South end tourism committee discusses funding requests

The Santa Rosa County Tourist Development Council’s south end committee members recently discussed several requests for funding utilizing county bed tax revenues.

During the Feb. 11 meeting District 4 County Commissioner Rob Williamson pushed for greater accountability for those seeking such funds to support local events.

The committee will recommend paying Navarre businessman Kenny Wilder $500 per month to use a direct video feed of his Navarre Beach webcam to promote Navarre Beach on county websites.

“He has a very popular website,” Chanda Ryan, a Greater Navarre Chamber of Commerce committee representative, said.

Some attendees questioned the expense, suggesting the county provide a link to Wilder’s website.

“You can’t embed that video on your own,” TDC chairman Mike Loera said, advising the TDC should ensure it receives a direct feed to the webcam video instead of a link to Wilder’s website.

Wilder’s invoice, issued under a monthly no-term agreement with Navarre-based ECTtelecom, states the TDC would receive direct feeds for a live high-definition zoom at a rate of $500 per month, plus a live skyline cam direct feed at no extra cost.

The committee also reviewed several additional funding requests from county bed tax revenues.

Committee members deferred support of a $6,000 request from the Santa Rosa Arts and Culture Foundation (SRCAF), pointing out the organization’s Riverwalk Arts Festival, held during March in Milton each year, attracts an estimated 2,000 out-of-town attendees.

Ryan said TDC officials made the Navarre Krewe of Jesters “jump through hoops” to secure grant funding for its annual Mardi Gras parade, which she said attracts more than 30,000 people to Navarre Beach. Ryan suggested more details were needed than those provided on the SRACF’s application.

“It’s my recommendation that we ask for details on this,” Loera said, suggesting the north end committee write the recommendation and request additional budget details and other information needed for the grant.

Loera noted the event was scheduled for the weekend of March 14 and 15.

“At this late date they may want to have someone in person at the TDC meeting,” Loera said.

Additionally, Santa Rosa County Tourist Development Office Director Julie Morgan requested $3,200 for the county to purchase two beach wheelchairs. Recently the TDC approved purchasing one of the $1,600 chairs for Heroes on the Water, a local organization supporting wounded veterans.

“The county is trying to get ADA compliant … this will add to that,” Morgan said. She said the wheelchairs could be stored by the county’s lifeguard staff and would be free for public use. Morgan said other organizations, such as the Navarre Beach Marine Science Station, which presently borrows a beach wheelchair from the National Park Service as needed, could also utilize the wheelchairs.

“I’m in support. It’s the right thing to do,” Liz Horton, a TDC appointee, said. Horton made a subsequent motion to approve the requested purchase, which was unanimously approved.

Mike Sandler, representing the Run for the Reef, sought to increase the annual event’s funding from the TDC from $500 to $1,500.

“I’m proposing that the TDC become the title sponsor for the Run for the Reef,” he said. Sandler said the event takes place each October during the TDC’s Beaches to Woodlands Tour and attracts roughly 350 participants and about 200 spectators.

“We have registrations, so we know where people live,” he said. “So, for instance, we know for sure that there’s about 15 percent of out-of-state registration. We also know there’s also about 35-percent of out-of-county registrants.”

Morgan questioned whether event organizers could ask participants if they are staying the night in Santa Rosa County. Morgan said the county is revising its grant application to request that information from those seeking locally generated tourism dollars to support events.

“I think we should add that (question) to anything we’re sponsoring,” Ryan said.

Williamson, the Santa Rosa County Board of County Commissioners’ designated TDC representative, estimated bed tax revenues generated by the run at $337.50, based on data included on the event’s grant application.

“My recommendation is that we keep it at $500 and measure it,” Williamson said.

“I think this one is a little different because the money goes back to a county park,” Ryan said.

Williamson asked if the TDC’s goal was to add amenities to visitors’ experience or increase the county’s bed tax revenues.

“We have to enhance that experience by having events like this,” Loera said.

Williamson suggested that the TDC reach out to the Haas Center at the University of West Florida to help develop criteria to determine the return on investment for events.

“I recommend (funding) stay at the current level,” he said. “Measure the event. Get these answers.

“We’re going to measure each event based on this criteria. We all want to have the same goal and make it to where it’s not about personalities — it’s about the goal,” Williamson said.

His motion to fund Run for the Reef at the current level passed by a majority with one vote in opposition from Nancy Sandler.

Morgan said she expects to have the revised county grant application completed within the next three to four weeks.

As seen in the Feb. 19 issue of Navarre Press. Click here to subscribe for as little as $38 per year.

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