Front Beach Road CRA Updates in Panama City Beach

This past week, I had the great pleasure of spending some time with Ben Faust, the Vice President of DRMP, the consultant firm that is handling all aspects of the Front Beach Road CRA or Community Redevelopment Area.  The goal of the CRA is to upgrade the infrastructure and beautify our area using monies leveraged from the increased development over the last several years. 

Currently there are two projects underway with several more on the board to begin soon.  The first to be started was the Churchwell Drive project.  The project began in April and is expected to be completed in the summer of 2008, although I was told that they are ahead of schedule.  This particular project was started first, not because of priority, but because the state had funds for the bridge replacement now.  Rather than wait and risk those funds being reallocated elsewhere, the city agreed to begin the project first.  Project details:

  • Widen existing roadway
  • Relocate the overhead utilities underground
  • Build a parking area for the nearby beach access point – 127 spaces
  • Build sidewalks and bike lanes
  • Replace old bridge (paid for by FDOT)
  • Landscaping

The Beckrich Road project began at the beginning of September with an estimated completion time of 22 months, set to end summer of 2009.  Project details:

  • All overhead utilities relocated underground
  • Roadway widened to four lanes
  • Construction of bike lanes and sidewalks
  • Center landscaped median
  • Landscaping on either side of the roadway

Those of you that are familiar with Beckrich know that this will be a huge improvement over the existing two lane traffic ridden roadway. 

One of the cool things about the CRA, is that every project involves the relocating of all overhead utilities underground.  Many don’t realize this, but this comes at an extraordinary cost and logistical preparation.  Involved is not just moving, but rebuilding and then switching so as not to interrupt service.  Coming from Plano, TX, I was not used to seeing power lines everywhere, but here, they are a constant interruption of the beautiful views to be had all along our beaches.  Underground utilities will add big time value to our area and make the Front Beach Road experience all the more enjoyable. 

All along Front Beach Road, many of the roadways will have landscaped center medians, dedicated bike lanes, sidewalks, street lighting and a dedicated tram lane on both sides. 

CRA Information - Image at street level of new roadway on Panama City Beach

CRA Information - Image as looking from above of a typical streetscapeAll along Front Beach Road, there will be small outsets for the trams to pull over and pick up passengers.  This is what a typical layout will look like in the tram-stop areas. 

The next project on the drawing board will be the north Thomas Drive area.  The north Thomas Drive area is defined as the area from the intersection of Front Beach Road, Middle Beach Road, and Thomas Drive (where the Ripley’s Believe it or Not ship is) to the intersection of Thomas Drive and Joan Avenue (where Wendy’s is).  Currently this is two lanes and is considered a “restricted roadway” and will be four-laned as part of the CRA. 

Next will come the Front Beach Road area from Walmart to Beckrich Road, and then the south Thomas Drive area. The south Thomas Drive area consists of the roadway from the Circle K (in between The Shores of Panama and Laketown Wharf) past Boardwalk to the stop-sign just before Club LaVela. 

Currently there is a proposed tram station to go in on the north Thomas Drive roadway, across from Ripley’s.  The land has been aquired, but funding will not be coming from the north Thomas Drive CRA allotment, nor has the station been approved with finalized plans.  There are currently conceptual ideas on the drawing board with more definitive information to come out in the next 6 to 8 weeks.

There is actually quite a bit of information at

Also, below is a link to the PowerPoint presentation given at the Beach Chamber Event a couple of months ago, including project specific details with imagery and financial facts.  Also, there is a link to the Project Design Manual that includes specifics on the street-scape design with pictures of materials to be used and street design concepts.

Design Manual


Thomas Drive Flyover Project

I had the great pleasure of attending the Thomas Drive flyover project public information meeting this evening. I said public information, but there really wasn’t much information to get. I found out the Thomas Drive flyover project consists of three phases, the first of which is already completed, the second will service the west-bound traffic and will cost an estimated $30 to $40 million and phase three will be less than $20 million and will take care of getting motorists onto Thomas Drive. The planning is done, but there is no funding in place for phase two or phase three and there is nothing on the drawing board for securing this funding. I was told that the need assessment has been completed but that there is limited state funds for projects such as this and this project is not top priority. And that’s it.

I did however get to see some pictures of the 23rd street flyover, but I was unable to take some pictures. I was told that I would be sent aerials of the project plans. I was also told that the first phase of the project will begin soon.

Thomas Drive Flyover Project Model Photo - looking eastbound Thomas Drive Flyover Project Model Photo - looking westbound
Thomas Drive Flyover Project Model Photo - looking eastbound Thomas Drive Flyover Project Model Photo - looking westbound

FED Cut Rates – Good or Bad?

In a meeting last Tuesday, the FED cut interest rates by a half a point, down to 4.75, but some economists are saying too little too late. In a newsletter I got last week from Finworth Mortgage, it reads that the rate cut is great for the short term loan instruments, but actually bad for 30 year fixed. What happened is bond buyers liked the move the FED made as it applied to the 2 and 3 year Treasuries and bought them up, but they disliked the move as it applied to the 10 year Treasuries. The result: short term fixed rates such as 15 year fixed loans, etc. went down, and long term rates such as the 30 year fixed spiked.The best explanation can only be had by actually reading the newsletter. I can pretend to know what I’m talking about all day, but to get the full effect of this explanation click here to read it.

Bay County Tax Watch and comments

The current tax issues are a hot topic, and rightfully so. I’ve had numerous comments and emails regarding the tax increases over the last couple of years and I decided to dedicate a post to all those who have sent in emails regarding this issue.

We are an out of state owner of a condo on the beach.The VALUE of our property has doubled! Great but there is no way if we tried to sell it would go for that.  It has doubled the taxes.  Our tax should be based  on what we PAID for the condo NOT what the tax office thinks it is worth. If it sells for the assessed amount the new buyer should pay that amount.  If they think it is worth so much than come on and buy it!



The “Mass” appraisal system does not work well when market conditions are so volatile. It works best in a market where changes are slower and gradual. Historically, the county offices have not needed to utilize the tools and data sources that could be very helpful in determining market/assessed values for ad-valorem tax purposes during these volatile times. Eliminating transactions that are not indicative of the current market [i.e., recorded deeds from sales contracts that took place 2+- yrs ago], applying financial feasibility to certain types of commercial transactions, and identifying and applying adjustments for market trends are a few tools / methods which could be helpful. Perhaps some changes will be made to the “Mass Appraisal System” that will incorporate the tools and data needed in times like this. The BCPA’s office has a tremendous task to complete, given the number of parcels, market conditions, and system limitations. Sure, it isn’t perfect, and that’s why the VAB is in place. Remember that government wheels move slowly but hopefully we will see some positive changes come from this situation.      

Donald J Giles, MAI, SRA
Giles Appraisal Group, Inc.

Last year I was told by the tax commissioner they valued all beach front property at $25,000 per front foot plus all construction at $200.00 per SF.  They did not consider location, lot depth, sewer availability, relativity to costal control line, zoning, height restrictions, or if the property could be rebuilt if it were destroyed.  Cost of construction had no bearing because they valued all construction at $200.00/sf.   Recent market sales were immaterial and they were not required to use them in their valuations. 

I was also told that appeals were useless because the Appeals Board never over ruled their numbers. 

This is our government at work.  I think the work and “eye candy” the politicians throw out regarding lowering the milliage rate assumes everyone is an idiot.  We all know the milliage rate has almost nothing to do with the tax bill compared to the erroneous valuations placed by the Tax Commissioner.   I think we would all be hard pressed to find one person in Bay County that is convinced property values have increased in  the past year.  However, our Tax Commissioner thinks he can make the population believe property values have increased.   I think it is time to get a Tax Commissioner with some common sense. 

Hugh Scott

When I spoke with the Appraiser’s office, it was my understanding that the annual property tax is based on similar local property for only one year, the past year and that the way it is computed is set by the state legislature.  So, one factor that would help mitigate the impact of a real estate bubble on property taxes would be to use multiple years such as the past 3 or 5 or 10 instead of just one year. 

        I think several factors will be required to manage the property tax rates to something reasonable such as:

  1. use 3 to 10 years of past date instead of just one year;
  2. adjust the mileage rate;
  3. put a cap on the percentage increase allowed from one year to the next;
  4. other ?


Many months ago, Lee Sullivan and the Bay County Tax Watch, posted a chart in the News Herald outlining the “Actual Tax Levied” vs “Fair Tax” for calendar years 2001 thru 2006.  I don’t know how many people actually paid attention to that chart –  but, it was , perhaps, the most telling piece of paper I’d seen in a very long time.  

Simply put – as our assessments kept growing – our elected officials did NOTHING to curb their spending habits.  It’s PRETTY MUCH that simple. 

Our millage rates remained constant from 2001 thru 2005 EVEN THOUGH OUR TAXES ROSE FROM $37.4M TO $70.0M during that same time … that’s a $36M tax increase!!!  Almost 100%!!!  Nothing changed until 2006, when their constituents (us pee-ons) became extremely vocal … when Bay Tax Watch was formed; and, when projected new taxes were discussed for 2006 – AGAIN to be raised!!  It was only then that our county commissioners were nice enough to lower our millage rate by, what, 1 point?  Are you kidding me?  So, our millage rate was lowered … so what!  Our taxes STILL rose another $3M that year as well!!  And, we sat idly by!

No, my friends, the problem is NOT with the assessment process … Even if our assessments went up 400% … it was the local government’s RESPONSIBILITY to see that our millage rate was adjusted to allow for ONLY the collection of funds that were necessary to run our government … not, as they did, to continue the same millages and set-up new reserves, build thing we don’t need, and fatten government  … Sure, as a politician, it’s nice to be able to tell folks in your district you were able to add sidewalks to their neighborhood, or bike trails, or cart paths.  And, sure, it’ nice to be able to build a park in a place where none never existed before … and, I’m certain the betterment of our community was on each of our politician’s minds.  However, it’s time to STOP!  Time to give back!  Local government has got to be reined in!  Be vocal … stay in touch with our elected leaders … be involved!

Evan Brusilow, Principal Broker
WealthCreation NWFlorida, LLC

Click to enlarge

Airport Relocation Lawsuits, TRIM Dispute Deadline Extended

Two lawsuits are expected to surface against the airport relocation:

  • The National Resources Defense Council – challenges the legitimacy of the FAA’s decision to approve the airport given the potential impact on the West Bay Area, does not acknowledge the approximately 10,000 acres of dedicated bayfront conservation land.
  • Several groups, including the Clean Water Network of Florida – challenging the legitimacy of the issuance of the 404 Permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. There is not a suit yet, but one is expected in the coming months.

There is no time limitation as to when the lawsuits need to be filed, but the relocation progress will continue. If one of the groups wins, the relocation will be stopped, but as time moves on, stopping the relocation will become more difficult.

The latest I’ve heard about the groundbreaking was sometime in October, no definite dates yet.

For more information on the airport relocation, visit

Some recent topics include:

  • Tannhill Rebuts Palm Beach Post – Dear Editor: The Palm Beach Post editorial board has ably demonstrated it knows nothing about the relocation of the Panama City airport. It attacked the project, claiming it would damage a body of water called “South Bay.” There is no South Bay near Panama City. If the Post were truly interested in understanding the essential need for relocating the airport, it could have contacted the local Airport Authority to ask a few questions. Instead, the Post regurgitated inaccurate talking points compiled by a discredited opponent of the project. . . (more)
  • About the non-binding public referendum voting against the Airport Relocation – Relocation opponents and out-of-town editorial writers like to continually bring up the 2004 non-binding referendum on airport relocation. Never mind that only about 20,000 Bay County voters bothered to show up to vote. Never mind the referendum was held in conjunction with the Democratic Presidential primary. . . (more)

Trim Dispute Extension

The Bay County Commission first motioned to try and extend the deadline 14 days, even thought they were uncertain whether they had the authority to do so. Yesterday, however, it was approved to extend it 21 days by the Department of Revenue with he support of Senator Don Gaetz.


In a bold move, the Fed cut interest rates by a half point to 4.75 down from 5.25 on Tuesday. Fear of recession, signs of a housing slump, and urgings from a concerned Wall Street influenced Ben Bernanke to respond by lowering the Federal interest rates. As a result, Wall Street surged up 300 points and the housing market is expected to stabilize.

In addition, the Fed may continue to drop rates for the next 3 to 9 months with another possible cut coming in October and then December.

“The Fed has rolled out the heavy artillery here. Bernanke is not being timid,” said Brian Bethune, economist at Global Insight. “The Fed has seen the problems. It is not trying to put out a forest fire with a bucket of water,” he said. (more)

Bay Tax Foundation – Trim Buring Event

Many of the Trim notices that went out last month from the Bay County Property Appraiser’s Office were received with much contention. With some experiencing tax increases of 400% or more, many are on the lookout to try and get this portion of home-owner’s cost reduced. In addition to the Bay County Commission attempting to get the assessment process overhauled and rejecting the latest Tax Roll, Bay Tax Foundation (or Bay Taxpayers, Inc.) has been successful in influencing a roll back in millage rates and is currently campaigning to cap taxes and spending by the local county municipalities.

Bay Taxpayers, Inc. Mission Statement:

“Bay Taxpayers was formed in the Fall of 2006 as an advocate for the property owners of Bay County, FL. We were established to be an advocate for the taxpayers of our community to strive for equity in taxation and to demand accountability from local governmental authorities. Bay Tax Foundation was formed as a non-profit to provide research and educational services for local taxpayers and to serve as a clearing house for tax related research. We will work to assist local governments formulate sound fiscal policies and foster prudence in expenditures.

Bay Taxpayers will be a watchdog for property owners to prevent the onerous growth of governmental services and burdensome taxes. We will serve as a unified, organized voice of the taxpayers to seek relief from unconscionable tax increases and to advocate for reduced spending at all levels of government.”

To learn more, visit

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Panama City Airport Relocation in the News Elsewhere

News of the Panama City Bay County International Airport is in the news in Jacksonville. This makes sense as St. Joe, with one of Florida’s largest real estate holdings with over 800,000 acres, is based in Jacksonville. read more

The latest word on groundbreaking falls sometime in October. I haven’t heard any solid dates as of yet, but I hope to attend.

Recently Phoenix Construction of Lynn Haven was awarded the bid on construction of the first phase of the new Bay County Airport construction. Their bid was the lowest at $80 million and includes clearing the land and building roads runways, fences and other infrastructure. Recently there was scrutiny with how Phoenix Construction bid for the fill dirt, where they stand to make up to $9 million more if they get all of the 5.8 million cubic yards of dirt from the relocation site. Phoenix Construction is not a new company, and definitely not new to working with our local county municipalities. They’ve been working with Bay County since 2001 and have been praised many times for their work.

Bay County has a rating system in place for work it contracts out. Phoenix has scored “very good”, the second highest rating, each time it has completed a job for the County. In 2006 they were given an award for their work on the Florida International Airport’s Midfield Terminal Complex near Fort Myers.