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Panama City Beach approves five-year agreement with SandJam and Seabreeze Jazz Festival

Nathan Cobb
The News Herald

PANAMA CITY BEACH — For City Manger Tony O'Rourke, music festivals are not only a crucial economic driver, but part of the Beach's identity. 

It was this idea that led the Panama City Beach City Council to approve five-year agreements with SandJam and the Seabreeze Jazz Festival last Thursday. Both of the annual events were canceled this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

More (2019):Photo gallery: SandJam returns to Panama City Beach

"The last couple of decades have been crystal clear — music festivals are now big business," O'Rourke said during the meeting. "They're part of that 'experience economy' that particularly millennials thrive on. They'd rather go to a concert or travel than buy a home. They want to talk about it, post about it and constantly relive it."

An artist performs during SandJam in 2019

He also told councilmen it's important for PCB to make long-term agreements with event organizers before another city comes along and offers a better deal.

"These events get stolen all the time by other communities," O'Rourke said. "They can see your success and if you haven't locked them up for a reasonable amount of time, they will take them. Money talks."

Councilman Phil Chester, who is also chairman of the Panama City Beach Tourist Development Council, added that music festivals are important because they help PCB build its following. 

Of the thousands of people who visit the area for the events, many "fall in love with our beautiful beaches and plan return visits," Chester added.

They also spend money at local businesses and share their experiences with family and friends, he said. 

A crowd gathers around the stage at SandJam in 2019.

"Anytime we have visitors to our city, whether it is for a summer trip or a spring concert, we know those visitors do more than just go to the beach or attend an event," Chester wrote. They spend a lot of money in this city, which is important because they pay a 1% business tax, which supports many of our services."

According to the meeting's agenda, SandJam and the Seabreeze Jaz Festival will now run every year from 2022 until 2026. Sandjam will be held in May at Frank Brown Park, and Seabreeze will take place in April at Aaron Bessant Park. 

Fans gather on the beach during SandJam in 2019.

In a letter from O'Rourke to the council, he added that while local festivals haven't reached the same heights as larger national festivals, which attract hundreds of thousands of people and gross millions of dollars, they still "represent a longevity and continuity that gives them a brand and identity with Panama City Beach."

"Their popularity has become an experience that many covet, and events (that should be) part of the culture and brand of Panama City Beach and not just another event," O'Rourke wrote.