If we build it, they will come ... so we are told.
South Walton may get a sports complex.
The proposed complex is the idea of land-owner and businessman M.C. Davis of Freeport. Davis owns approximately 113 acres on U.S. Highway 98, two miles east of County Road 395 and wants to sell it.
The man who founded the E.O. Wilson Biophilia Center approached the former Walton County Tourist Development Council director Dawn Moliterno a couple of months ago with the idea and was encouraged to take it before the County Commissioners, which he will do June 11.
Davis believes the land would be a perfect spot for a sports complex, which he believes South Walton needs, and that is the cornerstone of his sales pitch.
If public feedback at a workshop held Wednesday morning is any indication, the community also seems to think it's a good idea.
As a selling tool for his property, Davis has done extensive clearing on the site, surveying, and research into the type of sports complex that he thinks should go there, all of which he will present to the commissioners.
His suggested plans call for four softball fields; four multipurpose 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; plus 1.8 acres allotted for an amphitheater.
Davis said the main reason for building such a complex is to service tourists and provide "much-needed" infrastructure.
"Families travel all over with traveling sports teams and center their vacations around them," said Davis's assistant, Marilu Lammon.
Lammon said parents will spend $7 billion this year on such “playcations.”
Lammon said Morgan Sports Complex in Destin brings in an estimated $6 million each year through families planning their vacations around travelling sporting events. And, Frank Brown Park in Panama City Beach reportedly brings in $48 million annually.
The type of fields Davis is proposing to be built would attract more affluent sports enthusiasts, he says.
"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 with a similar grass seating area.
Lammon said they have already been contacted by producers of the 30A Songwriters Festival, as they are interested in possibly using it.
"People who love arts and culture stay longer and spend more," said Lammon.
Davis said it would only take six or seven months to ready the complex for use.
"If the TDC wants to purchase the property, they would do their own thing," said Davis. "But this is how we envision it happening, and we are doing the preliminaries on presenting the concept."
When Davis purchased the land, he bought it from the government paying $10.13 million, and $3.25 million to St. Joe for highway frontage.
The property has been used as a spray field in the past, but Davis said an environmental assessment has been done by him and the county and the water on the property is good to go.
The property consists of 90 acres of uplands. There would be 22 acres of easement to access the complex, with Davis and St. Joe sharing ownership of that.
Commissioner Cindy Meadows said she likes the concept 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 an absolute on that would come through a financial analysis.
Lammon said the feedback they have received during the four workshops that have been held have been overwhelmingly supportive.
"But it will be up to the TDC and the public," she said.