South Walton TDC pursuing new visitor center site

Discussion in 'Local Government and Groups' started by Kurt Lischka, Oct 3, 2011.

  1. Jdarg

    Jdarg SoWal Expert

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    Do people really stop at the center and say "hey, this place looks nice, let's completely change our plans and stay in South Walton"? I have a feeling they were already on their way to a vacation destination somewhere in the area, or would not be heading down 331 or along 98. Putting the TDC center on the south side of 98 will not entice people from our feeder markets to stay here instead of Destin or other Panhandle places- their plans were made before they arrived here, but it is a nice place to pick up maps and info, and the offices are nice.

    Bay and Okaloosa counties seem to do just fine without big TDC buildings. If they have them, I have never noticed, and they have so many ways in to their beach areas.

    We already have a "nature discovery center". It is called the E. O. Wilson Biophilia center, and it is amazing. It is in the forest. We "discovered" it. ;)
     
  2. Abby Prentiss

    Abby Prentiss Beach Fanatic

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    Visitor centers aren't to entice people to stay, although I bet it would get a few who are passing through the great nothingness which exists between PCB and Destin. I have talked to lots of tourists on 30A who say they had passed many times on 98 and never had a clue there was anything here. Then they decided to take a look. Had no clue at all and were amazed.

    However i think the center would mostly be about education for what's here, wildlife, safety, and mostly for businesses to get exposure.

    IMHO if just one visitor stops at the center, learns about rip tides, and it saves their life then the tiny bit of forest and the money is worth it! Although i do understand the worry about taking private land and setting a precedence. But I believe the forest service doesn't want that either and the agreement will be made in a way that it will not set a legal or moral precedence.
     
  3. Jdarg

    Jdarg SoWal Expert

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    People won't be stopping by the TDC to be educated about riptides and wildlife. If tourists want to learn about stuff like that, they will seek it out- we don't have to move that place to brand new location. There are vacationers who will seek out nature info and facts about an area, and there are those who don't care- they are at the beach on vacay. Locating the TDC in the new location might get a few more people through the door, but only because they pretty much would run right into it.

    Spend the dollars on getting good info in vacation rentals, on websites, and in our markets.
     
  4. Truman

    Truman Beach Fanatic

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    A few more!? First I am interested in numbers. I had heard some but it was awhile ago. Before the DOT cut off the place there were a lot of visitors and after the number was about 1/10th or less. It's no exaggeration that the place is worthless as a visitor center now but is only offices and a meeting space.

    A new center with easy access I'm guessing would get several hundred thousand visitors a year. No people aren't stopping there to get necessarily educated about a rip tide but if they stip there to walk the dog or find a rental and accidentally get educated and don't die in the gulf then thet is worth it to me I agree with Abby.

    I really think it can be a win win win if people stop getting huffy (not you Jdarg) and talk to each other. Business people and environmentalists need to work together because one can benefit the other. We should work hard to promote and educate about our amazing resources and do some business at the same time. The great nature we have benefits business and businesses should hug trees. Taking opposite sides is stupid and is cutting of your rose to spite your place.

    I know there are people who don't watch public land touched and I respect that but they also need to be reasonable. AT least open your eyes and ears and listen to what forestry has to say.

    Ok sorry so long.
     
  5. Jdarg

    Jdarg SoWal Expert

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    I understand that the current site is kind of worthless, but I don't think we need a new one disguised as a "discovery center". We need smaller locations at strategic places, at beach accesses, resort communities, etc., which would be a lot cheaper than constructing a whole new center.

    Regarding rentals, it is the internet age. Everybody has booked their rentals before they get here, so I doubt any rental discoveries happen except for the random "fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants" travelers. TDC dollars need to be spent in our vacation markets, when people are making their plans, and spreading out the availability of info about our area by having multiple small locations will reach far more people that one central location.
     
  6. NotDeadYet

    NotDeadYet Beach Fanatic

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    Essentially what you are arguing is that people are more important than the forest, and therefore it is okay to take some land that was purchased by the state specifically for conservation and convert it to a use some people see as more beneficial. Once you accept that premise and go down that road there is no end to it. In case you hadn't noticed, people depend on so-called 'nature' for food, air and water, which is to say we depend on it for our very lives. We are not separate from 'nature.'
    There are many other good places and opportunities for rip tide education. Until all those other avenues have been thoroughly taken advantage of, please don't try to tell me that opposing this new visitor center is akin to condemning someone from drowning in a rip tide, because that is the other logical extension of your argument.
     
  7. Truman

    Truman Beach Fanatic

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    Good points. A lot of times people plnn their next vacation while they are here though. I will say that Seaside and Watercolor and other developers do an excellent job marketing. Even individuals do great marketing of the area. Do we need to tax to advertise for more? Heck this website has probably brought more visitors and full time residents than anything ever done in SOuth walton.
     
  8. Truman

    Truman Beach Fanatic

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    While I am not a fan of all people and there are many trees I like better than some of the folks on this planet my answer is yes. I respect your opinion but your attitude of forest at all cost is part of the problem and exactly what my point was. Please consider our guests and friends and neighbors and business owners. We don't live in a vacuum. We have to make a living but we can certainly do it with thoughtfulness and sensitivity. I do think it was once again an unwise way fro the TDC to present a project but I certainly don't think anyone there is trying to be malicious. They want the prime spot and why not?

    We are talking about 11 acres out of 20,000+ in South Walton. Give me a break!
     
  9. Caroling

    Caroling Beach Fanatic

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    Better PDF version of Settlement Agreement

    View attachment 1999_Settlement_AgreementOCR.pdf
    The break was given in 1999 when the county got the acres that is now the town center with library, administration, schools and other county services. In the Settlement Agreement of 1999 the county agreed to conserve the rest of the land. Here is item 10) from page 5 of that agreement:

    "The parties recommend that the Division of State Lands within the Department of Environmental Protection complete acquisition of the South Walton County Ecosystem CARL project as rapidly as possible. Furthermore, Walton County commits to support acquisition of all remaining land within the South Walton County Ecosystem CARL project boundary for purposes of conserving it as part of the PointWashington State Forest."

    If the county chips away to give this break, there is precedent for more breaks, until the forest is gone. I say, use the land in the town center. Keep the TDC in with the rest of county services. Someone asked to follow the money. One firm benefitting is Preble-Rish, who are all for using the forest. How about getting an alternative design and engineering firm opinion for starters? I'm trying to attach the entire settlement agreement PDF that I received from the plaintiff in the law suit. Hope it works. View attachment 1999_Settlement_Agreement.pdf
     
    Last edited: Apr 21, 2012
  10. Eileen West

    Eileen West Beach Lover

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    Yes but that is 11 acres out of the of the last remaining 2% of old growth longleaf pine forest in the state of Florida. Thinking of it that way, couldn't we find better solutions? Death by a thousand cuts is what has devastated the land trust already. We have to stop it somewhere. Don't we?
     
  11. Beach Runner

    Beach Runner beats on hood

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    I think that the perfect place for the Visitor's Center would be south of the bridge on the west side of 331. That way people going either east or west when they hit 98 wouldn't have to go in circles to leave the Visitor's Center. If it's placed at the intersection of 98 and 331, it will just bugger up the traffic that has gotten so much lighter now that this intersection has been redone.

    Are there any properties available or buildings for sale in the area I'm speaking of (south of the bridge on the west side of 331)? The ideal place would have been the location that Sandlecastle Escapes recently bought.
     
  12. tailwagger

    tailwagger Beach Fanatic

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    It is official and I just need someone to second it — I am starting the TDC watchdog group !


    Amount of money they pull in? At a local 100-bed hotel in July last year they "grabbed" over $13,000 alone. Now think about adding the other hotels, homes and condos (ca-ching). With the use of technology and all the social media outlets today just how many tourists actually visit the TDC welcome center anyways? (Well, we know the TDC will inflate it. Maybe I need to stand outside one Saturday and count for myself). Is the new center being built for the tourist? I think not... It is being built because someone wants to leave his mark on our forest, and plain and simple someone just wants a big, big office to show off!


    TDC you want a new discovery or welcome center? I am all for it! Here are a few ideas that would increase your traffic and make much more sense.


    1. The strip mall at the old Shoo Mammas restaurant: It has turn lanes for you, is easily seen from 98 and has a lot of vacant spaces for you.


    2. The new Publix location: Again lots of empty units, plus an advantage for tourist because they come see you and then all in one trip grab some groceries and beer.


    3. The new Walmart: They have a nice little retention pond and you can build your welcome center on stilts, throw some gators in the water and BOOM instant attraction. The tourists will flock to you in record numbers.


    4. Grand Boulevard: The old Victoria’s Secret location. Again with some good PR and marketing they come see you and you offer them a V.S. gift card.


    5. Set a tent up on the beach.


    Why not build our children a park or better yet, I would so love a rec center with a workout room, a track, basketball and raquetball courts, a place to hold art classes etc.


    Or focus on music. Build us a nice outdoor music venue. We know you love music. After all, you paid Susanna Hoffs $75,000 for the worst song ever that nobody has heard of. Did I forget that we are blessed to have musicians the likes of Dread Clampitt, Forrest Williams and Kelsey Anna that live among us. I’m sure for $75,000 they could have put out a much better "local" song and nothing like giving money back to our community, right guys?


    Geez! Take care of the WCSO office, the SWFD, the lifeguards and mostly take care of us residents.


    TDC we really dont need you and we dont need you in our forest!
     
  13. joho

    joho Beach Fanatic

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    I second that!
     
  14. Andy A

    Andy A Beach Fanatic

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    You have your "second".
     
  15. Caroling

    Caroling Beach Fanatic

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    Bravo. Isn't there a TDC advisory committee we should contact? Also there is an excellent planning and design suggestion in this letter to the Sun:

     
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 27, 2012
  16. artishope

    artishope Beach Comber

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    kiosk and/or smart phone

    Save our green! Money and trees! Use technology in a smart way :)

    When I even hear the suggestion a new TDC Building i think "follow the money"!

    If folks want nature I highly suggest the existing glory -Biophelia -Morrison springs -beaches state -parks etc-galleries-dining-etc etc

    Centralizing data and distributing such offers great rewards! For visitors and the visited!

    Technology not bricks and mortar
    :) offer great support! Kiosks can create and print visit agendas from a touchscreen mailed to your phone/iPad etc! I won't rant with my geek speak! Just know what how smart we cld be! Old school buildings are part of but not at all "the" solution!

    The two reception halls by 331 bridge?
    I'm guessing right price cld buy them if a new bldg was critical!

    I wld take sober strangers to drunk ones in our neighborhood around our kids anyday!!

    Just think saving trees that support our ecosystem is a must!

    Also what about all the property
    By courthouse/library? Has a walking path lots of land guessing county owns?

    Lots of creative ways to bring/sustain folks with a case of Walton love :)
     
  17. Jim Tucker

    Jim Tucker Beach Fanatic

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    From Claire Bannerman:




    Some thoughts on the South Walton Tourist Development Council ruckus over creating a new building on State Park land:




    The mission statement of the Walton County TDC states that it is an industry organization that takes a “leadership” role in addressing “issues” that affect tourism and the “quality of life” in Walton County.




    Robert Davis and his team have succeeded in securing Seaside on a list of walkable communities. Seaside has grown into one of the most successful residential and tourist attractions in Walton County.




    Davis brought Dan Burden — the executive director of the Walkable and Livable Communities Institute, the nationally recognized authority on bicycle and pedestrian programs, friendly design, street corridor and intersection design, traffic flow and traffic calming — to our planning charrettes and forums. He enlightened us and guided us, reminding us of the amazing, fragile island environment in which we reside — and our need to protect it. I recall some of our county commissioners were present at these workshops.




    Decision-makers are visionary, communicative and forward-thinking. They listen and respond to the most engaged, involved and broad-minded residents. They build policies, practices and codes to make their towns pleasant — reinvesting in the town center, disinvesting in sprawl.
    We residents attended the charrettes and open forums to better our South Walton beaches, state parks and coastal dune lakes. We learned that towns and neighborhoods have a vision — master plans that provide direction, build ownership of residents, engage diverse people and create opportunities for implementation. A well-thought-out master plan gets past sticky issues and deals with the most fundamental, necessary decisions and commitments.




    We paid for Dr. Dan Burden to describe intact town centers with shops open for business a minimum of eight hours a day. County buildings would be downtown, the town hall in the town center, the library open for business at least 10 hours a day, a post office located downtown.
    Public spaces are all part of the master plan, giving people many places to assemble, play and associate with others. Key streets are controlled for speed. Streets and trails are well linked. Design is properly scaled. The town is designed for people. The town and neighborhoods have a vision.




    Over the years, we have participated vigorously in saving land for state parks, various town centers, Eden State Park, our unique coastal dune lakes, our bike trail and walk trails, and County 30A, our scenic highway. Local citizen groups, such as Beach to Bay, Peach Creek Alliance, Three Arts Alliance, Cultural Arts Alliance, Walton County Taxpayers, Friends of Eden, South Walton Community Council, etc., as well as individual resident leadership efforts, have safeguarded a vision for the beaches of South Walton.




    We have protected and kept watch over the world’s most beautiful beaches, reminding our Planning Department and our county commissioners every step of the way. So many nights our residents drove to DeFuniak Springs to attend county meetings so we could defend against developer invasions of our beaches and parks. We always asked for responsible development and business operations.




    Our county commissioners began to realize that engaging residents in practicing environmentally sound land management results in continued support and commitment. Public awareness, involvement and collaboration increase stewardship. Utilizing public support with government agencies can solve specific problems.




    We are aware that Walton County is increasingly dependent upon revenue from beach-going tourists and vacationers. Engaging residents to practice sound land management will result in a wonderful quality of life.




    The TDC needs to reflect on the master plan for South Walton and involve residents to solve specific problems that will make a positive change in our environment for the long term. We need all the state park land we can get; keep the TDC building in the town center. Review our goals to protect our beach environment from sprawl. Do not snag our parkland.




    Have the TDC Advisory Board ambassadors reconnect with the people and gain their input. Build the new TDC center on private land near the administrative center along State 331. To find it, simply put up a “wayfinding sign” on State 331. We, the people, have recommendations on our “quality of life” also.
     
  18. Jdarg

    Jdarg SoWal Expert

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    Walton County BCC Meeting Today- TDC Discovery Center

    BCC meeting starts at 4, the TDC Discovery Center debacle is on the agenda today at 4:25. Should be a lively meeting- make your voice heard if you are able to attend! Meeting at the South Walton annex.

    :dothewave:
     
  19. shellak

    shellak Beach Fanatic

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    I was at the last meeting. JDarg, let me know if the invocation goes the way it did last time.
     
  20. James Bentwood

    James Bentwood Beach Fanatic

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    With a substantial outcry going up in the community over the Walton County Tourist Development Council's proposal to build a new Discovery Center on state forest land, the TDC director is speaking out about the need for action.

    More than one year ago, on April 27, 2011, the TDC hired an independent building consultant to assess the current 9,000-square-foot TDC building that sits at the intersection of U.S. Highway 98 and 331.

    The original structure was built in the mid-1990s on pilings above a water-retention pond on just over an acre of state property.

    The independent assessment turned up 16 deficiencies in the facility's air quality. It also revealed mold issues. Since the building rests over water, the mold issues will continuously be a challenge, said current TDC head Dawn Moliterno.

    "We don't meet code and it's a real issue," she said.

    Moliterno went on to explain that after several years of add-ons to the building and since the facility backs up to state wetlands, additional adjacent property can't be acquired. The solution she sees is to give the parcel back to the state and relocate across the road on 11.9 acres of state-owned property.

    "We looked at the Town Center as a possibility and the acreage was narrow and would be about the same size we have now and offer challenges," she said.

    And while some question the necessity of a visitor's center, Moliterno feels it is very significant to the area.

    "In our mission, you want people to stop at the center. It gives us the opportunity to provide meaningful brand impressions and create interaction with day trippers," she said.

    Moliterno said the center sees roughly 20,000 visitors per year, which she notes is less than the 50,000 reported by neighboring counties.

    "We outperform other counties in bed tax collection and that number should be higher," she said. "We want uniformity in that area and the assessment, done in three phases, evaluated the current site and looked at what the facility needs for the future to accomplish its mission and general concepts; not architectural designs. Right now, it's nothing more than concept based on needs-based on analysis."

    But that argument isn’t convincing everyone. Jeffrey Ellis was involved in the early years of the TDC’s formation and he doesn’t necessarily disagree with the chosen location, but “I do feel the TDC has lost track of its goals and focus.”

    “Why does our area not have a great community pool? Why do we not have signs telling people to yield for walkers in the crosswalks along 30A? All counties around us boast these things,” Ellis wrote on the Sun’s Facebook page. “I feel confident this group can do better for the people who pay and fund them — the visitors to our area…”
     

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