Spring Break Was a Bust at Panama City Beach after Drinking Ban

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By: Associated Press
April 29, 2016

PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- New laws to clean up spring break in Panama City Beach drove students elsewhere in March. Now business leaders are reporting big losses.

The Bay County Tourist Development Council says bed tax collections plunged from $2 million in March 2015 to $1.2 million last month.

Those bed tax collections are down about 13 percent overall for the fiscal year that began in October. The council's director, Dan Rowe, tells The News Herald that the local economy took a $40 million hit from the decline in spring break business.

The new laws included a ban on drinking on the beach. Counts Oakes Resort Properties president Andy Phillips said at a council workshop Thursday that the new laws also scared away families, not just rowdy students.


By: CBS News
March 18, 2016

PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. -- Miami Beach usually has its own March Madness: Spring Break 2016.

In the past, tens of thousands of college kids have flocked to the area, overwhelming police. People have said they couldn't go to Panama Beach, 600 miles northwest of Miami Beach, fearing they "would be harassed from the time they got off the airplane to the time they left," said Bobby Jenkins, president of the local Fraternal Order of Police.

Panama City Beach cracked down after a rowdy spring break last year. An unconscious woman was allegedly gang-raped on a crowded beach. A shooting wounded seven people. More than 1,000 people were arrested last March.

This year, many beachfront businesses are bringing in 80 percent less revenue than usual.

"We were definitely in favor of more controls," said Neel Bennett, who owns a half-dozen hotels and restaurants by the beach. He says many business owners think the crackdown went too far.

"I think when you take 21 new laws and ordinances and you take drinking off the beach, you pretty much told the college spring breakers, 'don't come here,'" he said.

"They obviously went to other destinations," Jenkins said.

The owner of Spinnaker, a hopping beach club last year but not this spring break, is furious.

Sparky Sparkman said this time of year there are normally 300 staff members but "We have less than half that now. That's attrition in two weeks," he said.

Now Miami Beach has to decide how severely to crack down and whether to push the party elsewhere along the coast next year.


By: WCTV Eyewitness News
March 7, 2016

PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. -- Local college campuses are nearly deserted this week for spring break.

While Florida State, Florida A&M and Tallahassee Community College students aren't on campus, that doesn't mean that they've traveled a few hours west to the beach, either.

This time of year in Panama City Beach has a different look to it than it has in the past.

A quick look in a trash can on the beach reveals mostly water bottles and potato chip bags, not empty beer cans that may have been present in the past.

That's because there have been several changes the popular spring break destination over the past year, including an alcohol ban once your feet touch the sand.

Panama City Beach locals seem to have mixed reaction when it comes to the new rules. Some say they like it and some say they are worried about the ramifications it could have.

"It's more quiet, it's not as crowded as it normally is," Panama City Beach resident Allyssa Powell told WCTV. "I feel like they shouldn't have the [new] laws for the simple fact that that's how we get our money every year for the winter time."

Last call at Panama City Beach bars also seen a drastic change this year, moving from 4 a.m. to 2 a.m.

"That's how bartenders, bar-backs and security, you know, they get their money from doing this," Powell said.

Other locals are enjoying the more family friendly atmosphere in 2016.

"I think the difference is that you have a better crowd here this year," resident Hayden Deforge said. "You have a crowd that's not so reliant on getting wasted on the beach. They're here to enjoy themselves and relax. I actually got to visit with some of the people on the beach and that reflects that perfectly."

While the beaches don't seem as packed as they have in the past, that hasn't stopped all college students from making the location their spring break destination.

"Yeah, we definitely thought about [the new alcohol laws], but at the end of the day, we're not out here doing anything bad, " Tennessee student Shayne Crutchfield said. "We're going to drink the beer at the hotel, come back, and have a good time."

That calmer atmosphere doesn't mean that visitors aren't trying to celebrate spring break the "old" way. Authorities say some visitors are still trying to bring alcohol onto the beach. Authorities in the area have still made dozens of arrests.

The Bay County Sheriff's Office said that as of Monday evening, they've made 28 arrests. Panama City Beach police have made 16 alcohol-on-the-beach related arrests since the beginning of spring break.



 
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