PCB preps for Spring Break

Spring Break 2012
FILE PHOTO
Published: Monday, January 14, 2013 at 11:58 AM.

PANAMA CITY BEACH — January and February are the calm before the storm in Panama City Beach.

Come March, the beach will be filled with college spring breakers, and officials around Bay County are busy preparing for the challenges that arise from the month-long party.

For the last year, led by Panama City Beach Mayor Gayle Oberst and Bay County Commissioner Mike Thomas, government agencies have channeled extensive attention into exploring better management practices for Spring Break.

“I think one of the biggest things is we’ll have additional … police forces on the streets and in the crowds and that’s going to make a big difference,” Oberst said.

The Bay County Tourist Development Council (TDC) did not hesitate Tuesday when it came to deciding whether to approve a $100,000 expenditure to hire additional security for the beach in March.

With both Oberst and Thomas on the board, the agency approved the funding unanimously, $50,000 of which would go to the Panama City Beach Police Department, and the other $50,000 to the Bay County Sheriff’s Office for additional patrolling.

Although the recommendation must first go through the Bay County Commission, Panama City Beach Police Chief Drew Whitman already has a plan for the funding if it’s approved.

Whitman said the $50,000 would be used for an ATV beach patrol of four to six officers Thursdays through Sundays, specifically behind the larger Spring Break hotels and resorts.

In addition to the sand patrol, PCBPD also brings in five Panama City Police officers, five Bay County Sheriff’s deputies and officers from the Florida Highway Patrol and the state division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco for assistance. Shifts for PCBPD officers also jump to 12 hours a day, six days a week.

“Our major challenge is to make sure these kids have a good time and go home safe,” Whitman said. “We all have to work together; we can’t do this by ourselves.”

PCBPD also is offering area hotels and condominiums briefings to familiarize employees and residents on rules and regulations and the best way to react to issues surrounding Spring Break.

“We reach out to everyone who wants to be a part of the team,” Whitman said. “We go over what to look for and how to help us out, and how to protect a crime scene until we get there.”

Other improvements made, Oberst said, come from new “no parking” signs in the Spring Break’s most congested areas, a cleaned up special events permitting process, new sidewalks and a streamlined towing service.

Oberst said police have been instructed to look for “pop-up” clubs that operate without sufficient facilities.

“We’re trying to watch for those kinds of things and keep them in line,” Oberst said. “I think we’ve gotten quite a bit done. We’ve tried to do the best we could.”

For the TDC, Spring Break presents an obstacle in overcoming the negative stigmas about Spring Break in Panama City Beach.

“It has unique challenges that could negatively impact our brand” year-round, said TDC Executive Director Dan Rowe. “Spring Break can negatively impact people’s perceptions of Panama City Beach as a tourist destination other times of the year.”

Rowe is hoping funding for additional law enforcement will limit the number of “negative events” that happen during Spring Break that fuel those perceptions.

“Spring Break is an important economic driver for Panama City Beach; it generates a lot of visitor spending during the month of March,” Rowe said. “It’s an important segment, but again, it does have impacts on the community.”

Following direction from a 2009 Spring Break workshop with members of the community, Rowe said the TDC has since placed less emphasis on marketing Panama City Beach as a Spring Break destination.

“What the business community said was that the TDC needs to really start to focus more on telling Panama City Beach’s story, not to advertise Panama City Beach as a Spring Break destination as much,” Rowe said. Spring Break is “very important to us, but it doesn’t define us.”

Rowe said Panama City Beach is a summer family vacation beach more than anything else, with family vacation travel consistently the area’s number one market.

From a marketing standpoint, Rowe said, the TDC’s Spring Break advertising is very limited and very targeted.

Rowe said the TDC’s messaging always encourages responsible spring breaking. The agency markets primarily through Facebook advertising on college campuses and also contributes to a cooperative marketing plan area businesses created with Collegiate Marketing Group last year.

“With Spring Break and the community, every year we continue to look at how (can) we do it better,” Rowe said. “How do we balance these two things. … It’s not an easy task.”



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