Community raises questions about proposed sports complex

Published: Thursday, June 13, 2013 at 04:11 PM.

"I think our community is at such a crossroads," she said. "We should consider providing enhancements in order to draw more full-time residents here that in turn better support our off-season economy and grow our community in South Walton. I am thrilled that we might be able to fund this much needed sports complex from the bed tax funds. If this project materializes, we would be investing in a long-standing structure for our entire community to enjoy. From what I can see of the proposal thus far, I appreciate the out-of-the-box thinking that would benefit both the South Walton full-time residents and visitors."

But others were not shy in expressing opposition to such an idea.

"Let me preface by saying I coached little league baseball for umpteen years, refereed high school basketball for a dozen plus years and ejected people from gymnasiums from Pensacola , Florida to Pelham , Georgia . I support youth sports wholeheartedly but this project is not economically feasible," said financial advisor Buz Livingston.

Realtor Tom Watson agrees. "Good concept, but very poor use of county funds. With a land donation, it may make sense, (there is no indication the land will be donated) but the county needs to budget both operating loss and capital reserve accounts to accommodate the losses and ongoing maintenance these types of facilities historically create. Bay County already controls the sports tourism business just 10 or so miles down the road at Frank Brown Park, and South Walton’s hospitality business is already performing at pre-recession levels, and caters to a tourism sector that is at a much different (higher) price point than the sports travel business that brings in families that primarily stay at affordable, limited service hotels. County funds would be much better used in expanding and improving the recreational facilities at Helen McCall Park , not to mention paving roads, expanding schools and encouraging real economic development to attract larger employers. Overall, it’s a very good concept, but a poor idea if presented as a county-funded land acquisition and development project. Seems if it was such a profitable venture that the landowner/developer would develop it themselves …," he said.

Dune Allen's Jim Radtke agreed. "Where are all these people going to stay and eat? We already seem to be at full capacity in South Walton. What kind of use is the one in Panama City Beach getting? Would we be competing against them? Once again the TDC comes up with another idea to bring in tourists. The full-time residents then get to pay more taxes for the additional fire and sheriff personnel required. Is this what South Walton wants to become, another Panama City Beach ? Thunder Beach is next," he said.

Realtor Robert Monk is also concerned about the possibility of taxes being raised to support the project. "The project sounds fine to me, unless it will raise our taxes again. If there is a single reason that would encourage me to leave Walton County , it's the insanely high WC tax rates," said Monk.

But many more had questions to which they would like to hear answers.

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