Congestion on Back Beach Road to Increase

The speed limit has been lowered to 45mph, Pier Park is attracting new stores, Wal-Mart will be calling the area home soon, and now Pier Park North is scheduled to be built. Many complain about the congestion and traffic on the stretch of Back Beach Road near Pier Park already, but with these factors those commuting through Back Beach Road should expect the congestion to increase.

While the speed-limit being lowered on Back Beach Road upset many locals at first, the new development across from Pier Park has changed a lot of opinions. Considering the traffic that the increased shopping areas will add 45mph seems necessary to ensure safety.

When the new Wal-Mart was being negotiated those who lived in the neighborhoods around Pier Park were in an uproar.  Is noise and traffic a fair price to pay for a turnaround in the economy? How do you feel now that there are many factors contributing to the increase in traffic and noise?

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.

 

Spring Breakers Hit PCB sans Seventeen Magazine

According to our friends over at tripsmarter.com, there are roughly two million kids turned loose from colleges nationwide, all in the name of Spring Break and shaking off the past Winter Quarter.

I’m willing to bet that about 500,000 of those kids on break right now can be found in the beer aisle at Wal-Mart on Front Beach Rd.

Article

Ok, well maybe I’ve inflated that number a bit (the Wal-Mart estimate, not the Tripsmarter.com one) but all it takes is one adventurous jaunt to Wal-Mart at 7:30am on a Saturday to understand where that estimate stemmed from.

Sure, we can look at hotel bookings, or in-bound flights, but personally, the real test of numbers comes from those of us who live here on a day-to-day basis. We’re the ones who have to add an additional 15 minutes to our morning commute due to the surge in traffic and more recently, the surge in accidents from crazed college drivers.

It’s a strange love-hate vibe our community harbors for Spring Breakers. In fact, it’s almost along the lines of a kid-brother, or sister. Sure, the younger sibling may drive you batty, but we’re the only ones who’ve earned the right to talk smack about them. After all, we loan them our town, our beaches, and our homes for a couple of months every year and we do love them, despite how much they annoy us.

Yet, when a national magazine like Seventeen Magazine decides to run a piece on the evils of our town and our young Collegiates, it’s only natural that we would take a few moments to address some of the things the magazine stated.

It’s shocking that a relatively credible magazine like Seventeen, would opt to run such a slanderous piece on Panama City. Especially considering the run of hard luck the Gulf had last year and the extensive campaigns we’ve launched to rectify the negative PR during the Oil Spill.

The article used some pretty bold words to describe our town, referring to Spring Break in Panama City Beach as “disgusting, degrading and dangerous, especially to Women.” Ironically, this is the same Magazine who runs articles offering  “Flirting Tips” or  “How to Attract Men” and a “Fertility Calender” to their demographic predominantly comprised of teenage girls and tweens.

Seventeen Magazine went on to state that Spring Break in Panama City Beach was a “grim reality” filled with trash, drunks and casual sex.  Descriptive words capable of summing up any Frat Party. Hell,  if you want to get really down to it, out-of-control antics like those, are present in every town across the nation.

A large concert in Atlanta suddenly erupts in gunfire, some party in New York lands the kids in the hospital for excessive drinking, and then of course, for some college-age kids, that might just be any random Friday night out in San Francisco.

My point is, that it’s the people that bring the excess, not the location. A more constructive article would have been one that offered tips on enjoying the school break while remaining safe and aware. As opposed to running a piece dismissing Spring Break in PCB.

There’s a level of responsibility that needs to be accepted by those visiting our town. If you want to enjoy Spring Break, don’t make dumb choices.  Don’t drink too much, drink some water, eat some food, use sunblock and don’t make out with weirdos or strangers.

Our Police Department works hard to maintain the safety of everyone who visits or lives in Panama City Beach but it’s up to those visiting to meet us in the middle.

Firefly’s “Dinner without Devices” Recap

On Friday night, Firefly restaurant hosted a night of “Dinner without Devices.”

It was an evening of divine dinner sans Blackberries, IPhones, IPads and the like.  It was a seemingly simple task, which involved placing our phones in the designated basket on the table, encouraging people to unwind and “disconnect” from instant messaging, Facebook updates and texting while reconnecting with your dinner date.

Recap Below

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Dive Locker- Nationally Acclaimed Local Business

The Ocean is my vision of the world’s first bonafide Minx.

She’s the original siren, proven capable of luring good men and women into uncertain voyages with her immense appeal, infinite depths, unpredictable temper and unmatched power.

The Sea’s effeminate qualities are limitless, and despite the extensive explorations we’ve bombarded her with, the Ocean still remains a coquettish mystery to us.

In short, the brazen lady scares the beejeebus out of me.

Sure, I’m game for swimming around the beach and even paddling out for a good surf session (for “good surf session” read lounging on the board, dangling my toes in the water) but so far,  that’s the extent of my courageous ocean adventures.  Skimming through waves, and executing fancy face-plants in the sandy shores.

Thankfully, there are others who have significantly more courage and have managed to turn the mighty ocean into a watery play-ground by delving deep into the worlds that exist far beneath the deceptively calm surface.

Oceanic Rock Stars, if you will, touring for miles underwater, in order to explore, discover and learn firsthand what potentially historical treasures lay at rest on the Ocean’s floor. In fact, our little town is home to some nationally acclaimed oceanic rock stars. Granted, they don’t define themselves by that term (that’s all mine baby) and prefer to go by the slightly more humble moniker of Professionally Certified Divers.

I’m referring to the one and only Dive Locker on Thomas Drive. Recently honored by being listed in Scuba Diving Magazine, as one of the best Dive Operations in the 2011 Readers Choice Top 100.

It’s easy to see why they’ve obtained such a prestigious nomination. The passion they exude for diving is evident in even casual encounters with everyone involved with Dive Locker’s operations.

Throughout the process of trying to coordinate our schedules, we were able to eventually connect and get a little Q & A action together. Thankfully, they were kind enough to answer my questions, and help shed a little insight on the people behind the shops success.  Most of the responses are from Tony Snow, Dive Locker’s Owner Extraordinaire, with additional comments provided by Brandon (who, according to the Dive Locker’s website, is aspiring to become the first underwater ninja. I commend you good sir. Ninjas rock) and Todd, Dive Locker’s Head Instructor, who has consistently been honored in PADI’S Top Ten as a top rated dive instructer.

Interview:

  • PCB:
    How long has Dive Locker been in business, has it always been in its current location?
  • DL: It’s been around for 8 years and yes, it originated in this location and has been here ever since.
  • PCB:
    Did business suffer last year with the oil spill?
  • DL: Despite the oil spill we still had a productive year, especially compared to others. There was great potential for the best season ever before the spill occurred. Unfortunately the negative media coverage scared away a lot of potential and existing customers so it is really difficult to say how much we were affected.
  • PCB:
    As Divers, did you guys see any evidence of oil, while you were in the water?
  • DL: Yes, but small amounts. There were several times when diving from shore that our staff encountered tar balls or sheen. However, they disappeared quickly and we have yet to see them since. We were very fortunate compared to surrounding areas.
  • PCB:
    Panama City Beach has been dubbed the “Wreck Capital of The South,” is there any idea how many sunken ships are in the area? Are divers still finding more?
  • DL: Countless amounts. The wonderful thing about the gulf is there is so much unchartered areas. People find new treasures all of the time. I think that is a contributing factor of why people dive. We are fascinated with the unknown. The ocean is a great place to explore and possibly find a piece of history.
  • DL (Todd)
    We have tons of Wrecks within just a few miles of our Pass. The Closer Wrecks are Red Sea, a newly placed tug, is our most recent wreck. The local dive community all worked to raise the money and get that one placed here. Black Bart, an oil field supply vessel is easily our most dove ship wreck. The USS Strength, an old navy mine-sweeper is one of the more interesting wrecks due to its condition. It has been blown in half, so it has a neat dive profile. A prototype Hovercraft also sits on the bottom in shallow. A Little Further Out, there’s the Accokeek, A tug that served during WWII now sits in about 110 feet of water. The Grey Ghost, an Old Navy Tug sunk in July 1978 as one of our first artificial reefs. Mac’s Reef, a retired navy barge sunk in 2007. Simpson, our shallowest wreck, is about 20 feet, but ten miles down shell island sunk in 1929
  • DL (Brandon)
    We are the “wreck capitol of the south”. We easily have over 30 wrecks in the area, along with sunken bridge spans. Most of the wrecks in the area are part of the artificial reef program, but they are still amazing dive sites. We do have a few “natural” wrecks. The Empire Mica, which stands out the most to me was sunk by a German U-Boat during WW2. Another natural wreck is the Tarpon. An old cargo ship that was overloaded (cocky Captain) and sank 12 miles offshore in the middle of a storm. Crew members of these two wrecks and a few other wrecks lost their lives during the sinking. The Mica and Tarpon are said to be haunted.

When I asked them about the coming season, and their feelings on its potential, Brandon summed it up with this statement: “We have high hopes for the coming season. I personally think this will be an awesome season for diving and for us. I think we will definitely bounce back from the oil spill last year. THERE IS NO OIL HERE! You can quote that.”

And so I did.

Dive Locker is the place to go when you’re ready to discover something new and exhilarating – especially if you feel as if you’ve done everything Panama City Beach has to offer. If you fit that description, then this is your key to unlocking a completely unique adventure.

Dive Locker (888) 612-7968 | 106 Thomas Drive | Panama City Beach, FL 32408

2011 Tourism Predictions- Staffing Spree

This is the third article in a series that explores 2011 Tourism Predictions for Panama City Beach.

“If you market it, you must be prepared to staff it”

This is a *statement liberated from Socrates’s, um- well, his lesser known cousin, ahem, **Heraclitus.

However, let’s not quarrel over the origins of the statement, and opt to simply take into consideration it’s message.

We’ve been marketing, promoting, negotiating and canoodling with every possible venue, avenue, social site and persons, to spread the good word.

The word being that Spring Break & the Summer Season of 2011, is bigger and now-with-more-sparkles, then this past year of troubled times. The campaign has been proving it’s success through various ways of tracking, and along with the success of inviting the masses into our community, we’ve properly followed through by reaching out to the employable community to help handle the welcomed influx.

Article Below

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Gulf World Marine Park

Sometimes, when you move to a new town, you end up being submerged in the mechanics of day-to-day life faster then you can learn your new ZIP code.

The hunt to find work, the nearest grocery store and safe areas for your family to play, are usually on the Top Priority list.

Then, all of the sudden, the dust has settled, your routine is established and you find yourself at a Marine Park being kissed sweetly by a gigantic seal.

Which is exactly what happened to me. We had been so focused on starting our lives here that we rarely took a moment to actually look around and enjoy the amazing things our community has to offer.

Since I’m considered a fledgling Panama City Beach-ian, my boss had the foresight to send me out to Gulf World.

The idea behind that was to get a fresh take on a place that’s been around for so long, people simply use it as a directional landmark now.

Originally established in 1969, Gulf World has steadily grown in size and animal capacity. Yet, despite the overall expansion, the park has held on to an intimate vibe that’s refreshingly unique. Especially considering we’re a nation that’s been known to embrace the “Go Big or Go Home” mantra. The fact that this modest 6 acre park has managed to maintain the ability of getting up close and personal with almost every critter that calls Gulf World home, instantly enabled a sense of bonding with the animals unlike any I’ve ever experienced.

Gulf World’s focus on educating the general public is evident, but instead of lulling the audience to sleep with stats and facts, the educational focus is crafted with a finesse-like infusion of fun.

I was lucky enough to catch the tail end (Queen Of Punny, I know) of the bird show. While the trainer captured my attention with little tricks that showcased the birds intelligence, she equally succeeded in peaking my interest with knowledgeable tidbits. Informative lessons ranging from where the bird is traditionally found in the wild, to the kind of food these fine-feathered chatterboxes enjoy dining on.

I was caught off-guard with the sudden realization that I was leaning forward in my seat, eagerly anticipating what would happen next. Shocking to me, since before that moment, I would never have called myself a “bird-person.” So kudos to Gulf World for not only breaking through my indifference, but for creating a show so entertaining that the educational aspect became as fascinating as the birds.

Have you ever seen a bird “go” grocery shopping? Have you ever watched a bird, literally stand before a shelf of “perishable” items, then select what he wants and place it into his little shopping cart?

Thanks to Gulf World, I can go on record as saying, I Have and it was awesome.

Moving on from the birds, it’s easy to say that the dolphins, turtles and sea lions are the most popularized characters through out the park.

There are two variations of dolphins at Gulf World, one is the typical Bottle Nose dolphin and one is a lesser known Rough Tooth Dolphin. Both types of dolphins are incredible to watch.

The grace and playfulness of such a magnificant creature is mind-blowing to see up close.  Which goes back to that unique intimitacy that the park offers and being that this was the first chance I’ve ever been that close to a dolphin, it was no surprise when a bevvy of emotional thoughts jumped to the forefront in my noggin.

For me, the first emotion is the serenity that these beautiful creatures provoke. Only to be followed with the realization that they were probably smarter then me too, and in a true spirit of just how intimate this park really is, I was able to clearly catch the dolphin’s knowing smile and faint flicker of agreement.

Thanks Pal.

The Rough Tooth Dolphin offers an interesting back-story, especially since there’s very little information readily available on that particular type of dolphin. Their common name refers to the thin lines of enamel that run vertically down the dolphin’s teeth.  Rough Tooth dolphins prefer deeper waters, which is partially the reason for the limited information on them. However, these dolphins seem to adapt well to captivity with proven intelligence and creativity.

Less than a dozen Rough-toothed dolphins live in various parks around the world, yet our very own Gulf World is proud to be home to seven of them.

Five of these dolphins were stranded in Cape San Blas, and ended up being moved in to the park.  Then two others were stranded in another location.  Since Gulf World already had an existing pod- it made sense for the other two to come join their family in Panama City Beach. All of them are now permanent residents here, and all boast good health, loving care and have embraced their playful natures.

It was such a heart-warming story, that after hearing it, I was secretly wishing I could reach in and stroke their wittle underbellies.

In addition to rescuing the Rough Tooth Dolphins, Gulf World has opened it’s doors to a wide variety of other creatures. One notable addition is a dolphin who had been diagnosed with scoliosis, and deemed unreleasable. This Dolphin seems right at home at the park  and considering his amenities include a personal Chiropractor, it’s not surprising.  The big-galut will never be able to fully correct his curved tail, but his daily life at the marine park is focused around his physical comfort and over-all well being.

Judging from his festive swimming- he seemed like he felt just right.

The adventures of Gulf World continue beyond this article, and it doesn’t really matter if you’ve been there so many times that the Turtles know YOU by name- go ahead, swing by and get fishy kisses from a sea lion.

If you’ve never been there, make this vacation the one that changes that.