Florala’s challenge: Getting tourists to stop

Published 1:17 am Tuesday, March 24, 2015

0525 florala

Is it better for business to slow traffic down or keep it moving?

That’s the quandary in which the City of Florala finds itself as it prepares to deal with summer beach traffic.

In years past, the state DOT set stop lights in the border city to change to flashing caution lights on weekends, in an effort to keep traffic moving. In recent months, it permanently changed a stop light to caution, and at least one business owner is upset.

Charles Smith, owner of Florala Pharmacy, approached the city council Monday night and asked them to do what they could to get the light changed again.

Smith, who presented a prepared statement, said, “For many years, Florala has been blessed with a high flow of traffic, most of it going to or coming from, the Florida beaches, 50 miles to our south. When these travelers do stop in Florala to make a purchase of food, gasoline, antiques, or just about anything, it makes it possible for area citizens to profit from this sale, provide employment, and increase the city revenues through sales or gasoline taxes.

“The more that stop and make a purchase, the better for all,” Smith said. “Some have stopped, looked around, fallen in love with our town, and even rented homes or camper space for travel trailers on Lake Jackson, or actually bought homes or other property here.”

Smith said he believes the best way to encourage travelers to stop is to slow them down.

“The two flashing caution lights in the center of town do little to encourage downtown business and shopping,” he said.

Smith cited the speed of travelers going through town as a potential hazard, adding that it is difficult for his customers to back into traffic when it doesn’t stop.

“The travelers headed to the Florida beaches are used to being backed up in traffic,” he said, citing traffic in Fort Walton and Destin in peak summer traffic.

Smith also asked the city to restripe parking places and the medians to encourage parking and help stop traffic.

The council took no action on his request.

In other business, the council:

• Abated a downtown building which the building inspector has deemed unsafe. The owner will have 30 days to improve it or appeal the decision, or the city can take action to demolish it or improve it. Any costs would be charged to the property owner. The property in question most recently was a coffee shop.

• Took steps to regain control of property behind city hall formerly used by the American Legion. The organization was granted the use of the property in 1949 in an agreement that said if it was vacated for a period of six months, ownership would revert to the city.

The building has been vacated for more than 25 years, Mayor Robert Williamson said.

The council also voted to have it appraised.

• Heard from Robert Smith, a Lockhart resident who is interested in buying the old American Legion property as a location for a Quick Lube.

• Agreed to purchase a body camera for each member of the police department.