The Mullet Swims Again? Niceville's Titular Event May Make A Comeback.

Could the Mullet Festival make a comeback?

Maybe. 

If Matt McKinnon and his business partner Mark Wagner have their way, the annual festival that ran for more than 40 years in Boggy Bayou could return to the City. 

But not without overcoming several speed bumps. 

a man speaks at the microphone while another man listens in.
Matt McKinnon speaks to the Niceville City Council about his proposal to revive the Mullet Festival, at a city council meeting in 2023. Mark Wagner listens on.

In our weekly (non-scientific) newsletter poll, more than two-thirds of respondents said they wanted the festival, held in October, to make a return to the City. Heck, the City’s official slogan on letterhead continues to be ‘Home of the Boggy Bayou Mullet Festival,’ despite the last event wrapping up four years ago. 

So, there is an appetite for a conversation. 

A conversation McKinnon and Wagner wanted to have at October’s Niceville City Council Meeting – but didn’t ask for action on, as two of the members of the council were absent. “I would strongly suggest, because the Mullet Festival is one of those things where people either love it, or hate it,” Mayor Henkel warned, “you’re at risk, if you ask us to make a motion to approve tonight and anyone says no, it’s done”. 

So – the council heard from the pair without making a decision.

'I Would Have Voted No Tonight'

Not asking for a vote turned out to be a wise move for the pair – as Councilman Sal Nodjomian out and out told the pair he would have voted no on their proposal as it was that evening. He told the team they did not have rigorous enough financials for him to say yes.  

“Just to be clear, I have no problem with you guys making a buck. I am a capitalist at heart. I want to understand what’s in it for the City. Of course, there’s a lot of asks of the City. And I’m glad those other organizations can get a piece of it, they’ll probably bring volunteers, they probably get a portion of payouts, I just want to see the pro forma (a financial statement) that lays out the economics of how this works.”

Wagner told him that portions of the revenues would return to the City to finance projects and improvements. 

Councilman Nodjomian wanted that in writing. “That’s great, because that’s not stated in [the document the pair gave Nodjomian]. What’s stated ‘the city puts $50,000 upfront for setup, and then we’ll get it back upon the completion of the event.’ That’s a far cry from ‘the city will get money for projects.’ So this is not consistent with that statement.”

“We will definitely add that to it,” McKinnon told Councilman Nodjomian. 

The pair told the council they would reach out to each of them individually to allay and consolidate their concerns on the idea of a new Mullet Festival, including their plans for revenue-sharing, public safety, and more.

Niceville City Councilman Sal Nodjomian.

Eglin and The Thirty-Year Lease

Councilwoman Alley added concerns about the Mullet Festival renewal. She worries an annual festival would jeopardize her work to secure a long-term lease from the Air Force for the Mullet Festival Grounds. She hopes to build a sports complex and other capital improvements

An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated Councilwoman Alley wants to build affordable housing on the Mullet Festival Grounds. This was Mid Bay News’ error. We regret the error and have apologized to Councilwoman Alley. 

“I am working very hard to secure a long term lease with Eglin for the land to benefit all citizens of niceville and improve the local economy,” Councilwoman Alley said in a message after discussing the correction with Mid Bay News, “It’s been a long process and the city is very close to big things like an athletic facility for all ages.”

 

McKinnon indicated he knew about the efforts to get a long-term lease on the Mullet Festival Grounds and hoped to sign a year-to-year lease on the land, with the understanding that the venue would have to change if the idea were approved. 

Niceville City Councilwoman Cathy Alley

Niceville's November City Council Meeting

Councilman Nodjomian wrapped up the conversation by inviting McKinnon and Wagner to return next month with a financially more rigorous model to present to the city council. The pair said they would take the council up on the offer, meet with individual members, and return next month with a plan to get approval to move forward.

“We’ll have every question answered,” McKinnon told the council.

The next council meeting takes place November 14th at the city council chambers at 204 Partin Drive in Niceville. Meeting starts at 6:00 PM.

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