Panama City Beach Mayoral Candidate Information

With election day coming up on Tuesday April 17th, the Panama City Beach Mayoral candidates are preparing to stake their claim on the results.  There are 4 “qualified” candidates running and the issues they’re discussing range from future tourism, current spring break woes and future development-related concerns.

I reached out to three of the four candidates with interview questions and got a response back from two of them.  Sharon Hagstrom I was unable to find contact information for.  Sharon, if you see this in time, contact us here and we’ll get your answers added.  Also, Ken, I sent you an email as well, if you get me your answers back, I’ll get them added.

The four candidates are Sharon Hagstrom, Ken Nelson, Gayle Oberst (current Mayor), and Travis Schofer (listed in alphabetical order).

Gayle Oberst – Current Mayor

Q. What is your background in public service and how do you think that background lends to your potential mayoral performance?

I have served as Mayor for the past six years and am involved in many social, civic, and municipal/state activities. I have served in various capacities in another state. I have first-hand knowledge of civic, business and community matters, and have written grants and worked to secure funding for many projects such as youth activities, building libraries, providing recreation, additional police services, and educational activities. My professional background in finance, budgeting, and management serves to make me a better Mayor. Since I am retired, I work full time for our community and city and bring to the Mayor’s office and the Council a balance representation of all beach residents and businesses.

Q. What is your position on the topic of College Spring Break, how it is now, how it used to be and what do you envision for it in the future?

As the culture of our nation has changed so has the culture of those attending spring break. The City is requesting that a task force be formed of the City Council, County Commission, TDC Board, Chamber of Commerce Board, Economic Development Director, and local residents to discuss spring break and tourism in general. I think these entities can make some changes such as with our special events and noise ordinances, parking issues, enforcement, etc. and coordinate activities so that we have better control. I sincerely hope that we can increase the family spring break business and that would make us less dependent on the college/high school spring breakers.

Q.What do you plan to do to help grow our tourism industry?

The City does not market the beach thus we do not plan for and grow tourism. Our concerns center around providing services for our citizens. We depend on tourism for the funding to support the City and these services. The City appoints 4 members of the TDC and two of those must be city council members. Usually the Mayor serves on that council and represents the local residents viewpoint. I make the point in discussions about the direction of tourism marketing “PCB needs to be a year round family resort.”

Q.What do you plan to do to help grow other industry in the Panama City Beach area?

The City works with the Beaches Chamber and Bay County Chamber of Commerce and they in turn with the Bay County Economic Development Alliance to attract industry to the area. As the commercial land in and around the airport develops, it would be natural since PCB is only 15 minutes away to see our City become the housing area for those employees.

Q. What are some of the other issues you believe are critical to Panama City Beach right now?

The City has been working on a number of things such as transportation/traffic issues. The County, Department of Transportation, and the City are installing high tech fiber optics along Back Beach Road and Highway 79 that is estimated to increase the efficiency of the traffic on these by 25%. We have also gotten the 6 laning of the Back Beach Road moved up in priority with DOT. We are working on loop roads that will ease the traffic off as well. The City has an environmental concern with putting retreated water into West Bay and that has been solved with the Conservation Park which is good for the environment and provides recreation. The redevelopment of the rest of the Front Beach Road with the Community Redevelopment Agency is something we will work on for the next 20 years and not only will it beautify the area but will solve parking and traffic concerns. Another issue is maintaining a noise level that works for tourism, second home owners, and permanent residents. Maintaining and increasing services provided to our residents without a property tax is an issue that the City has met but must always be aware of and work through on budgets. The Land Development codes for property development are updated, ready to be reviewed, and put into place.

Travis Schofer

Q. What is your background in public service and how do you think that background lends to your potential mayoral performance?

I am a Military Police Combat Veteran of the United States Army having served in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. I have 12 years hospitality/service industry management. I have experience in US and world market financial trading as a day trader of the stock market. I live, work, and eat in Panama City Beach. I shop at Pier Park, I play softball at Frank Brown, and I walk my dogs at the dog Beach in Panama City Beach. I am an everyday resident of the working class.

Q.What is your position on the topic of College Spring Break, how it is now, how it used to be and what do you envision for it in the future?

I feel Spring Break is very important part of our local economy. I hear a lot about business owners alone profiting from Spring Break, but I think many forget about the employees of those business that rely on that boost to our economy to support their families after a financially slow winter for the hospitality/tourist industry. I believe that solutions to subsidize that Spring Break revenue need to be brought into plan before the City can actively put many employees out of work by pushing this boost to our economy away.

Q.What do you plan to do to help grow our tourism industry?

I have brought ideas out during my campaign such as the City working with the TDC to bring in a minor league sports franchise such as double A Baseball team to our City. If we can effectively market a small franchise we may be able to lure a Major League Baseball Team for a Spring Training which coincidentally begins early March every year. This would be family friendly and major tourist attraction that could partially subsidize a Spring Break crowd. I also believe we should try to market a major amusement park to our area.

Q.What do you plan to do to help grow other industry in the Panama City Beach area?

I believe that Panama City Beach needs a third revenue driver that is not reliant on only Military or tourism. I believe that we are sitting on a gold mine in our area and that laying the foundation, to build a proper infrastructure for a controlled healthy economic growth is important for our future 5 to 10 years down the road. We need to market our City to Major world “Site Planners” but we need cohesion of all City and County officials to market correctly. But at the same time if our City is going to rely on tourism to support our City, it is incumbent upon us as leaders to give the tourist something to do.

Q.What are some of the other issues you believe are critical to Panama City Beach right now?

I believe that Panama City Beach needs stronger leadership and transparency for residents. I believe that there is a silent majority out there of the next generation of leaders who need to realize they can make a difference in our community. I also feel that the City budget can be more effectively allocated to better serve the community. Panama City Beach needs to regain their confidence and that is what will help drive our economy. Panama City Beach needs a fresh start with new leaders of tomorrow stepping up to the plate today.

Southwest Airlines adds Non-Stop Flights from St. Louis

For a little seasonal boost, Southwest Airlines is opening up direct access to beaches of Northwest Florida to our mid-west residents of St. Louis this summer.  In a blog post released April 2nd (sorry this wasn’t quick enough for you Andy), SWA made this announcement along with a slew of other changes/additions to their 2012 schedules.

They kidded, “So…if we announced all of this yesterday, you’d think it was an April Fool’s joke.  BUT IT’S NOT!”

Details about the flights.

The non-stop flights between St. Louis (STL) and Panama City Beach’s Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport (ECP) will begin on Monday June 3 and seem to run through the end of October.  The prices look to range from $130-$200 one-way.  In the last couple years, the Midwest has become a quickly growing segment that’s interested in vacationing in our area.  Out of the top 15 states we’ve serviced guests from in the last year, our vacation rental company has accommodated guests from 5 of the official 12 Midwestern states.

In addition to the strong rental stats, looking at our traffic on PCBDaily, Missouri ranks in the top 12 for states whose residents have read our blog in the last month.

Keep a sharp eye out for other sweet additions and changes to the Southwest Airlines offerings in our area.


Run to Rum Runners in Pier Park

Fun is Contagious at the new Rum Runners in Panama City Beaches’ Pier Park. If you walk out of the Grand Theatre and turn right, you’ll see it on the corner in the space previously occupied by Tuscany Italian Grill and Guglielmo’s. When you walk in, you’ll be greeted by friendly faces that invite you in with a smile and a warmth that fits right in with the tropical décor.

In fact, Vincent Wood the same artist that designed the scenes for the Sandestin Resort location also brought his iconic tropical designs to the new Pier Park location. The artwork is fun and festive and complimentary to the tiki hut roof over the bar. The suspended surfboards and Hawaiian printed shirts make you feel like it is definitely five o’clock somewhere….and most likely somewhere on a beach.

Karen Smith (aka My Mom) who is always ready for adventure, and me – always ready for a good meal 🙂 – decided to pay this new hot spot a visit. Our server, Jonathon, was friendly and knowledgeable and had nothing but good things to say about his job.

“They make it fun here. It is not just about getting the food out, it’s about making sure our customers have a good time.” He told us both we needed to come back after 8 pm for the dueling piano players. Rum Runners is known for their great entertainment. And the fun is not just for the vacationers, many locals enjoy the casual atmosphere and seven-day-a-week music acts that both encourage audience participation and expand over a variety of genres.

When we asked what we should order, he pointed us to some of the favorites on the menu like the Hurricane Burger and the Lobster Bisque. I opted for a small fresh salad and the appetizer portion of their famous Ahi Ahi Tuna with Wakame, which was delicious. The portions were generous, and the presentations attractive, at least until we devoured them! We drank sweet tea, but at night, the creativity of Rum Runners bartenders attracts many. Many of these “mixologists” have their own unique special creations, but like in Sandestin, the two most popular crowd pleaser drinks are the classic Rum Runner and the Calypso Punch.

Before you run to Rum Runners, run and find them on Facebook. Then run and get you some of that Ahi Ahi Tuna!

Wednesday Dinner at J.Michael’s Restaurant and Oyster Bar

This is the second in a series of articles in which we explore 7 Local Restaurants the Tourists Don’t Know About.

For this place, I had to come two different times to get information for my article. I made the trip there mid-week last week during lunch time, but upon walking in, I knew that was a mistake. It was busting at the seams! It didn’t look like there was but one table open. I asked to speak with a manager to see if there was a later time, and was told to come back one of the following days in the mid to late afternoon.

The second time I came in, I was able to speak with J.Michael’s daughter, Rachel, for a little while. She also gave me the number to contact J.Michael so that I could talk to the founder of this incredible joint himself. I gave him a call as I was leaving the restaurant and he told me to come right on back in because he wanted to give me a taste of what it was all about! Of course, I was more than willing and excited for this treat!

With that said, here is what J.Michael’s is all about!

All The Basics

Who to go to?                        J.Michael’s Restaurant & Oyster Bar

What they serve?                   Lunch and Dinner

Where to be?                         3210 Thomas Drive, right in front of the light before the Bay bridge

When to go?                          Everyday, 11 AM — 10 PM 

How to reach them?               (850) 233-2055

How much to pay?                 About $10 for lunch, and around $15 for dinner

The Food

Ok, so according to Rachel, the most popular (cough, cough PACKED) times to eat there are either lunch on Wednesdays or Thursdays, or for dinner on weekend nights. I definitely saw how busy it can get when I came the first time. It was insane that I had never peeked my head in the place before with how much traffic it has. Apparently, my parents were ahead of me, seeing as they had already eaten there a couple of times before. I can’t believe they ate at J.M’s without me.

Any how, they offer a great selection of home-cookin’, turf, and plenty of surf. For starters, J. Michael’s is definitely the “oysters-can-be-made-basically-however-you-want-to-eat-them-at-any-quantity” kind of place, and it’s amazing. They have your classic reubens, favorite fish sandwiches, and big half-pounder burgers, while offering a flavorful top sirloin, a variety of shrimp dishes, and hearty seafood gumbo.

The local picks (other than the oysters) tend to be their steak, roast beef supreme, or shrimp J.Michael. Rachel’s, J.Michael’s, and most of the employees’ favorite meal is their red beans and rice, though. This great selection of food is all homemade, of course, right down to the cocktail sauce! And as you may have also assumed, the seafood and breads they serve are all from local suppliers. Awesome, right?

In addition, they claim to offer the coldest draft beer in the area! I wouldn’t know though, because well, I can’t, nor would choose to drink at all. So anyway, you guys will have to find out for me, and comment below to put this mystery to rest!

The People

To start off, this joint has had the same owner for 35 years now: J.Michael Stuart. He’s done a great job of making it incredibly family oriented, kid-friendly, and locally populated, with the help of his daughter. When a restaurant is family owned and operated, you know you’re in for a great time, with some good food, all in a pretty neat environment. Even though all of J.Michael’s employees aren’t family members of his, they all act like they are. You can tell that they have such a fun time at work, always helping each other out, cracking jokes on their fellow “siblings”, and daring to poke fun at “Boss-man” when they get the chance. Laughter lives at J.Michael’s! Together, they’ve all helped to serve 2.3 million people, just last year!

I was quite impressed by how dedicated J.Michael is to his business. He doesn’t just watch it run itself, like some restaurant owners do. Oh, no! The first thing he did when he came in for the day was to go behind the side bar, slip on a glove and start shuckin’ oysters with employee Tyler. I was sitting right in front of Tyler, just chatting, when he entered, so I wasn’t entirely sure that was even the owner until someone called him “Boss-man”. He shucked until he and Tyler were done with all of the many orders of oysters, and I thought that was pretty darn cool.

It shows how confident in his business J.Michael is, as he tells me that they “make it right”. It doesn’t take conviction from him for me to believe it, either. To those of you that have never checked them out before, J.Michael states how they “are like a book you’ve never read with an ugly cover. But don’t be afraid to come in, see what the stories are all about, and give it a try!” It was incredible timing after he said this, seeing as a few seconds following, a customer walks up to him and says, “I want to shake your hand. This is the first time me and my family have eaten here, and we were really impressed at what a nice job you do. Good food, and great service!” That, right there, is what happens when you read the J.Michael’s story.

The Environment

J.Michael’s has had three different locations, each one being more successful than the last. No matter what the location, though, people continually brought in things for him to put up all around the restaurant. The decor is certainly consumer oriented, with dollar bills and surfboards covering the beams on the ceiling and sections of the wall that aren’t already plastered by locals’ photos and seaside motif.

The place most certainly feels out-on-the-bay, with a southern touch. For instance, there are guns hanging everywhere! J.Michael told me that he started out with 2 or 3 guns, but once people saw he had those, many others decided to give him their rifles and such as well. So, he just started hanging them off of the ceiling. I thought it looked pretty neat!

My Take

When J.Michael told me he would “give me a taste”, I had no idea he meant he would give me four different dishes to try! But they were oh-so-wonderful! First I tried the employee favorite: red beans and rice. It was a total southern flavor, with nothing frilly. It was just good, hearty food; just like how it would be made at home. Next was the seafood gumbo. I could taste how very fresh the seafood was, and the blend of flavors overall was super nice.

Next, I tried the famous Shrimp J.Michael, which had such a strong homemade essence, exploded with freshness, and had a wonderful slight spiciness attributed to just the right amount of curry. For all 3 of these dishes, I found myself using all of my bread to sop up all of the leftover sauces and juices!

Last but certainly not least, J.Michael ordered me up a fried shrimp basket. Those, i dare say, were THE BEST fried shrimp I have ever had, and I’ve had a lot of fried shrimp. They were so big and plump, had the perfect seasoning, a nice light breading, and were full of impeccable flavor so much that there was no dipping sauce required! Sooooo good!

I know it’s not just talk when J.Michael told me, “Our #1 goal is the customer, and that has to come out to produce joy, quantity, quality, and price.” As far as I’m concerned, they get a check, check, check, and check!!!

Quick Pics
Links to the Other Articles

Introductory Article: 7 Local Restaurants the Tourists Don’t Know About

Tuesday Breakfast: Fatty Patty’s Cakes & Cafe


New Charter Academy Coming to Panama City

The beach has been bustling, tourism has been up and the new airport has been performing better than expected the last couple years.  But, not much has been said about the old airport site and what activity was underway, lurking in the shadows.  We haven’t heard much in the last couple years, but it’s not because nothing has been happening – quite the contrary.  The savvy folks at St. Andrew Bay Land Company, regardless of their technical ownership status of the land, has been laying all the ground work to get the master planned community online in place of the old airport site.

The development of the old airport site.

Over the last couple years, the St. Andrew Bay Land Company (SABLC) has been quietly working to take possession of the land the old airport site was on.  If you remember, they were the ones that won the bid.  Their parent company, Leucadia, created the St. Andrew Bay Land Company in order to manage the development.  Working through a variety of complexities that come along with taking possession of an old airport site, they actually just closed in the last 60 days.

In a lunch meeting with Jacob Fish, with SABLC a few weeks back, he excitedly explained that they haven’t lost a beat and that the development was still on schedule for where it would be regardless if they had possession of the land.  He explained there are a variety of things they’ve been working on to get everything ready for development including some really neat advancements and improvements that have been helping from the state legislature, down.

Anyway, we owe you an update on what that development will entail, but that will happen on another day!

Details on the new Charter Academy that’s coming.

Concurrently with the new master planned community that is coming, the developer wanted to incorporate a high quality public school.

The University Academy will be a public K-5 charter school and will begin classes in August 2012 on the FSU Panama City campus.

“The University Academy will be focused on teaching that produces well rounded students who will be prepared to succeed in a rapidly evolving, connected world,” said academy founder and spokesperson, Kelly Forehand. “Naturally, the emphasis will be on the STEM curricula, but we believe it essential that students be equally strong in the areas of critical thinking, languages and the arts.”

A collaborative effort of Florida State University Panama City (FSU Panama City) and local community leaders to deliver innovative elementary education, The University Academy is founded on a strong comprehensive reading, expository writing and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) curricula.

“This is one of the first and only schools in Florida where a public university provides the research-based curricula and teacher development and where the employees of the Academy are privately employed by the school board, giving optimal flexibility to the Academy and the teachers,” said Dr. Elizabeth Crowe, PhD, one of academy’s founders and a research faculty member at Florida State University. “This model ensures that the focus is on the success of the individual student, and that the student comes first. This will be a school where students can achieve their potential, regardless of background.”

Parents and Students Information Meeting

An information meeting will be held on Thursday, April 12, 2012 at the FSU Panama City Campus, Bayside Auditorium, located at 4750 Collegiate Drive, from 5:00 PM to 7:30 PM. A model classroom will be set up for parents and students to experience.

More information can be found at, by writing us at, or by calling (850) 215-0137. For statements or interviews, the media should contact Academy founder Jacob Fish at (850) 624-3055 or

The Beach this Week – Amazing Picturesque Water

This time of year is famous for bringing perfect weather, clear skies and shimmering, emerald green waters.  For the Panama City Beach connoisseur the period between the second week in April and the last week in May and the month of October is the best time to come to the beach on the Gulf Coast.  The air temperatures during the day have been consistently in the mid-80’s and the gulf waters are floating around 75 degrees.  We’ve had a variety of yellow to red flags marking calm vs choppy waters, but overall, it’s been just amazing.

This video was shot last Sunday.  I had to run over to one of our vacation rental condos and couldn’t miss a chance to twinkle my toes in the sand to shoot this.  I shot it with my iPhone 4s.  As you can see, there were quite a lot of people out enjoying the Easter holiday weekend.

The Beach Show – 132

Show notes.

Hot Deal 1

  • Foreclosure for $208k
  • 3 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms at 2516 sf
  • Less than half block from the beach
  • Gulf views from the balcony

Hot Deal 2

  • Just reduced to $221,500!
  • Tons of cute character and charm
  • 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms completely updated
  • Beautiful kitchen with grant countertops
  • Manicured yard, one street off of Front Beach Road

Hot Deal 3

  • Gulf front town house for $649,900
  • 3 bedrooms, 3.5 bathrooms at 2846 sf
  • Incredible deck and entertaining space
  • Adjacent to dedicated beach


You Tell Us: Spring Break, To Be or Not To Be?

Let me preface this post by saying spring break isn’t just some event that can be shut off or closed down. It is a period of time in which students are on break from school, and they crave the leisure and activity of a tourist destination.  Regardless, college age kids on spring break will want to come to the beach.  We are a destination, and we’re attractive to those wanting to get away from their norm.

Now that I got that out of the way. . .

The activity on the beach the last few weeks has spurred a variety of appearances of our little beach town in national news outlets, all referencing spring break.  Local Mayoral candidates are using it to strengthen their position in the race, and locals all around seem to be furious about trashed beaches, too much traffic and a damaged perception of what they desire Panama City Beach to be.

Just two of the articles Panama City Beach has shown up on USA Today’s Travel section read, “Florida spring break mecca conflicted over its wild image“, and “The 10 trashiest spring break destinations“.  Of course, the later, when read, defines “trashiest” as a positive term, which for many, is equally as troubling.

Now, I’ve heard all the arguments from the businesses that seemingly do exceptionally well during this period, the businesses that heavily cater to this type of crowd.  And I’ve heard the arguments from others who claim Spring Break is 35% of the annual revenue here.  And while that may be the case for some, it’s certainly not the case for our rental properties.  If I did rent to the college kids (which I don’t, with the exception of a very few), it would still only account for about 1/6th of our total annual revenue and still wouldn’t be worth the headaches.

You’re the pundit – tell us your opinion on Spring Break

It seemed like a couple years ago we were trying to move away from the image we seem to be entrapped in again.

So I’d like to open this up to you.  You’ve been down here, you’ve read the articles, what do you think about the spring break activity we’ve had in Panama City Beach?

What do you think this activity will do to our image?

Do you think this will have a lasting impact on how our summer tourists look at our area?

Do you think we are making some summer tourist sacrifice to have a “good spring break?”

Bonus – Pictures from Spring Break Past

5 Reasons Why I love Short Sales!!!!

Short sales have gotten a really bad rap and I am hear to proclaim my Love for short sales but mostly in keeping with the old Song, “Love the one yours With”  Short sales are here to stay for a while and instead of lamenting about the evils and perils inherent in them we might as well just lean to embrace them.  I have learned to appreciate and celebrate the good stuff and so in case you are not yet convinced let me tell you why.

1.  Short sales are a means to help owners get out of an underwater property with some of their dignity and some of their credit in tact. When you have a home that is worth 200,000 and you owe 500,000 and your income is a fraction of that you need some answers.  A short sale will usually be a less ding on your credit than a Foreclosure.

2.  Short sales are better for the neighborhood.  Short sales tend to impact a neighborhood less than several foreclosed properties hitting the market.  Foreclosures generally bring less money thus driving the prices down even further in an already depressed community. There is also more of a psychological negative with a foreclosure in the consumers eyes.

3.  There are many programs out there for consumers such as Co Op  programs, Cash for Keys, HAFA  among others that may allow homeowners to actually do a short sale of their home and receive a check at closing.  I actually did a short sale recently and the homeowner got a check for 1,000 dollars at the closing table that helped with their move.  Check with your favorite Realtor to see if you qualify for any of the programs out there.

4.  Right now and for the rest of this year you are able to do a short sale without a tax implication if it is your homestead.  There is no guarantee after 2013.

5.  Another plus for us Agents is obvious!!! What in the world would we have sold this year if not for short sales???? I know that I said not too many years ago….”Yuck I will never do short sales they are so hard to get closed!!!” Needless to say I changed my tune and have gladly helped customers close them on the listing and the buying side.

This is my short list for why I love Short Sales but if I really share my heart my biggest reason is to hear the sigh of relief and the smiles on the faces of my customers when we come to the end of that chapter in their lives.  It is important to remember all the people that have been so impacted by our changing economy and the fear that has gripped those whose lives have been forever changed.  When the day is done and the sale is complete the homeowner can start over and get his life back on the path that is moving in a positive direction.  Although simple this list…. it can be daunting so my advice is to grab your favorite Realtor and ask some questions and see if you too can fall in love with Short Sales!!!!

“The only people we have to get even with are those that have helped us”  Thankfully my list is long.

Karen Key Smith