Update: Park funding sources change

Update 9/24

Since Sept. 14, when District 4 Commissioner Rob Williamson revealed his master plan for Navarre Park and his recommended funding plan for Phase 1, his funding sources have changed significantly according to the agenda for the Board of County Commissioners meeting slated for Monday. 

Williamson’s former funding plan for the first phase was as follows:

  • $1.5 million in TDC reserves
  • $800,000 in District 4 recreation funds
  • $220,000 LOST ADA compliant improvements and recreation funds
  • $200,000 RESTORE grants for water quality improvement
  • $215,000 Money from sale of community center
  • Totals $2,935,000 leaving a balance of $665,000

But Thursday, a new proposed funding plan was included in the backup documentation of Monday’s scheduled meeting, where commissioners will discuss the funding of the proposed renovations to the park. His “opinion for probable cost by proposed phases” as referred to by Dan Schebler, assistant county administrator is as follows:

  • $500,000 in TDC reserves
  • $600,000 in District 4 recreation funds
  • $220,000 in LOST ADA and recreation funds
  • $200,000 in RESTORE grants for water quality improvement
  • $215,000 Money from sale of community center
  • Totals $1,735,000 leaving a balance of $1,865,000

The remaining $1,865,000 would be borrowed and included with a refinancing of the current visitor information center loan to be paid out of future tourist development tax revenues according to the document. The end result would be a new loan of approximately $2.5 million, with the same term of 15 years and an interest rate of 2.9 percent. The annual payment would more than double from $87,000 to $207,000 and extend those payments out another six years beyond the current loan end date of 2026. The total payout at 15 years would be $3.1 million, or $1.235 million more than is needed.

All in all, the TDC funds will pay for $2,365,000 for park renovations rather than the $1.5 million first proposed or the $500,000 in the most recent recommendation.

The county’s recommendation for funding was listed as “none.”

Anyone wishing to contact their commissioners regarding this issue ahead of Monday’s meeting may email them at bocc@santarosa.fl.gov.



Any way you slice it, $7 million is a large sum of money.

Santa Rosa County Commission Chairman and District 4 representative Rob Williamson acknowledged that, but he said he would like to see that amount allocated to the future of Navarre Park and the Panhandle Butterfly House.

The project details were outlined in the Navarre Park Master Site Plan presented by Genesis Construction Engineering and Inspection Thursday during the Board of County Commissioners regular meeting.

The question expressed by all of Williamson’s fellow commissioners was “how are you going to pay for it?”

Williamson said it was going to take a lot more than District 4 recreation dollars.

“The sad thing is [recreation] fund dollars alone cannot fund this project. If I were to dedicate every dollar of rec funds for the next 20 years I couldn’t fund the first phase,” he said. “If I took the $700,000 that we currently have in the rec funds and saved rec fund dollars for the next 20 years I couldn’t fund the first phase of $2.9 million.”

But he has a plan.

+ $1.5 million

Under Williamson’s proposal, $1.5 million in funding would come from tourism development office reserves.

Those reserves consist of bed tax collections. Bed taxes are taxes paid by visitors staying in temporary accommodations such as hotels and campgrounds. They are limited by state statute to only be spent on things that promote bringing tourists to the area based on clear evidence said county attorney Roy Andrews.

Williamson said he had worked out with staff and the attorney what portions could and could not be covered by bed tax to make the project work.

Currently the TDO has $2.4 million in reserve.

+ $800,000

Williamson also said he would commit all of his District 4 recreation funds to the project, including his $700,000 in reserve. These funds are allocated at roughly $120,000 a year to be used at the discretion of the district commissioner for recreation facilities in their area.

+ $220,000

Funds from the local option sales tax passed last year have already been divvied up for projects including $220,000 given to District 4 to make Americans with Disabilities Act compliant improvements. These improvements are included in the plan.

+ $200,000

The county received RESTORE grant money to improve water quality in Santa Rosa Sound. A portion of that fund will be used to fill in the duck pond.

+ $215,000   

Still short of the final total for phase 1, Williamson also requested that $215,000 currently set aside for a Navarre Community Center be reallocated toward the park.

In 2013 the county sold the previous community center to the Navarre Area Board of Realtors for $215,000 with the intention of finding a new location to build a larger facility. Thus far that has not happened, and the money from the sale remains earmarked for that project.

=$2.9 million

Totaled these funds would amount to a little less than $3 million. That would almost cover the entirety of the first phase of the project with $100,000 still needed.

Phase 2 comes with a price tag of an additional $1.5 million and change.

This part of the project would focus on the west side of the park where the Blackhawk Memorial is located. Some of the project components in phase 2 already have funding sources.

A RESTORE grant, along with already committed county matching funds, will account for $559,000. Those will include improvements to stormwater management in the park and the installation of a hydrodynamic separator to filter runoff into Santa Rosa Sound.

There is also an additional $50,000 Florida Recreation Development Assistance Program (FRDAP) grant earmarked for park improvements. Initial uses discussed included fixing infrastructure and installing an accessible kayak launch. Those funds would expire in April 2018 if not used said County Grants and Special Programs Director Shelia Fitzgerald.

Williamson requested that phase 2 of the project be sent to Tallahassee for potential state funding sources in the coming year.

As for phase 3 located at the front of the park along U.S. Highway 98, Williamson said that project will be done in conjunction with the Florida Department of Transportation’s planned widening of 98. He said portions of that project may be completed by FDOT.

There is also future phase listed without any concrete chronology. This phase will include the rest of the Panhandle Butterfly House. The planned learning center would cost roughly $560,000. Williamson said the PBH will need to help there.

“The folks with the butterfly house know that they are going to need to help with the funding of that project,” he said.

And he said he is flexible with later phases of the plan possibly needing to be cut or reduced.

As it stands, including contingency funds, $7,551,600 – $3,544,000 = $4,007,600 left to be seen.

In other action, commissioners selected the shortlist of candidates to run and remodel the Navarre Beach Fishing Pier.

The county started seeking a new operator to “build up” the pier several months ago in preparation for the end of the current operator’s contract. The commissioners indicated they would like to see a long term investment, and 11 candidates threw their hats into the ring in August.

The shortlist of candidates, decided by a paper vote from the commissioners, included:

  • Johnny Huston’s Grille and Bar
  • Restaurant owner Bobby Benaquis and Kenny Cook
  • Growing Santa Rosa Enterprises, consisting of Jessika Schelfhout, Jerry Rollison, Larry Rollison, Ken Fountain and Jonathan Cole
  • Navarre Beach Pier LLC, consisting of Chuck Pohlmann, Steve Hering, Claude Duvall and A.P.      Attalla

The current pier operator is not among the short list. Each of the applicants in the short list will make a 15 minute presentation to the Board of County Commissioners in October with a 20 minute question and answer session to follow.

In their presentations each of the groups will be asked to include what they intend to do to improve the pier’s operations as well as financial specifics.

Commissioners will then vote to select the final pier operator and set the terms of a new extended lease. Currently the shortlist applicants are asking for leases ranging from 6 to 25 years.

Commissioners also approved a permit to allow Blue Water Holdings SRC Inc. to create a 158 acre landfill and borrow pit in East Milton.

In 2013 the commission denied Blue Water this permit citing concerns about potential water pollution. That led to a lengthy legal battle under the Bert Harris Act which says governments cannot put undue burdens on property owners that limit their ability to utilize their property without compensation.

At issue would have been between $8 million to $10 million of damages owed to the property owner for lost use of the property going back to 2013.

Williamson was reticent to approve the permit. He agreed with fellow commissioners that this was not something he would like to approve, and he stated that they were taking a risk with future water quality.

Commissioner Lane Lynchard, who is also an attorney, indicated that it was an administrative requirement to approve the permit because Blue Water met all the requirements. After a lengthy pause Williamson relented and the permit was approved.

The board also approved the final purchase of 19 acres on Avalon Boulevard to serve as a future judicial center in the amount of $850,000.

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Multimillion dollar park highlights

Phase 1A and 1B East Side

Price tag $3 million

  • Demolition of existing facilities
  • Duck pond filled in
  • 55 new parking spaces
  • New Panhandle Butterfly House vivarium
  • Two playgrounds
  • Expanded water-play area
  • Restrooms
  • Transform walkways and waterfront retaining wall


Phase 2 West Side

Price tag $1.5 million

  • New stormwater filtration system
  • Walkways leading up to the Blackhawk Memorial
  • Two new picnic areas
  • Waterfront covered stage area


Phase 3 Front and Parking lot

Price tag $746,000

  • Two picnic shelters
  • Closure of entrances to park
  • Resurfacing and replacement of parking area


Future Phase?

Price tag $1.024 million

  • Panhandle Butterfly House learning center ($560,000)
  • Additional park infrastructure

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