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PCB crime down by roughly half since limiting spring break

Nathan Cobb
nathan@waltonsun.com
Walton Sun

PANAMA CITY BEACH — The once buzzing spring break capital of the nation seems to have successfully re-branded itself.

In the wake of enormous crowds flocking to the city every March, local officials decided in 2015 that enough was enough. It was then that the city council announced a month-long ban on alcohol on the sandy portion of the beach, along with a 2 a.m. deadline to purchase booze.

RELATED: PCB beach booze ban still in effect

“It basically propelled the city into being more a family-friendly environment,” Panama City Beach Councilman Hector Solis said. “We’re becoming more of a year-round destination. ... The citizens are more happy with their city.”

He added that the ordinances stemmed from combined efforts also involving the Bay County Sheriff’s Office and a local group dubbed Citizens for a New Panama City Beach. At the time, he was a member of the citizens’ group.

RELATED: Hurricane Michael damage closes Club La Vela for Spring Break

According to Solis, local officials were hesitant to make such drastic changes to a profitable time of year. It wasn’t until roughly 600 residents attended the final vote in June of 2015 that the ordinances were passed.

“At that point, I think the elected officials realized they needed to act,” he said.

While the restrictions were designed to limit the amount of chaos on the beach, some worried they might also hurt the local economy.

“We did kind of fight the system (back then),” said Chris Todd, manager of Sharky’s Beachfront Restaurant. “That was like a third of (our) year when spring break came in.”

Todd added that “back in the day,” business was booming and the coast was chaotic.

He recalled a time when the beaches were “always jam-packed (and) people were out there having fun.”

However, the “fun” was paired with a significant increase in crime.

According to information provided by the Panama City Beach Police Department and the Tourist Development Council, arrests during March now are about half of what they used to be.

Following an initial dip in visitors, it also seems like more people are visiting PCB each year, based on bed-tax collections. Bed tax is a good indicator of how many tourists visit an area because it’s a fee paid only by short-term visitors.

The following is a list of arrests and bed-tax collections in March over the past eight years.

  • 2012 — more than 970 arrests and roughly $1.7 million in bed taxes.
  • 2013 — more than 990 arrests and roughly $2.1 million in bed taxes.
  • 2014 — more than 790 arrests and roughly $1.9 million in bed taxes.
  • 2015 — more than 910 arrests and roughly $2 million in bed taxes.
  • 2016 (first year with bans in effect) — more than 580 arrests and roughly $1.1 million in bed taxes.
  • 2017 — more than 490 arrests and roughly $1.4 million in bed taxes.
  • 2018 — more than 500 arrests and roughly $1.7 million in bed taxes.
  • 2019 — more than 550 arrests and roughly $2 million in bed taxes.

For Lacee Rudd, spokeswoman for the TDC, numbers don’t lie.

She added that year-to-date, bed-tax collections have only dropped .7%.

Rudd credited that to the area’s uniqueness and the TDC’s emphasis on year-round marketing.

“March was one of (PCB’s) busiest months ... and now it is middle of the pack,” she wrote in an email. “It really is a testament to just how amazing Panama City Beach is and continues to be. We have loyal visitors that choose our destination over and over again.”

Looking ahead, Todd hoped for PCB to eventually reach a point where the ban could be loosened.

He added that with a growing peak season and more families visiting the area, it could be a chance for a win-win.

“Maybe if (councilmen) tweaked that thing about the beach drinking ... maybe we could get half of them kids back down here acting right,” he said. “That would just totally increase (sales) again.”