What was a long time landmark in Panama City Beach and quite possibly considered a home away from home for many has now fallen peril to the almighty and deathly bulldozer. What was once the destination for families and spring breakers alike is now the resting place of mountains of rubble, re-bar and kitchen sinks.
Back in 2003, nine Spring Breakers from Missouri Valley College stayed in room 121 at the Fiesta Motel. For them, the Fiesta Motel’s room 121 was headquarters for a vacation they’ll talk about long after they are married with children, retelling their Panama City Beach fun at dinner parties and get-togethers. Only three months later a family of four occupied room 121. The story they told the front desk was that they’d been married on the Fiesta Motel back deck ten years prior and stayed in that same room every year. They came back because they wanted their kids to see it and to lounge around on the “World’s Most Beautiful Beach.” When they departed, the Fiesta Motel staff gave them the room’s door plate as a souvenir. Winter of the same year, room 121 was the seasonal home for a retired Canadian couple. All their PCB friends who they’d met over the years still came back to the same place and stayed in the same rooms. It was truly, their home away from home.
Sometime in 2009 the Fiesta Motel, which to many is nothing more than an eyesore on a developing and changing beach, will finally be rubble, replaced by something big and grand. What may be demolished with it is the old Panama City Beach identity replaced as well with something that may not resemble what came before it.
As of today, the Fiesta Motel, owned by Naidip Panama City LLC out of Tampa, is slated to be demolished in September. This has gone through many phases including negotiations about gutting, remodeling and reopening the 10.3 acre property, but those talks fell through leaving the city with no option other than demolition. September is the date set for Colonial Bank to take action however the city of Panama City Beach may work to flatten the four-story blight earlier; that’s if the owners don’t do it first. This is not a route the city necessarily wants to go but has before with Salty’s, the Seascape Motel and Surfside Villas.
The job isn’t about who does it as long as it gets done. Beach Planning Director Mel Leonard, in a 2008 article with the News Herald, said “This is a very big deal for the city, the owners have waived their right to appeal the city from taking action should they fail to do it on time.” The sense of urgency surrounding the property’s inevitable destruction is felt mostly all around the beach. Mostly.
Debbie McCormick, 24 year general manager of the property, had nothing but fond things to say about the derelict edifice. “It’s an eyesore now, but it used to be a lot of fun.” She said. “One thing about the Fiesta, we didn’t spend much money on advertising. We didn’t have to sell the place because people just walked in. They loved it and so did I. I mean, I still remember the reservation number…235-1000, and I’m willing to bet I’m not the only one.”
The place has to fall. It just has to. But it should be considered what taking it down may mean. At one time the Fiesta motel was filled with people, its pool deck lively and exciting as kids splashed around and parents tanned on the most beautiful beach in the world. It was a cheap unremarkable room on a beach which gave it charm and it kind of embodied the sentiment that some people remember about Panama City Beach before the upgrades. But now a sagging chain-link fence surrounds the property, the doors have long been removed and nature has seized the parking lot with weeds. If you were to walk the property now glass would crackle under your every step and graffiti stains the walls. It looks like a more like a beached carcass than a vacation destination and it is difficult to see how the place could have been, at one time, popular accommodations.
Soon the Fiesta will fall and some, including myself, will be somewhat sad to see it go completely. The classic PCB may be going with it is as well as what ghosts remain of Starliner screams and the laughter from Petticoat Junction.
PCB will be a successful economy as long and it has beautiful beaches and though Pier Park and Ripley’s are great, people have always flocked to PCB because of the classic charm. It’s not a bad idea to remember what that means. I’m sure the people who stayed in Fiesta Motel’s room 121 haven’t forgotten that sentiment and when the property at 13626 Front Beach Road goes finally falls to the wrecker’s ball, hopefully that sentiment doesn’t go with it.
UPDATE: After speaking with Mel Leonard, Beach Planning Director, I learned that the city already has the scope of services prepared and plans to advertise bids for demolition by late June. If the city does this, the lien they place on the property becomes primary meaning that will get paid for their work before the banks do. From the moment the ball hits until the time the place is flattened should take about 60 days with some debri cleanup work on the North side of the property. The plan is, without disturbing the main vacation season, to have the demolition crew on-site after labor day perhaps nearer to October. No word yet on who or what will replace Fiesta but depending on the type of services may require re-zoning. I’ve heard all sorts of rumors from hotels to amusement parks but only one true inquiry at the Beach Planning offices about a year ago or so asking about rezoning for a camping ground. These type of re-zoning issues such as T3A’s and others are difficult to do considering the residential area on the northside. When more information comes available, we’ll keep you informed.