By DOTTY NIST
A request for funding of road median maintenance and trash pick-up, along with recommendations on vending changes and sponsorship grants were all either tabled or deferred for committee input after being discussed by the Walton County Tourist Development Council (TDC) at its Oct. 4 bimonthly meeting at the South Walton Annex
At the outset of the meeting, Jason Cutshaw reported a TDC reserves balance of $58, 629,870. He noted that this total did not reflect recent land purchases. Later in the meeting TDC Executive Director Jay Tusa reported the spending of approximately $15 million from those funds in recent weeks for beach access property in Dune Allen and other property on the east side of CR-283 South for beachgoer parking and other public use, possibly an amphitheater.
Ad placement with event sponsorship grant funds
Pam Watkins, TDC director of sales, and Kate Lundin of TDC advertising consulting agency Zehnder Communications presented a proposed change to the TDC’s events marketing grant program for the next fiscal year. The program currently provides $525,000 per year to reimburse promotional media expenses for over 30 events taking place both in south Walton County and north of the bay.
The request was for a change from personnel associated with the events place advertising for their events to having Lundin, who serves as TDC media buyer, do ad placement for the events “in house.”
“An agency understands and has extensive knowledge of the target geographies and audiences and is able to employ economies of scale and leverage media partner relationships for the most competitive rates and added value for each placement,” the proposal presented to the TDC members read.
Lundin also explained that the method would ensure “one brand” in connection with the ad placement and would provide for “proof of performance” of the advertising.
“We know the audiences,” she said.
In response to a question, Watkins said that representatives of the events would still present their promotional plans to the TDC even though Lundin would place the advertising.
TDC member Pam Avera, who works for Seaside, said she was not generally in favor of someone else representing Seaside’s brand.
Jim Bagby, former TDC executive director and now general manager for the One Seagrove Place Homeowners Association, also urged caution.
“This is a top-down approach….Mama Government knows how to best market your event,” he said ironically.
Bagby expressed great respect for Zehnder’s expertise and did agree on the need for better documentation procedures for spending on event promotion.
He called for the proposal to be sent to the TDC Events, Activities, Arts & Culture Committee for input prior to the TDC taking action on it.
This course of action was approved with all aye votes following a motion by Avera. It was noted that the next Events, Activities, Arts & Culture Committee meeting was scheduled for Nov. 10. The committee meets at the TDC office, and its meetings are open to public attendance and participation.
Mowing and trash pick-up along Scenic Corridor
Leigh Moore spoke to the council members on behalf of the Scenic Corridor Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to preservation and protection of the scenic natural and natural beauty of the county-designated U.S. 98 and U.S. 331 Scenic Corridors south of the bay.
She explained that the condition of medians along the scenic corridor had been a concern of the foundation for many years and described efforts by the organization to get the state Department of Transportation (DOT) to mow and collect trash along the medians and roadside on a more frequent basis. Moore indicated that through many discussions it had come to light that DOT had only a limited budget for these activities.
She explained that local areas are allowed to take on responsibility and funding for mowing and trash pick-up along state highways through agreements, with DOT providing partial funding in proportion to what is furnished by the local areas.
Moore presented a proposed partnership plan with DOT through which the county, the TDC, and private parties would provide a higher level of service for mowing and trash pick-up on medians and roadside along most areas of the scenic corridor. The plan had been previously been presented to the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC).
As part of the BCC budget hearings, $131,000 had been identified for the program from TDC reserves for the program, pending a determination on whether TDC funds could be used for this purpose and final review and approval by the TDC and BCC.
While the plan proposed by the Scenic Corridor Foundation called for funding to be shared between the county and the TDC, the BCC had directed that the TDC look at funding the entire amount.
Avera was of the opinion that the mowing and trash pick-up would be a county rather than a TDC responsibility and that this was not the intent of the bed tax.
The TDC members discussed that they had previously committed $68,000 to landscaping and upkeep of about 2 1/2 miles of “gateway” median and roadside areas along the corridor, those that visitors traverse when arriving in the area.
TDC member Tim Norris was of the opinion that, if more funding was provided over the $68,000, it should go instead to CR-30A and Scenic Gulf Drive for purposes such as improving aesthetics with signage. He also spoke in favor of seeing how the gateway area projects played out before approving additional funding for other areas.
TDC member Kurt Tape countered, “We have overgrown roadways.” He was of the opinion that it was appropriate for the TDC to extend the requested funding for mowing and trash pick-up.
TDC Chair/District 2 Commissioner Cecilia Jones confirmed that the BCC had seen the plan and commented that it was currently undetermined what part of the cost the BCC would pay.
“That part is still moving,” she said.
Jones was asked if inmates could be utilized. She said that this had not worked well in the past but that it could be looked at.
Norris said he had seen a lot of trash along the roads and that it would be “excellent” to be able to have inmates collect it if possible.
“There are millions of visitors driving these corridors every year,” Moore reminded the council members. She said that with the program implemented, she thought everyone would see how much it would improve the appearance of the corridors. Moore added that the program would also open the county up for related grant funding.
After some additional discussion, there was an offer by Tusa to bring back an update and additional information on the matter if the council members opted to table the proposal to their December bimonthly meeting. This course of action was approved with all aye votes.
Vending issues and options
In his remarks to council members, Brian Kellenberger, TDC director of beach operations, reported on the results of several workshops recently held by the TDC and county in the wake of the beach season to take input on vending and other beach issues. He discussed input on the beach vending program, including complaints, and options for solutions to address vending issues.
Kellenberger noted that six new code enforcement officers were being added to TDC beach code enforcement in the new fiscal year, along with four new truck and two new ATVs, thus creating a “bigger presence on the beach” for the TDC.
Issues that have been coming up every year have been exacerbated by congestion on the beach, some of that due to beach erosion and loss of beach depth, Kellenberger noted.
To “minimize large tent cities,” staff are recommending limiting tents on the beach to a 6’x6’x6′ size, Kellenberger said.
Another recommendation, he told the council members, is for a “public beach vendor management program” to be implemented initially at regional beach accesses, utilizing a lease-type or contract agreement for vending and setting performance specifications. This would include an “attendant on duty” to set up chairs, umbrellas, etc., as requested by people desiring set-ups and not before.
Part of the recommendations, Kellenberger continued, was a “rethinking” of the practice of storing equipment at the toe of the dune, possibly going to group storage boxes.
In addition, there would be beach equipment set-up standards, he said, clearing up the vague requirement for equipment to be placed at a “reasonable distance” from the water’s edge. A set 15-foot distance was recommended. (This would also apply to equipment set up by the public). The set-up standards would also require the leaving of aisles between every fourth chair for access to the gulf.
A look at discontinuing vendor zones at neighborhood beach accesses was also recommended or allowing upland property owners to arrange for vendor service if desired.
Kellenberger said that in researching the history of beach equipment delivery permits, he had found that the original intent had not been “a way to preserve a place on the beach.”
A vendor permit fee increase up to $1,000 per year was recommended.
Another recommendation was for people doing business on the beach in connection with weddings and similar events to be required to be permitted vendors, with one designated person responsible for all permits to be obtained for the event. Currently there is a $50 permit fee for weddings, and an increase to $1,000 per event is recommended. In addition, an attendance of 30 rather than 50 people would trigger the requirement for a special events permit. Allowable items on the beach for the events would also be specified, and a detailed parking plan would be required for the events
Other recommended requirements would ensure proper distance of events from sea turtle nests on the beach.
There were also recommendations for containment and limit of decibel level for generators and banning of steel shovels to discourage the digging of large holes on the beach.
Kellenberger concluded with the hope for “creation of harmony on the beach” through approval and implementation of these recommendations.
In response to a question, Kellenberger said the recommendations were in “draft form” and newly developed. He said he had wanted to share them with the council members as soon as possible, since they meet only every other month.
Two vendors in attendance voiced opposition to the recommendations.
Phillip Poundstone of Rent Gear Here said he would recommend “none of these changes” be made, commenting that each one proposed “would be detrimental to the tourist.”
Later, Eric Johnson of Miramar Beach Services complained that the proposed changes would interfere with how vendors had been running their businesses for many years and would negatively affect vacationers.
Tape urged for the council members to listen to what Kellenberger was proposing, calling him “the protector of our most valuable asset,” together with the bike path.
“I don’t see the downside for the vendors,” he added.
Jones also expressed respect for Kellenberger’s recommendations but urged for them to undergo review and input from the TDC Beach Management Committee.
Kellenberger agreed that this would be the proper procedure, with the recommendations to then come back before the TDC and then the BCC. There was agreement on this course of action, with the goal of the BCC being ready to move forward with any changes sometime in January.
TDC guidelines and seats
Tusa reported that changes to the TDC guidelines for council members had been finalized, including meeting attendance requirements and use of a council member liaison to present items to the BCC. Another requirement is leaving official contact with the media to the executive director or TDC chair.
Tusa noted that the term on the vacant council seat and those for the seats held by Jennifer Frost, Tim Norris, Kurt Tape, and Commissioner Jones would be up for renewal in December.
Jones commented that she had enjoyed serving on the council (which she has chaired) but that she would request that upon expiration of her term, her seat go to one of the commissioners whose districts include the area south of the bay.
It was confirmed that the terms on the seats discussed would extend to Dec. 31.