Santa Rosa County workers were busy installing new “Welcome to Navarre Beach” signs Thursday incorporating the new branding researched and designed by Santa Rosa County’s new advertising agency Paradise Marketing.
The process and concept were approved by Santa Rosa County Commissioners as a board.
“I promised Rob Williamson we would have the signs up for the Memorial Day weekend and we worked very hard to accomplish that goal,” said Julie Morgan, Santa Rosa County Tourism Director.
As the signs were being installed, social media was buzzing about the new signs, but not how Morgan would have liked.
“I was really taken aback by the negative comments,” said Morgan. “The way the comments were phrased, an outsider looking in may think that the county pulled a fast one and changed out the signs and the slogan in secrecy. However, there were many opportunities for the public to comment and there was no notable opposition to the new logo and slogan until the signs were installed.”
The U.S. Highway 98 sign to be placed at the foot of the Navarre Beach Causeway was accidentally broken by the sign manufacturer as it was being prepared for transport Wednesday.
“The sign company felt very bad that the sign broke. The guy stayed up all night working on an alternative so that we wouldn’t be without a sign for Memorial Day Week. We only have to live with the metal alternative for one week,” Morgan said.
Come Memorial Day, the beach entrance was without a sign anyway.
Early Friday morning Morgan began receiving phone calls that the causeway sign was no longer there. She thought initially they had been stolen, and then, she discovered on a social media site under a lot of posts about disapproval for the sign that District 4 Commissioner Rob Williamson had posted a picture of the empty framework where the sign use to be with one word, “Done.” The post was made at approximately 3 a.m. Friday.
According to the Santa Rosa Sheriff’s office, around 11:30 p.m. Thursday, deputies responded to a suspicious person call at the Butterfly House in Navarre Park. The deputies reported seeing Williamson in the Butterfly House parking lot around midnight Friday morning. Williamson asked the officers if they had a hammer because he had a sign he had to take down said sheriff office public information officer Rich Aloy. The deputies didn’t have a hammer for Williamson and left the butterfly house parking lot to assist on other calls.
Around 1 a.m., a deputy reported seeing Williamson alone near the Navarre Beach Causeway sign. Aloy said that contrary to a deputy’s Facebook replies on social media, no deputies were present during the sign removal nor did any deputy stop or direct traffic at any time.
Williamson posted a response to his commissioner Facebook page the next morning outlining why he took down the signs. He said public outcry on social media prompted his decision. He referred to the temporary sign as “cheap looking.”
“Ultimately I thought it would be better that we have no sign than what we had up last night,” he said.
What was left to greet visitors was an empty sign posts. Williamson said he intends to have the original sign put back at the location. He said the old sign was a symbol of home for many of the locals.
“I under estimated the strong emotional connection that the Navarre community have to the original welcome to Navarre Beach sign,” he said.
Navarre Press reached out to Williamson for further comment, but three calls were not returned.
Navarre business owner Crystal Adams said she disliked the new signs.
“The new slogan should be ‘most dollar stores and Walmart’s of any small town in America,’” she said. “I like the old sign better. The slogan is less of an idea, but more of a dig at the powers that be who think the people of Navarre need another Family Dollar and a Walmart.”
Charlene Mauro said the signs, which were installed at multiple locations, add much needed consistency.
Mauro is the director of the Navarre Beach Marine Science Station on the beach. The NBMSS sees tourists from throughout the country during their annual events and camps. The station is also working to open a new interpretive center to drive more tourism, the Gulf Coast Discovery Center.
“I might not be thrilled with the new tag line, but I definitely like the consistency of the signage across the beach especially since this is something we discussed years ago,” she said.
She went on to say that citizens had multiple opportunities to weigh in on the rebranding and sign design but chose not to.
“I think people are quick to say they were not involved, but there were public meetings and agendas.
And you can always contact your commissioner with concerns. I was surprised to see so many disgruntled community members, but it was also nice to see how passionate people are about the old sign. The take away is people need to get more involved,” she said.
Navarre Beach Pier operator Stephanie Maddox said she was also surprised by the public response. She said it was great to finally have a sign on the pier again.
“I watched how hard Julie [Morgan] and her team worked on this and the public didn’t weigh in.
When it comes to rebranding the whole county, you wait until after the fact? I respect the work done by the tourism development office,” she said. “Do I think our commissioner should have taken them down at 3 a.m.? No.”
Maddox said the social media conversations that have followed are embarrassing.
In a statement issued by the vice-president of the Navarre Beach Leaseholder’s Association, Peter Birckhead said the Tourism Development Council did their due diligence and the new brand was needed. “Navarre Beach ‘Florida’s Most Relaxing Place’ is the message that is needed now to generate more visitors to the island. Navarre Beach’s best selling point is ‘peace and quiet.’ Navarre Beach is the place you want to come when you don’t want what Destin and other similar jammed pack tourist locations offer,” he said
He pointed out that Morgan and Paradise conducted focus groups in feeder markets to develop a brand targeted to visitors, not locals.
Morgan said the Board of County Commissioners will discuss next steps at their meeting June 5 at the Santa Rosa County Administrative Center Board Room, 6495 Caroline Street in Milton.
As seen in the June 1 issue of Navarre Press. Click here to subscribe for as little as $38 per year.