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