaro, Painter of the Year; and Stephanie Carter, Designer of the Year. Past South Walton Artists of the Year were recognized, as well, at the meeting.
To further celebrate local creativity and the community, the band for the event, Old Bull, Young Bull, took the limelight for a rendition of a new song written by local musician Tim Jackson that has been very popular in the area in recent months, “Won’t you Waltz across Walton County with me.”
The Van Ness Butler Jr., Hospitality Award, which the TDC has presented yearly since 2003 to an outstanding individual responsible for significant contributions to Walton County tourism, was bestowed on Malcolm Patterson. The south Walton County native served as the TDC’s executive director for more than a decade after coming on board with the council as its first director in 1988.
Patterson was not only a pioneer for tourism in Walton County, he is a member of one of the county’s pioneer families. “I rode a horse on these beaches rounding up cattle,” Patterson recalled as he accepted the award.
Calling himself “the luckiest guy in the world,” Patterson said he had been eager to leave the area as a young man but later was just as eager to return to south Walton County. After spending 20 years trying to move back to Walton County, he told the gathering, he had “made it to Destin” and had just sold his boat business when he saw an advertisement indicating that south Walton County was looking for a director of tourism. “I couldn’t even spell tourism at the time,” Patterson quipped to the crowd.
He recalled that his lifelong friend Van Ness Butler Jr., the award’s namesake, had urged him to apply for the job with the assurance, “We’ll teach you everything you need to know.”
Patterson had high compliments for the council members that he served in that position, stressing their integrity and foresight. “They had such great vision of what the TDC was going to be and where it was going,” he told the crowd with great emotion.
“I had a staff that was second to none…with that kind of background, it was impossible to fail,” Patterson concluded, with thanks to everyone who had provided him with assistance.
Individuals honored with the hospitality award in past years were recognized following Patterson’s remarks.
Also on Oct. 15, prior to the annual meeting, the TDC convened for a special meeting at which appointees to the TDC’s new volunteer committees were confirmed.
Appointees to the Beach Management Advisory Committee were: Sharon Maxwell, Leonard Martin, Matthew Aller, Gary Wise, John Henderson, Fred Buehler, Jack Slattery, and Laurel Abbe, with TDC member Gus Andrews to serve as committee member/liaison.
Appointed to the Marketing Advisory Committee were: Marilyn MacCollum, Tracy Louthain, Dan Keyser, Richard Ross, Dan McNellis, Brook Stetler, Stacey Brady, and Martin Liptrot, with TDC member Scott Russell to serve as committee member/liaison.
Members approved to serve on the Destination Improvement Advisory Committee were: Branch McClendon, Blaine Dargavell, Jacquee Markel, Marilu Maris, Jason Cutshaw, Leigh Moore, Andy McAlexander, and Fred Betz, with TDC member Maurice Gilbert to serve as committee member/liaison.
Approved to serve on the Events, Activities, Arts and Culture Advisory Committee were: Erin Stranko, Jennifer Steele, Susan Lucas, Steve Barber, Claire Bannerman, Elisa Sharpe, Paige Schnell, and Sammy Sanchez, with TDC member Pam Avera to serve as committee member/liaison.
Also at the Oct. 15 special meeting, District 5 Commissioner/TDC member Cindy Meadows respectfully declined to accept appointment as TDC treasurer. Council members had voted to select Meadows as treasurer at their last meeting. It is anticipated that the council will take action to fill the post at their next regular meeting, which is scheduled for Dec. 10.
Information on meeting times and dates for the TDC committees will be forthcoming, and committee meetings will be open to public attendance.