With 2019 winding down, The Destin Log sat down to breakfast with Mayor Gary Jarvis to talk about some of the city of Destin’s biggest accomplishments and what’s ahead.
Jarvis discussed three key things the city worked on in 2019 and is committed to accomplishing in the future, increasing efficiencies within the city, increasing the amount of public beach access in Destin and moving forward with underground utilities.
"They are visionary," Jarvis said. "It’s going to be good for the health and well-being of our citizens. If you have no growth or redevelopment, your city dies. I don’t want to wait for a hurricane to make things new. We need to take that initiative ourselves instead of waiting on mother nature."
In years past, there have been problems with the permitting and planning process and how long it takes to get things accomplished.
However since Jarvis became mayor, he has received commitment from council and staff to move the city’s ability to operate into the 21st Century.
"We’re not all the way there, but we’ve started moving from the paper age to the digital age," Jarvis said, noting the city now has new software to keep better track of its records. "We’re going back and taking all the paper records and creating digital (files). ... It’s making a huge difference."
Not only did the city update its software, but every department has spent the last eight months reviewing their policies and procedures.
"It’s just changing the dynamics of the team ... that’s the coach in me," Jarvis said, who has had a hand in coaching baseball over the years. "I’ve been working with staff to encourage them to be the best they can be. And part of that process is creating new updated policies and procedures that will go hand-in-hand with our new software."
The end result, hopefully, will make it easier for people to do business with the city.
Jarvis said when he first became mayor there were people and contractors that didn’t want to do business with the city because of the time and paperwork.
"It was just so frustrating for them," he said. "Even existing business to change things, time is money, and it gets real expensive really fast. When you’re taking months to do something that should only take weeks ... it’s been a huge frustration."
So the good news is staff and council have embraced the efficiency idea.
"We’re fixing things that should have been fixed five years ago, 10 years ago, 15 years ago," Jarvis said.
PUBLIC BEACH ACCESS
The push to get more public beach access within the city of Destin is something the mayor strongly believes in, as well as council.
"It’s a no-brainer," Jarvis said. "Our brand, our best in brand is being damaged by not having enough ... beach access within our city limits."
Jarvis noted there are beach accesses in the county, such as James Lee Park, Henderson Beach State Park and Beasley Park on Okaloosa Island, but not enough within the city limits.
"The lack of public beach access has damaged our brand ... and social media has compounded that problem and it is hurting us drastically," Jarvis said.
As for the city’s ongoing beach access initiative, Jarvis said the council has the support of the TDC, Okaloosa County Commissioners and the city of Destin is punching in $2 million.
Jarvis said the council is working with Triumph to buy a substantial amount of beach.
"We’re toying with the idea of buying some beach access with the money we have. It all just takes time," he said, to get the money.
"I’m not sure we’re going to get it for the 2020 season but by 2021 season we’re going to have some new beach accesses," he added. "I’m absolutely confident that’s going to take place. We’re going to have some new public beach for people to sit on."
During a recent visioning session meeting the council made a commitment to finish negotiations with Gulf Power and either exercise the right to do its own electrical service or work with Gulf Power to underground its electrical lines in at least part of the city, Jarvis said.
However, he said, it looks like the city will renew its service contract with Gulf Power on a short-term agreement, but in that agreement include a commitment to go underground with utilities on U.S. 98, from the bridge to Airport Road.
"The long-term vision is to underground for all of Destin," he said.
The cost of such a project would be millions of dollars, "but it’s forward thinking," Jarvis said.
"The ambiance and the atmosphere it creates for redevelopment and new business and economic wellness of our community will be huge," he said.
As far as redevelopment, Jarvis noted that the south and north harbor district needs to be redeveloped.
"If we’re going to bring the clientele we want into our community, you have to offer them something," he said. "There’s always pain in any type of progress."