Panama City Beach Identity Crisis: Will Spring Break Make a Return?

For decades, Panama City Beach was known as the world's number one spring break destination.

It was an image that city officials began distancing themselves from after the 2014 season, midst increasing crime and violence.

Spring Break in 2014 was the tipping point for city officials, with national news talk shows featuring stories about public drunkenness, drug-use, sexual promiscuity and sexual assault.

It finally came to a head after seven spring breakers were shot at a house party.

"It filled up with a problem we didn't want. They were having robberies, and shootings and fights and rapes," said Panama City Beach Mayor, Mike Thomas.

Thomas ran for mayor and gained the support of a growing number of residents who were fed up with spring break.

The city passed new ordinances designed to limit and even restrict spring break, and it worked.

Most college students have been avoiding Panama City Beach since 2015.

"Call it whatever you want, we're a bedroom community now that allows tourism," Thomas said.

But businesses that catered to spring breakers say they've suffered.

Rachel Burke, a former bartender, said she would look forward to spring break to bring in the income that was slacking during the off season.

"During September, October, November, December, you know you're going to be slow you know you're not going to make that much money, but then you know when March comes, you'll be able to catch up on bills that you got behind on during the off season," she said.

Burke is now the general manager of a beach restaurant, and claims she still hasn't recovered financially.

"I'm not saying I want to have a wild, crazy, out of control spring break again, but there's got to be a happy medium somewhere like you can't take that much income and then all of the sudden snatch it away from people," she said.

For Panama City Beach City Officials, it was a price they were willing to pay, in order to transform the beaches into a family-friendly destination.

But a new reality show may now be standing in the way of that.

MTV, which made Panama City Beach the spring break capital in the 1990's, came back last year with a new venture, Floribama Shore.

The reality show features eight young adults from across the southeast, drinking, partying and literally fighting their way through the summer.

"It was just so ironic how these were the kind of people that our town said that we wanted to get rid of, but yet MTV is showing a girl in broad daylight peeing in a trash can on the beach," Burke said.

City Officials do not seem to know how Floribama Shore got here, and if they do, they won't admit it.

"We don't give anyone permission to act like this, we don't give them permission to do shows. They come in and do them, and they get permission from businesses to be in there," Mayor Thomas said.

But Thomas believes the show's producers may be trying to rekindle that spring break reputation.

"I think that this is an attempt  for them to try to show us that we can't be the community we want to be, they're going to show us what we're supposed to be," he said.

But Burke does not think it will have a major impact.

"As long as they have the law that no alcohol  is allowed on the beach, no one is coming back. I don't care how many MTV shows they film here," she said.

Dan Rowe, President of the Tourist Development Council, said the transition away from spring break is working, but it takes time.

"The reason why we do a lot of special events in the non-summer months is to keep that revenue flowing throughout that year, so that any particular drop in any particular month is minimized," he said.

But if the college students do return, Thomas said the city will double law enforcement presence this spring to enforce the laws on the books.

"That is an era that is gone," he said. "Panama City Beach will never be what it was during those times."

MTV has renewed Floribama Shore for a second season, and shooting will begin in the next few months.

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