Is a new sports complex in South Walton’s future?
By Patrick Casey – DeFuniak Herald Beach Breeze
County officials held their first workshop with the public on July 22 at the Courthouse Annex in Santa Rosa Beach. Attendees voiced their opinions on the kind of facilities needed in the southern reaches of the county as well as the area where they would like to see it constructed and whether its purpose should be geared toward county residents or tourists.
The 75-minute meeting was hosted by County Administrator Larry Jones and Walton County Tourist Development Director Jim Bagby with Commissioners Cindy Meadows and Sara Comander in attendance in the audience.
After reviewing a list of sports facilities in the area, a vote was taken among those present on the different types of facilities that are wanted to be built. Each person in the room was allowed to vote for three different ideas. Suggestions included a swimming pool, a measured walking trail, a concrete skate park, a fitness zone, disc golf, shuffleboard, tennis courts, soccer fields, baseball fields, softball fields and an indoor all-purpose building.
Voters tended to lean toward baseball and soccer fields as space at local Walton County parks in the area is difficult to find during peak seasons with school facilities often tied up with the school’s own athletic teams during the school year.
The county’s youth population has been on the rise over the last few years with over 1,900 elementary and middle school students attending Walton County schools across the bay according to figures from September 2012.
Ron Romano, a youth sports coach, mentioned that Helen McCall Park can’t meet the demands of all the sports teams in the area as the fields are often in demand by so many different groups that it can take weeks to actually get time on the field scheduled.
Most people at the meeting who spoke out seemed to favor local use of the proposed facilities over using it for a tourist draw. A balance in that concept will likely have to be reached in deciding how to pay for the construction of a new park and the methods used to fund it. Funding prospects include the county’s budget, ad valorem taxes, a municipal services benefit unit (MSBU) or bed taxes.
Bagby advised that if bed taxes are used to build the facility then it would have to have a direct appeal to tourism because of restrictions as to how bed taxes can be spent. “If you use the bed tax money, the priority becomes getting visitors into that facility.”
The proposed site of the facility or possible facilities included corridors located closer to the Okaloosa or Bay County lines or a more centrally located area such as where Helen McCall Park or South Walton High School exist.
M.C. Davis has proposed selling a large parcel of land east of County Road 395 and north of Highway 98 to the county to use for a new recreational facility.
Additional workshops will soon be scheduled.