Santa Rosa County Commissioners during Tuesday’s budget & planning workshop faced impending grim realities related to catching up on long-neglected infrastructure needs. But the workshop news wasn’t all gloom and doom, and the board lit up with excitement over ideas coming out of the county’s tourism office.
Despite hurricanes and the on-going COVID-19 pandemic, Santa Rosa County’s tourism revenues have increased 46% between 2016 and 2020, setting an all-time record of $3.9 million in fiscal year ending 2019.
Commission Chairman Dave Piech said he wanted to publicly praise Tourism Director Julie White, who made a presentation, which included not only a previously discussed Gulf-side amphitheater but also new ideas for small retail shops, playgrounds and other improvements.
“These improvements on Navarre Beach include: An amphitheater, shopping area, gathering places for sitting and eating, playground, Gulf-view gazing deck and coordinated landscaping and art to tie the public spaces together,” stated White’s presentation.
District 5 Commissioner Colten Wright expressed excitement over White’s presentation, noting an amphitheater on the Gulf could help lure tourists who might otherwise choose to visit locations like Seaside. “I want those people here. I want them coming here to spend their money.”
Wright went on to say he’d like to find a balance between spending money on economic development to attract industrial jobs and growing small businesses, like the retail options shared by White could potentially attract to Navarre Beach.
“Retail shopping options are extremely limited on Navarre Beach. This vision proposes to develop a cluster of small retail shops that will provide a lower cost of entry to small businesses while at the same time provide our citizens and visitors with expanded retail options. These shops can be part of a public-private partnership in which the lease revenue can be used to offset construction and maintenance costs of the facilities,” White said.
Commissioners during the upcoming 2021-2022 budgeting process will also be discussing how to fund budget needs related to the island.
“We’re looking at a beach renourishment due to Hurricane Sally,” said Dan Schebler, county administrator.
District 1 Commissioner Sam Parker said he’d like for the county to explore increasing tourism taxes to fund some county-wide necessary improvements. Parker made it clear he will not support property tax increases.
District 2 Commissioner Bob Cole stated he would like for the state to introduce a statewide $1 per night bed tax. “The beaches are the most important driver in the state to bring in tourists, other than Mickey Mouse,” Cole said.