County Administrator Tony Gomillion: "It's hard for two families to live in one house."
MILTON — The Navarre Beach Area Chamber of Commerce will be moving to a new office, but not in the immediate future.
Santa Rosa County Commissioners discussed the termination of the chamber's lease at the Navarre Visitor's Center during Monday's meeting, but chose not to move the agenda item to a vote anytime soon.
The reason for the termination is to make more room for the Tourism Development Office. According to the agenda, the TDO wants to hire two more staff members, one full time and one part time, and to utilize office space to make room for promotional materials that are kept in a storage unit, which costs $191 per month. County Administrator Tony Gomillion also noted that the crowded working environment has been less than desirable for county staff.
"It's hard for two families to live in one house," he said.
NBACC has been located at Navarre Park since 1993. For the past 10 years, the chamber has existed inside the Navarre Visitor's Center, sharing space with the TDO. Until Hurricane Ivan, the chamber office was in a relocatable building. After that was destroyed in the hurricane, the chamber chose to cancel its insurance claim so the county could collect FEMA money, which helped fund the visitor's center. NBACC board chairman Mike Sandler said the chamber also paid $24,000 for all of the furniture at the center, with the exception of Commission Chairman Rob Williamson's south-end office.
Until 2007, the chamber executive was also the TDO executive, Sandler noted. Now, they are separate entities.
The current lease agreement, which was signed in March 2016, is for two years with an option for a third year. The lease can be terminated by either party with a 90-day written notice, according to the lease agreement.
The chamber leases three offices totaling 415 square feet for $622.50 a month. Sandler added that the chamber also pays another approximate $650 in utilities.
"To save $191 a month is understandable, but the loss of $1,200 doesn't make business sense," he said. "We're only using two of the three offices we're paying for. It's not a secret that the chamber has had challenges in the last few months. We'd be happy to sit down and work together to find a solution for both parties."
A handful of public comments were all against the lease termination. Commissioner Lane Lychard said the county received "a lot" of emails about the issue.
Jack Sanborn, a senior member of the county's Tourist Development Council, expressed concern about the item.
"The TDC hasn't approved increased staff," he said. "This is one of several decisions made without the TDC."*
He also added that one of the staff members could be located at the north-end tourism office.
Navarre Realtor Mark Miller said it was in Navarre's "best interest" to keep the chamber office where it is.
"The chamber has a history," he said. "The visitor's center is known as the chamber building, right or wrong."
Commissioners were not all in agreement over the lease. Commissioner Sam Parker said he would not support terminating the lease at this time. Commissioners Don Salter and Williamson said they didn't believe 90 days was a fair number of days for notice.
Commissioner Lynchard pointed out that there are now two chambers in Navarre — the Greater Navarre Area Chamber of Commerce was established last year — and that he didn't want one chamber to have an advantage over the other.
Williamson said the long-term plan would be to terminate the lease. For now, he advised county staff to work with the chamber on "specific improvements."
"I want to be respectful to the thousands of volunteer hours from the chamber," he said. "I'd like to see our staff work with the chamber ... this is not something new, this is has been an ongoing discussion. We're more than likely going to have to terminate the lease. It's reasonable to expect as tourism continues to grow, we're probably going to need the rest of that space."
*Update: Minutes from a May TDC Budget Workshop in which Sanborn was present show that the TDO director expressed the desire to hire two new employees