Royal American submitted a bid to pay $100,000 a year for five years for the naming rights, which – if approved by the Bay County Commission – would affix the title “Royal American” to the sports complex logo.
PANAMA CITY BEACH — What’s in a name?
For the new Panama City Beach Sports Complex at 50 Chip Seal Parkway, a five-year contract totaling $500,000, a prolonged and heated debate, and a 4-3 vote at Tuesday’s Tourist Development Council meeting.
With the $37-million sports facility up and running and only a handful of final construction wrap-ups still to come, the TDC board received a staff report recommending that the directors approve naming rights to the facility for Royal American Companies. Owned by the Chapman family of Bay County, Royal American consists of five separate companies engaged in property development, construction and management, real estate, insurance and hospitality.
Royal American submitted a bid to pay $100,000 a year for five years for the naming rights, which – if approved by the Bay County Commission – would affix the title “Royal American” to the sports complex logo, including its billboard sign at the entrance to the facility off US 98. Other components of the sports complex that would see the new logo include the website and publication titles. In addition, Royal American officials would have use of the park for two corporate events a year and officials would receive complementary tickets to various sporting events there. The company also said it would be willing to help install improvements at the park such as a children’s splash pad.
The staff recommendation sparked an unusually sharp debate among the eight TDC directors at the meeting (Gary Walsingham was absent). The issue was that David Chapman, the son of Royal American founder Joel Chapman, is a current director. Chapman at the outset announced that he would recuse himself from the vote, although he pointed out that he is neither a board member nor an employee of the company.
This did not mollify critics of the recommendation, who assured Chapman that their opposition had nothing to do with him personally or with his family company.
Beach Mayor Mike Thomas said that it was the appearance of favoritism that gave him pause. “Perception is reality,” Thomas said. “I don’t know that for $100,000 a year this board wants to put its reputation on the line … I think you will hurt the reputation of the TDC.”
Director Yonnie Patronis was equally insistent that there was nothing improper of the TDC accepting Royal American’s bid.
“Royal American and the Chapman family have been loyal stewards in this community for many years,” he said.
TDC Vice President J. Michael Brown told the board that staff had circulated the request for bids nationwide, but Royal American was the only respondent that made a firm offer. He noted that the staff had made overtures to a major telecommunication firm and a major airline, with no reply from either.
The board voted 4-3 to recommend approval of the naming rights, with Chairman Buddy Wilkes, Patronis, Phil Chester, and Clair Pease voting yes, and Philip Griffitts, Thomas and Andy Phillips voting no. The county commission will make the final decision.