"This year, we didn't have the tourists we thought we were going to have (because of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill)," Dorothy Slye told Santa Rosa County commissioners Monday. "Next year, if they come back the way I anticipate they will, we're going to be overrun."
Slye, a Navarre businesswoman, and her brother, Everett "Junior" Ratliff, are partners in The Pier, Inc., which manages the county-owned facility. She asked the commission to approve enlarging the existing deck by about 1,700 square feet to the south, behind the pier store and restrooms.
"On the weekends, our deck is crowded," Slye said, adding that the pier averaged 330 visitors per day in September. "It's become what we like to call 'Santa Rosa County's front porch.'"
Shortly after the pier's official grand opening, Slye added a bar to the outside deck she proposed to expand, and began serving alcohol and snacks to visitors.
Since then, the Santa Rosa County Sheriff's office has made nearly 300 calls to the Pier, the Pier Bar and the surrounding parking lot for a variety of offenses, including fights, public intoxication and general debauchery, according to a spokesperson from the sheriff's department.
"I have had guests complain about the noise and the foot traffic," said Laurie Gallup, owner of Navarre Properties. "This is a multi-million dollar taxpayer asset. It was designed to be family-friendly and it needs to stay that way."
Many of the pier's visitors have complained about access to the only two restrooms on site, which are located a few feet away from the bar area.
Slye said the pier has paid the county about $143,000 since its June 2010 opening.
Slye said The Pier Inc. would pay for the expansion and said Jim Wendel, who teaches construction technology at Navarre High School, had offered his students' help with the project.
"If the county apporves this, it is a huge mistake," said Chad Volland, owner of Cocodrie's, an adjacent restaurant that shares a parking lot with the pier. "The (Tourist Development Council) advertises this place as a family destination, and now, the number-one attraction on the beach is a bar. What does the county want - a family pier or a bar that happens to have a pier?"
Volland also cited concerns about whether or not commissioners were aware of happenings at the Pier.
"I don't think the county realizes what (the pier) has turned into," added Volland. "(My comments) may be perceived as 'sour grapes' but I love Navarre and I'm concerned about the future of our number-one attraction, the beach."
Commission Chairman Gordon Goodin said Wendel had asked him about the deck at the high school's football game Friday.
Commissioner Jim Williamson said he believed the county would have to advertise the project for bids because the facility is county-owned, but Goodin said the Sailors Grill and Juana's Pagodas buildings also are county-owned but the businesses' owners have managed several construction projects without the bid process.
"They kind of do what they want to do," Goodin said, adding that the Rudzkis, who own the businesses, must meet county permitting and code requirements like any business.
Slye pointed out that volunteers and students did most of the work renovating a beach residence into the Navarre Beach Marine Science Station without advertising the work for bid.
"Mr. Wendel worked very closely with (county building official) Tim Tolbert to make sure everything was done to code," she said.
Williamson asked interim County Attorney Angela Jones to research whether bids must be accepted for work to the fishing pier and associated facilities.
"There would be no cost to the county," Slye said. "I'd rather not have to go out for bids if I'm going to pay for it."
Slye also asked the county to consider covering some portion of the deck, preferably between the store and restrooms, at the county's expense. She said some covered area outdoors is needed to provide shelter from the sun on exceptionally hot days or from rain.
Goodin suggested Slye instead investigate installing a roll-up awning or awnings.
In a related matter, the commission voted to make The Pier Inc.'s payments to the county due on the 20th of each month. The original lease provides for late fees to be charged but did not specify when payments were due.
The commission is expected to vote on expanding the deck at its meeting that begins at 9 a.m. today in Milton.