Walton TDC Tourism Group Approves ‘Mural Art Trail’ Project
SANTA ROSA BEACH — The Walton County Tourism Development Council (TDC) approved a $50,000 expenditure for what is currently called a “mural art trail” in addition to county tourist attractions.
But in a vote Wednesday on the scheme, the TDC took steps to ensure that any artwork installed under the scheme will stay clear of political messages and other issues.
The TDC was clearly a bit spooked by an ongoing controversy over 30ft banners hanging from a house on County Road 30A, a designated scenic drive.
A few months ago, owner Marvin Peavy put up a banner reading “Trump Won!” on the side of his house facing the road. He then followed it with a second banner reading “Let’s go Brandon”, a veiled insult to President Joe Biden.
Peavy, a staunch supporter of former President Donald Trump and a proponent of the discredited proposition that Trump actually won the 2020 election, was cited for the banners under a county code provision that bars such signs along a designated scenic route. He disputed the citations and his case is now pending in Walton County Circuit Court.
The possibility of the mural program becoming a similar problem was suggested to the TDC by Jim Bagby, an operator of short-term vacation rental properties and former chairman of the TDC.
Learn more about the banner:30 A ‘Trump Won’ Banner Battle Heads To Circuit Court; owner fined $1,269
Expressing his full support for the scheme, Bagby said: “I warn you to go very slow and deliberate with this because (otherwise) you are going to have a bunch of unintended consequences.”
Bagby surmised that without controls the scheme – which as currently envisioned could see murals installed on private businesses as well as public properties – could produce ‘a bunch of pastels’ Let’s go, Brandons “.” He added that it is possible that people of other political persuasions will also post problematic murals.
“I think you’re ok with public buildings, but once you introduce that public-private (mixture of a state-funded program with work on private property) you’re going to get things on this private (property) which both (political) people will find very offensive,” Bagby said.
He suggested that the TDC and the Walton County Board of County Commissioners, which decides whether to approve or deny TDC spending, “should be about bringing people together, not giving everyone a platform to yell at each other”.
TDC President Jennifer Frost agreed that a plan “with specific guidelines” for the murals was needed.
County Commission Chairman Mike Barker, who sits on the TDC, also called for up-front planning to address issues such as color restrictions on buildings in the U.S. Highway 331 Scenic Corridor. He asked TDC staff to work with the county planning department and the nonprofit Scenic Walton, and suggested that public workshops on the program might also be a good idea.
TDC Director of Administration Jason Cutshaw assured the panel that all murals installed under the program “will meet our brand standards”.
But the TDC went a step further on Wednesday, saying it should have final approval of the murals to be displayed and should be presented with a prototype of any planned mural to decide its suitability.
Money for the program will come from both the special tax district at the south end of the county and the new special tax district covering the area north of Choctawhatchee Bay. The tax, now 5% in the south end and 2% in the northern part of the county, is collected from visitors who rent accommodation.
The tax raises millions of dollars in the south to support visitor-related infrastructure development, as well as marketing efforts and the county’s lifeguard program.
Imposing the tax on the north end of the county was approved by voters North of the Bay in 2020, and collections began in March of last year. Money raised in this area will be used in this part of the county, and the initial rules call for 40% of the revenue generated to market this part of the county to potential visitors. The remaining 60% will be spent in North Walton on events, programs or infrastructure that benefit visitors and locals.
Cutshaw told the council he plans to present them with proposals for the scheme in April, including some private companies who have indicated they will pay to have murals displayed on their buildings.
Cutshaw said “tons” of businesses across the county have expressed interest in the program and he has also been approached by county and municipal governments offering locations for the murals.
Among the specific public places that Cutshaw has identified as potential sites for the murals are the garage door to the Ed Walline Regional Beach Access on CR 30A east of Blue Mountain Beach and a wall at Cessna Landing. on Choctawhatchee Bay in Santa Rosa Beach.
Cutshaw told TDC that there could already be up to half a dozen projects underway that could require a total outlay of nearly $50,000.