The idea comes from landowner and businessman M.C. Davis of Freeport. Davis, who owns about 113 acres along U.S. Highway 98 two miles east of County Road 395, wants to sell the property to the county.
The man who founded the E.O. Wilson Biophilia Center approached former Walton County Tourist Development Council Director Dawn Moliterno a couple months ago and was encouraged to take his proposal to county commissioners. He will make his pitch Tuesday.
Davis says the land would be a perfect for a sports complex, which he believes South Walton needs.
If feedback at a recent workshop is any indication, residents also seem to think it’s a good idea.
As a selling tool for his property, Davis has done extensive clearing, surveying and research on the type of sports complex that he thinks should go there.
His idea call for four softball fields; four multi-purpose fields to be used for soccer, lacrosse, or football; six sand volleyball courts; hiking and biking trails; playgrounds; a 25,000-square-foot skate park; and 1.8 acres for an amphitheater.
Davis said the main reason for the complex is to serve tourists and provide “much-needed” infrastructure.
“Families travel all over with traveling sports teams and center their vacations around them,” said Marilu Lammon, Davis’ assistant.
Lammon said parents will spend $7 billion this year on such “playcations.”
She said the Morgan Sports Complex in Destin brings in an estimated $6 million a year through families planning their vacations around sporting events.
Davis says the type of fields he is proposing would attract more affluent sports enthusiasts.
“A lacrosse field is something no one else has around here, and it is an affluent sport attracting people with incomes of more than $100,000 annually. They will bring their families and spend money here, and we would have no competition for them," he said.
The proposed amphitheater would be twice the size of the Seaside Amphitheater and have a similar grass seating area.
Lammon said they already have been contacted by producers of the 30A Songwriters Festival, who are interested in using it.
“People who love arts and culture stay longer and spend more,” she said.
Davis said it would take only six or seven months to get the complex ready for use.
“If the TDC wants to purchase the property, they would do their own thing,” he said. “But this is how we envision it happening, and we are doing the preliminaries on presenting the concept.”
The property has been used as a wastewater spray field in the past, but Davis said he and the county have conducted an environmental assessment and the land is good to go.
Commissioner Cindy Meadows said she likes the idea but wants to look at all the details.
Meadows said the project could be funded out of the TDC’s bed tax collection. She said her understanding is that raising taxes would not be necessary, but a financial analysis is needed to make sure.
M.C. Davis and a group have a proposal for a sports complex in south Walton. Davis has a 36 acre parcel he is offering to the county. Davis told commissioners at their Tuesday meeting he bought the property and has spent money on it. Davis said he would like the commissioners to express their level of interest in the land and if it qualifies, then take it back to the TDC. The matter was brought up by commissioner Cindy Meadows.
Commissioners were told there is an emphasis on travel teams in youth sports. Helen McCall was cited as being too small and the Freeport Complex is not close enough to the beach to bring in tourism. Other surrounding parks, such as Frank Brown Park, were shown.
The land is near Emerald Coast Middle School, is cleared, is flat and is over 90% uplands. The plan would have softball fields, sand volleyball, lacrosse fields, playgrounds, hiking and biking trails, a skate park, multi-use fields and an amphitheatre.
Commissioner Bill Chapman said he has played sports, but feels the present location has limited hotels, motels and fast food establishments. He said he has played travel ball and they look for a reasonable place to stay. Davis’ team said, looking at Frank Brown Park, many of the users stay in short term rentals, they have plenty of hotels and fast food. They were told, if they build it growth will come.
Chapman said he understands they are asking the TDC for seed money or to purchase, and asked how long it would take to get the money back. A top of the line park is estimated at $8million. Davis said Regional Utilities has graywater available and with savings they could build the park for around $5m to $5.5 million. Davis told commissioners he can’t say it would make money, but said there are businesses and others that want to participate.
Commissioner Meadows said they had previously looked for land to build a park, but could not find any. She also said they can not expand Helen McCall Park. Meadows said there are more homes available for rentals. She said people rent houses for several families and this means rooms and places to stay. Meadows said the area is set to become a mega center in about 5 years.
Davis said the land up front is being offered to the school board for a high school or middle school. He said he is not a developer, but will have some commercial, a police substation and emergency station. He said this is the last of land that can handle a sports complex.
Meadows asked to take the next step and commissioner Comander agreed. Commissioners agreed they should put together a committee and make sure this is what they need to meet the needs. They also want workshops for public participation. Davis said time is of the essence, but he will work with them. He also said even those against him agree with them giving Alaqua Animal Refuge land for their expansion. Bob Hudson thanked Davis for what he is trying to do. He said there is a need for fields for kids, whether they put heads in beds or not. There were a number of audience members in support of the project. Commissioners will have staff move forward.
It worries me that the Davis' Team said "if they build it growth will come." referring to hotels and fast food joints (post #38 above). Is that what this all about and is that what we envision South Walton becoming? What's next, our very own Thunder Beach? Why this obsession with copying what PCB has done? Are we going to completely subjugate the unique character of this area on the alter of development to profit a few opportunistic individuals who want to tap TDC funding for their own gain? I could agree with the building of a small community facility for residents and tourists who want to play basketball,etc.. The white elephant that is being discussed will be a financial drain on the community forever.
Why do people feel that this proposal would even be competition for Frank Brown Park? Below are the current resources available to FBP users and doesn't even come close to what is proposed in South Walton.