Aaron Bessant Park Amphitheater COMPLETED

We’ve been watching the progress and anxiously awaiting the finished product for months, and the Aaron Bessant Park Amphitheater officially received it’s Certificate of Occupancy last Friday. Having lunch at Pier Park Wednesday, I overheard them sound testing and stopped by to check it out.

Once I got there, I found Pro Tech (the sound and lighting masterminds behind the PCB Seafood Fest and many of the other events you’ve spectated in our area) with speakers hung, lighting in the progress of being hung, all to test the new infrastructure and play with the setup.  They were rocking out to AC/DC and Mario Gisbert (the new City Manager) and other local officials with the City of Panama City Beach were there to witness the tests.

The concept renderings of the building were pretty, but the finished building is really a spectacle to behold.  The colors are vibrant and the style closely matches the motif Pier Park set precedent for years earlier and the architectural features are clean and beautiful.  It was fun walking through it as it felt like that new shiny car that you’re test driving for the very first time.

They said the first scheduled event is in April for the Seabreeze Jazz Festival and they tentatively have the Panama City POPs scheduled for a performance there later in the spring.

Here is a breakdown of all the features of this new amphitheater.

Here are other posts related to the Pier Park Aaron Bessant Park Amphitheater.



From this view, you can see the paved driveway that will allow access for performer’s vehicles and loading trucks.


IMG_7662_3_4_fusedwtmkThis is from the back of the stage looking out, to the north and slightly to the east.  The covered stage area is very large, much larger than some of the pop-up stages that we’ve seen here in the past.



This is obviously from the front-west side.  The white panel you see is a place for a projector to project video of performances.  Behind that panel is the dressing rooms and admin office.


This is looking at the opposite side of the amphitheater.  The white panel here is the same as the other side and there is a large loading area perfect for anything up to a semi-truck trailer to unload.



This view shows the back of the structure.  You can see how polished everything is.  That large green area in the middle are those huge hangar doors that open up completely and allow the Seabreeze come through.



Aaron Bessant Park Amphitheater Structure is UP

In this third and final installment of construction updates in the Pier Park general area in Panama City Beach, the Aaron Bessant Park amphitheater has raised its hand and remarked that its structure is up and the roof is in place. Having been under construction for just a short period, you can actually see the final product as its come up from the ashes of the previous structure commonly referred to as “The Claw.”

For a recount of all the features this new amphitheater will have, click here.


In this shot you can see the entire front front of the new Aaron Bessant Park amphitheater.  If you’re down here, I highly recommend walking over to check it out in person.  It’s really quite large and very exciting!

This shot was taken from the back right (southwest) of the building.  Behind those already-colored walls will be the dressing rooms and admin office.  The large opening in the center under the peak of the roof structure will be where the hangar doors are that will be able to be opened.

This is a closer look at the large opening directly behind the stage.  For scale, you can see the man in the middle by the boards leaning on the scaffolding.  I’d assume he’s an average height.  The structure really is quite tall.

This shot is from the southeast side of the building.  The large opening in the middle of the shot on the easterly facing wall is where the tractor trailers could pull up and load/unload.

This gives you a better view of the loading/unloading area.

This is the new restroom facility behind the existing facility

This is a shot from the very back of the venue grounds.  Directly behind me and to the right is the bathroom facilities.  You can see from this shot that this will be a very sweet and grandly improved venue.  So exciting!!!

Walk This Saturday….discover the UPS of DOWNS







Have you ever met anyone with Down Syndrome? If it wasn’t for the work of the Special Olympics or the warm-hearted cheerleader on GLEE would you even know what it looked like?

I think many of us would agree that fear comes from the unknown and being in small town USA, we are insulated from a lot of unknowns, like genetic disorders such as Down Syndrome, we don’t understand.

But did you know here in Bay County there are as many as 7 new families with children born with Down Syndrome?
On a national level one in every 733 babies in the United States is born with it, making it the most common genetic condition. About 6,000 babies are born with Down’s in the U.S every year.

But how would you know that? I didn’t until I spoke to a couple mother’s whose lives were affected….for the better, by the way. One woman, Shannon, whose family frequently visits our beaches, and hopes to call it home some day, shared with me about her experience very candidly.



Shannon’s son Lucas on our Beaches


After giving birth she looked at her baby Lucas, who is now the absolute light unto her path, and she knew before the doctor told her. She was terrified, she broke down into a “crying, snotty mess” she said. She realized that as a mother, one of her primal fears were ignited, something was “wrong” with her baby. But “wrong” turned out to be just “right” and the biggest blessing of her and her husband’s lifetime.

After the hormonal rush of pregnancy had subsided and she was able to reflect on her gutteral reaction she concluded most of her horror was based on pure ignorance. She had never met anyone with Down Syndrome before, she didn’t know anything about it, how was she going to take care of our baby? Isn’t that every mother’s fear that we will not somehow be equipped, i.e, good enough to take care of our children?

As I spoke with Shannon and she shared her story, her candor touched me, I thanked her for it. She simply said…”you know, your story is your story.”

Those words hit me in the face and I hope they leave a mark on yours. Your story is your story and it can be as sad or scary or beautiful as you want it to be. But before it is written, when it is still in the beginning and you don’t know what is going to happen…it can be pretty scary.

But it doesn’t have to be, you can reach out and find people to talk to, learn more about Aspergers and Autism and Down Syndrome and all of those things that terrify us because we don’t know any better. For Shannon, she read the blog by Kelle Hampton, a mother she not only connected to, but made her realize what an amazing gift she had been given.

Thankfully there are organizations that raise awareness of these issues that affect so many of new mother’s today.  October happens to be Down Syndrome Awareness Month.

If you want to learn more about Down Syndrome and have a fun, family friendly day outside, you are in luck for this Saturday, October 20th is the Annual Buddy Walk put on by Acton Up with Downs at Aaron Bessant Park next to Pier Park.

There will be lots to do at this event..Music…Food..
Children’s games and crafts…entertainment for all!
Dr. Shane of WPAP will be the MC and the Parrots Club will play music. Prosperity Bank will be keep our bellies full with hot dogs and hamburgers for all.

To find out more about this event, go to http://www.actonupwithdowns.org/ or just show up at Aaron Bessant Park this Saturday, October 20th at 9 am.

As one local parent put it….”Come out and learn more about people with Down Syndrome…and find out that we are all more alike than different.”

Aaron Bessant Park Amphitheater Construction Update

Very few things excite me as much as new construction in Panama City Beach.  You know I love dreaming of the future and any sort of growth is a sign of prosperity and success.  The improvements happening at Aaron Bessant Park are really beginning to take shape.  So far the construction of the new amphitheater is giving it some shape and the new restroom facilities are coming out of the ground.  They’ve also began grading the field preparing for the soccer fields.

As you roll through the pictures of the construction update, you can reference the layout schematics to get some bearing on what is where.

Amphitheater schematics

On the west side of the amphitheater there will be the dressing room area.  This will provide an area for the performers to prepare and rest.  There are actually two separate dressing rooms, each with their own full bathroom and a green room. In addition, on that side of the amphitheater there is an administrative office for support staff and secured storage.

On the east side of the amphitheater is the loading and storage area.  There is an opening that is large enough and at the right height for a semi truck trailer to pull right up and off load equipment.  In addition, there is a large amount of storage area.

Construction update photos

Taken from the east side (facing west), this shot looks at the side of the structure.  To the right in this image would be the audience.

This is a closer shot of the east side of the structure.  The larger opening in the middle will be the garage bay door where performers will be able to pull their trailer up to for loading and unloading.  Immediately behind that wall will be storage.

This is taken from the front of the structure with the audience placement behind me.  This shows the right or west side of the building and the stage area.

This is again, the west side of the structure.

New Aaron Bessant Park Amphitheater Construction Begins

We’ve been quiet around these parts and figured we owed you an update on the improvements that are happening at Aaron Bessant Park.  I had a quick chat with Mario Gisbert, the newly appointed City Manager, yesterday and he presented me with all the enhancements coming up.  And let me tell you, it looks fantastic.

The ground breaking ceremony was a few weeks back and they’ve already made some good progress, despite all the rain.  The projected “contractual” completion date is on December 13th with final completion to be 1 month after that.

Amphitheater acoustics design

The improvements of the Aaron Bessant Park Amphitheater is something that has been quite a hot topic. Workshops and public meetings have been a instrumental in hearing the public’s opinion and residents have come out in droves in support and opposition to the improvements.  Some of those against the new amphitheater have had concerns with crowding and sound and those for it think it will be a huge draw for the area for performers and tourists to spectate.

Read all our articles on the Aaron Bessant Park Amphitheater here.

One of the clear concerns of the public was acoustical insulation in order to keep the sound where it is wanted and away from where it is not. The entire design is centered around this concern.

Every surface on the interior of the structure will be lined with acoustical insulation material that is protected by a wavy, perforated metal material that will help with sound absorption and a protector to the insulation material.  Furthermore, the speakers will be oriented in a way for maximum sound isolation, so that they won’t project outside the event boundaries.  But this isn’t to say you won’t see some sound fragments lingering in areas outside the event, but the sound levels will be within the acceptable and approved ordinance levels.

Design and layout of the amphitheater

The architectural design has evolved quite a bit since our last discussion.  Originally it looked like a literal transplant of the Pier Park style and feel, towers and all.  But with public opinion weighted in and acoustical analysis considered, the design has taken on more individualistic characteristics.  However, it still feels consistent with the area and beachy design direction.

Some of the things I find cool is the thoughtfulness of the layout with respect to the performers.  The object of the new amphitheater is two fold: 1) a better user experience for the spectator, 2) a solid infrastructure for the performer to come in and have minimal setup.

For the performer, all they need to do is pull their tractor trailer up to the built-in loading dock (behind the screen to the east) and unload.  They can hand their lights and speakers from the already installed support system, hook right into the power and they’re good to go.  There are secured and lockable areas on either side of the stage to store equipment overnight (think weekend festivals) and the entire back side of the stage opens up with huge airplane hangar doors to add an additional loading area or to air the facility out.

The stage is 60’x40′ with an 8′ thrust out front increasing the stage area considerably.  The overhang of the roof structure is about 12 feet.

New soccer fields, parking

Concurrent with the development of the new amphitheater is the development of 3 new soccer fields in the current sand field behind the park.  In addition to soccer fields, this area will double as parking for larger events.  The field will be leveled with a layer of clay added to the top, then compacted soil and traffic resistant grass, just like Frank Brown Park’s festival area is now.

Pictures and building design plans

In this shot you can see what the new Aaron Bessant Park Amphitheater will look like from the front.  On either side of the stage, the white areas will serve as screens for performers to be projected for the audience. Just above those panels will be supports to hang jumbotrons or some other video screen if the provided screens aren’t what they’re looking for.

To the right, in the structure behind that screen panel, will be the dressing room area.  This will provide an area for the performers to prepare and rest.  There are actually two separate dressing rooms, each with their own full bathroom and a green room. In addition, on that side of the amphitheater there is an administrative office for support staff and secured storage.

To the left, in the structure behind that screen panel, is the loading and storage area.  There is an opening that is large enough and at the right height for a semi truck trailer to pull right up and off load equipment.  In addition, there is a large amount of storage area.

If you’re standing in front of the stage, looking towards the structure, the wall on the back side of the stage are actually airplane hangar doors that completely open.  On this back side of the structure, the height is perfect for backing up a panel or pickup truck for loading and unloading.



Aaron Bessant Park Improvements [UPDATE]

Well, the Jazz Festival was awesome!  They had record numbers and mostly excellent weather (minus Saturday), and they’ve already started selling tickets for next year!  With that out of the way, the improvements that are slated for Aaron Bessant Park are preparing to begin! Although I don’t look forward for the workers working during our hot summer days.

We’ve discussed what the plans are here, and you’ve certainly chimed in.

Q&A with the City of Panama City Beach

We were curious about what was happening over there and fired off some questions to Mario Gisbert, the director of the CRA, who also happens to handle some of the logistics regarding the development of this project.

Q. Now that the Jazz Fest is over, is there a projected begin date for the Aaron Bessant Park Amphitheater Improvements?

We are fine toning the drawings now, we will be pricing per the City of Panama City Beach requirements shortly (one month process).  Upon council approval of bids (two week process) and not exceeding the budget we would start construction.  Goal would be June start.

Q. What is the projected construction time on the amphitheater?

The construction duration is approximately 5 months.

Q. What has been learned about the acoustical ramifications of the way the speakers can be oriented?

With proper speaker orientation, building configuration and amplification limitations, the performances will work within the current sound ordinance.  These issues are being addressed with the building design.  The performance standards are being developed at this point in time.

Q. How will the speakers be oriented in order to be sensitive to the needs of the surrounding public?

The speakers will be aimed (7 degree cone) into the audience and not out towards the neighborhoods.

Q. Was some of what has been learned put into practice for the Jazz Festival this year?

The performance provider was aware of the current issues and did coordinate the speakers for a proper responsible performance.  The current sound ordinance limits were adhered.  We did monitor the event.

Q. How will the sound be monitored on an ongoing basis to be sure everyone is happy?

We will complete the performance standards and monitor the effects and adjust as needed.  We are planning on having the acoustician present during the new building performance in order to make final adjustments with building and speakers and amplification.

Local Residents Speak Out Against Aaron Bessant Park Improvements

Wednesday evening, the City of Panama City Beach held a public workshop to discuss the improvements slated for Aaron Bessant Park. While many spoke in agreement with the improvements, many local area residents were against the improvements and/or how they were to be done – many making suggestions for how they thought the improvements should be done.

The improvements for Aaron Bessant Park include a new amphitheater, more bathroom facilities and soccer fields.

The opposition

The commenters in opposition of the improvements were concerned about many of the same issues:

  • Traffic
  • Noise
  • The environment

“I called Mr. Jackson at 11pm Saturday night to complain about the noise,” one resident said, “his wife said he was asleep. . .  I said ‘wake him up, this noise is too loud, too late.”

Another area resident said, “I should not be able to hear every word from these concerts from my porch, are the noise levels being policed?”

“I sat through six lights waiting to cross Back Beach while the cops kept letting everyone just turn,” a resident of Palmetto Trace said, “never mind you who want to just go home.”

“These events are nice, but what happens when both entrances of Palmetto Trace are blocked and there is an emergency where fire, emt and police can’t get in to the neighborhood,” said another resident of Palmetto Trace.

This meeting seemed timely for many residents since the Christian Music Fest, the first of the Fun Never Sets Fall Concert Series was last weekend.  The noise levels seemed higher than normal.  I personally experienced the noise levels being able to hear it from Highway 79.

Suggestions from the opposition

One of the commenters insinuated that those that were in ‘opposition’ of the improvements weren’t against a new amphitheater being build, but rather how it was being build and where it was being built.  Many made suggestions for facing it another way, moving it all together or not building it at all.

Facing it towards the Gulf

Several made the suggestion to face the amphitheater towards the Gulf, stating that if it was just point away from residential neighborhoods that it could help. This option was explored in conversation, but didn’t seem plausible based on the facts.

If it were to be placed on the opposite side of the field, the current restroom structure would have to be demolished, increasing the development cost.  “The budget is already extremely tight,” said Mario Gisbert, CRA Manager of Panama City Beach.  In addition, that would face it towards another residential area and a few Gulf-front condos – leading to a reflective effect.  This sound reflection could carry the sound right into even more residential area.

Another suggestion was made to place the amphitheater where the current veteran’s memorial is and direct the sound over Pier Park towards Calypso Resort Towers.  This suggestion drew the ire of Veterans, Pier Park and those residents that stood to receive sound reflection from Calypso Resort.

Moving it to Frank Brown Park

One suggestion was made to move the amphitheater to Frank Brown Park.

One council person’s response was, “I don’t know what that would solve, Frank Brown Park is literally closer to Palmetto Trace.”

Building an convention center up Highway 79

One commenter suggested that we ‘bond’ it out, buy the land and build a convention center up north on Highway 79.  She mentioned “the airport’s up there, we’re trying to grow up there, it makes sense to just build something like this up there.”

Mayor Oberst: “We don’t have the land, we don’t have the money, that’s just not going to happen. . . The Panama City Beach Convention and Visitor’s Bureau has offered to pay for this, and this is what we can afford.”

Additionally, if people are concerned about traffic now, what will happen when 5,000 cars are all coming down Highway 79 to travel through the 79/Back Beach Road intersection after an event?

Supporters of the improvements

“We have to remember, we live in a tourist town.  We all reap the benefits of this.  We enjoy no property taxes because of the sales tax that is mostly paid by our out-of-town guests.  Did you know that 40% of all the month that goes to our schools from that 1/2 cent sales tax comes from tourists? We all benefit from that.  We have to do things that extend our season.  Right now we operate at a 49 to 60 day season – we have to do everything we can to extend that season and bring people down here so we can make a living” – Jack Bishop

“I moved down here five years ago because I love it here, and I love seeing us do progressive things and making hard decisions.  I say go for it,” said a Palmetto Trace resident.

Many were in support of the improvements and agreed that the area needs to do anything it can to bring more people to Panama City Beach stating tourism is the life-blood of our area.  Some of the supporters mentioned some of the good they saw from this:

  • The opportunity to have better quality event infrastructure
  • Solidified event ordinances
  • Firm and contractual operational standards (noise, traffic, time restraints)

Doug Sale, the staff counsel explained that this whole ordeal is not as simple as the “bricks and mortar ‘it’, but about the structure and how it will be operationally ran. . .  and with that, we can determine what sound levels are acceptable, what times are ok to operate, etc.”   He reminded everyone that the purpose of the workshop was to get feedback as to the concerns of the area residents and that “we got a lot of good feedback.”


Overall, what are your thoughts on this?  Were you there Wednesday evening?  What are your concerns?

Aaron Bessant Park Amphitheater Construction Schedule

The projected improvements to Aaron Bessant Park have been quite a hot topic lately with many energetically arguing for and against it.  The public workshop is this Wednesday evening and a lively workshop its expected to be!

The city has released the projected construction schedule, which is not final, but intended to be used to map out the process of building the improvements.

The schedule


  • Week 3 – Technical specifications
  • Week 4 – Draft RFQ and sound check site
  • Week 5 – Workshop: Design parameters


  • Week 6 – Advertise RFQ: Design/Build
  • Week 7 – Geotechnical released
  • Week 8 – Refine Design parameters
  • Week 9 – Addendum


  • Week 10 – RFQ Due Design/Build
  • Week 11 – Award Contract: Design/Build
  • Week 12 – Work shop: Design
  • Week 13 – Submit to FCT


  • Week 15 – Site/Structural Plans
  • Week 16 – Site Construction Start
  • Week 17 – Order Steel
  • Week 18 – Permit Set Complete


  • Week 19 – Building Construction Start
  • Week 20 – Underground work
  • Week 21 – Slab on Grade


  • Week 24 – Walls to roof structure
  • Week 26 – Roof Structure


  • Week 28 – MEP installation


  • Week 32 – Finish work
  • Week 35 – Certificate of occupancy


  • Week 36 – Punch list
  • Week 37 – Seabreeze Jazz Festival

Aaron Bessant Park Improvements Workshop Date Set

In a city commission meeting yesterday, a date for the first public workshop was set to discuss the improvements slated to be made to Aaron Bessant Park in Panama City Beach.  The park improvements were voted on and approved to begin planning at the last commission meeting.  Originally, three members of the commission voted for and two members voted against the improvements.  The tension from the disagreement seemed to be present at yesterday’s meeting.

An accelerated schedule

Panama City Beach City Manager Richard Jackson presented what was later dubbed an “accelerated schedule” for project construction and completion.  The schedule included awarding the construction contract in October and beginning development in November.  The goal, in the schedule, is to be complete and ready for the Seabreeze Jazz Festival in April.

Details about the park improvements
  • 60′x40′ amphitheater with permanent roof and walls suitable for theatrical productions, orchestral performances and musical events
  • Expanded amphitheater lawn area (see diagram below
  • Vegetative buffers around the parameter to prevent the need for temporary fencing
  • The Festival Lawn (the sandy area that’s used as overflow and vedor parking behind the park) will be improved to the quality of Frank Brown Park’s festival area
  • This area will support parking, play fields, and will have sod and irrigation
  • Additional bathroom facilities
Information about the public workshop

The public workshop is an opportunity for your voice to be heard.  The intention is to hear feedback from community residents and interested parties to get feedback on the project, it’s future use, implementation and development.  I would urge anyone that is planning on going, not to go with the intention of stopping this project.  The point is to get public feedback, and if you come with your argumentative hat on, your input will be difficult to hear.

The workshop will be held on Wednesday August 31, 2011 at 6 pm.

The issues on the agenda to discuss at the workshop:

These are bullet points provided from Panama City Beach City Manager Richard Jackson.

  • FCT (Florida Communities Trust) Management plan and their view of “passive park”
  • Parking
  • Access
  • Soccer fields
  • Number of bathrooms
  • Long term maintenance responsibility and cost
  • Environmental respect for Lullwater Lake (wetland)
  • Sound attenuation
  • Operational Standards
  • Traffic
  • Pedestrian access
  • Lighting

I have an opinion on this development, as well as the new Walmart development, as I know many of our readers do.  You can read it here.

Aaron Bessant Park, Walmart [OPINION]

The development of a new Walmart next to Pier Park and the talk of improvements to the performance infrastructure at Aaron Bessant Park have brought  some strong opinions for both sides of the argument.  Some agree, some don’t.

One of the arguments that seems to be consistent is that we don’t need more traffic in that area.  Based on conversations with city officials, planners and the TDC, the purpose of the Aaron Bessant Park improvements isn’t to necessarily increase the per-event occupancy, but rather increase the comfort by which events can set up and decrease the cost it takes to erect the staging.

And, Walmart coming here isn’t really a matter of government decision, it’s a private industry matter.

The issue of occupancy of Aaron Bessant Park

The improvements will increase the per-event occupancy to 10,000, up from 7,500, but this doesn’t mean that every event will have 10,000 attendees there.  Sure, some events will, ideally, they all would (more people at the event means more money for Panama City Beach), but most probably won’t.  In addition, don’t think that 10,000 people will mean 10,000 cars.  Studies have shown that on average, events like these bring 5 people per car to the event.  So, with that figure in mind, the parking spaces at Pier Park and the additional parking that will be provided in the western improvements should suffice.

The issue of traffic in the Pier Park area

Where we stand today, infrastructure improvements will need to be made to handle traffic in this area.  When the new Walmart is done, and tourism numbers are up, traffic along this corridor will increase.  However, at this time, plans to signalize Powell Adams Road are in place (look for this in the next 12 to 18 months) and three-laning this whole stretch of road will likely happen within 24 months, which will help.

The reality is, people want to come here because it’s paradise.  Businesses want to come here because people want to come here, and growth will happen, whether you want it to or not.

The question is not IF we’ll grow on this end of the beach, but rather HOW we’ll grow.  It’s up to members of the Panama City Beach community to help the city commissioners make right decisions in our path of growth so that 15 years down the road, we’re not looking back going, “that was a dumb decision,” or “why didn’t we do it like that?”

The issue of noise from Aaron Bessant Park

Many residents are concerned about the noise that will come from events at this new facility.  I totally understand this concern.  But, there will not be any more noise then what was already there during past events.  During any large event held at Aaron Bessant Park, the music can be heard from many of the condos and homes within a mile radius of the park.  If anything, I would think the improvements would cut some of that noise down as it is being discussed to build the structure out of concrete block.  This should insulate the sound projection to the south.

And again, the music projection from these new improvements would only be during events, which are not necessarily every weekend.