Port St. Joe city commissioners urged county support for moving the Cape San Blas Lighthouse into the city as part of a new BayPark.
The conceptual drawings for the BayPark were unveiled during the most recent meetings of the Board of County Commissioners and the Port St. Joe Commission.
The city and county have both applied for possession of the lighthouse, two keepers’ quarters and an oil house.
The county has proposed moving the lighthouse and buildings to Salinas Park. The city proposes BayPark.
The St. Joseph Historical Society, which has secured more than $800,000 in state grants to renovate the keepers’ quarters, grounds and lighthouse and has undertaken fundraising campaign to rescue the lighthouse, voted in support of moving it to the city.
“Talk to your county commissioners about support for relocating to the city,” said PSJ Commissioner Rex Buzzett. “I think it is just as vulnerable” to the erosion that currently threatens it “on the cape. They should withdraw their application.”
Gail Alsobrook, director of the Port St. Joe Redevelopment Agency which funded the planning study for BayPark, said moving the lighthouse to the city benefits city and county alike.
“If it is on the cape, it’s the county, but if it’s in the city it is the city and county as well as the historical society,” Alsobrook said. “It will receive multiple times the visitors than if it was on the cape.”
Mayor Mel Magidson said the city would offer far more visibility for the lighthouse and in turn attract more visitors.
With the BayPark design offering the lighthouse as a centerpiece for park that would feature museums, an estuarine preserve and turtle rescue space, and with the Tourist Development Council Welcome Center at one end of the park and the Gulf County Chamber of Commerce Living Color at the other end, the BayPark concept would provide seamless county/city attractions.
“This is an opportunity that comes along once in a lifetime to create an iconic structure to bring people to the city, county and region,” Magidson said.
The city was awarded a $125,000 from the BP Gulf Tourism Promotion campaign to produce a professional documentary on the rescue and saving of the lighthouse.
“It really gives me heartburn to have a documentary without the lighthouse coming to the city,” Buzzett said.
At the last BOCC meeting, County Commissioner Carmen McLemore said he opposed moving the lighthouse to the city. County Commissioner Ward McDaniel provided the formal motion for the county to apply for the lighthouse and ancillary buildings for a move to Salinas Park.
County Commissioner Warren Yeager said he believed in the “spirit of cooperation” between city and county on a final destination but said the priorities were preserving the lighthouse and buildings and turning the relocation into a positive for the community.
“We also have to keep in mind the city of Port St. Joe and the city of Wewahitchka are also part of the county and we need to work together,” said County Commissioner Joanna Bryan.
RESTORE Act projects
City commissioners held a workshop prior to last week’s meeting to discuss and provide some prioritization to potential projects the city would like funded through the RESTORE Act funds that would come to the county if and when a civil penalty is paid by BP for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill.
Buzzett suggested the city’s five-year capital work plan could serve as a template.
The plan includes upgrades to the boat ramp at Frank Pate Park, a joint city/county recreational complex, refurbishing the Centennial Building and, potentially, a secondary boat ramp on the Intracoastal Canal for larger boats to alleviate some parking problems at Frank Pate Park.
“We need to ahead of the curve and be ready,” said city clerk Jim Anderson. “We need to work through and prioritize projects.”
Insurance premium rebate
As they have for the past couple of years, due to a generally quiet hurricane season in Florida, the city received a rebate on their property and liability insurance premiums from the Florida League of Cities.
Commissioners then spent a bit of it.
The rebate, presented by Tom Conley with the Florida League of Cities, totaled $39,739 and commissioners approved spending $25,000 as a down payment on a five-year lease-to-own contract to purchase a new tractor and grass cutting attachment to handle cutting in the new wasterwater plant spray fields and other ditches and low-lying grounds.
Commissioners also approved a $1,500 donation to the Early Learning Coalition of Northwest Florida. The Early Learning Coalition can leverage $16 for every $1 in donations for the many services they provide needy families with children less than age 5.
Commissioners approved an agreement with the TDC that would allow the TDC to put on a fireworks show New Year’s Eve while the city agrees to match a TDC contribution of $5,000 toward Fourth of July fireworks.
A citizens committee is already in fundraising mode to secure the matching funds for the Fourth of July, which city commissioners agreed this past year would be funded privately moving forward.