PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. (WMBB) — On Tuesday, many counties in the panhandle got the go-ahead to open short term vacation rentals.
Each county had to submit a plan to Governor Ron DeSantis and the Department of Business and Professional Regulation in order to get the rental ban lifted.
Okaloosa, Escambia, Santa Rosa, Walton, Bay, Gulf, and Franklin counties all got the green light.
“We’ve had two months around here of pretty much lock down. We’re doing really really good things as far as what we’ve been asked as far as the CDC and the federal government and the state. So I think Bay County is ready I think the southeastern United States is doing very well. We’re ready to get back to work around here,” said Bay County Commission Chairman Philip “Griff” Griffitts.
Panama City Beach Mayor Mark Sheldon says he knows the push for reopening the rentals won’t make everyone happy but it was the right thing to do.
“We totally hear your voice and that’s the same thing, we heard the vacation rental owners voice so that’s the balancing act that we’re trying to do,” said Sheldon.
The plan submitted by Bay County, Sheldon says, was created through a joint effort between himself, Chairman Griffitts, Senator George Gainer, and Representative Jay Trumbull Jr.
“We wanted to make sure we left no question in the state’s eye that we have a good enough and clean enough and clear enough plan to open safely,” said Sheldon.
Sheldon says he also believes everyone will comply with the extra guidelines to keep everyone safe but they will continue to monitor the pandemic.
“Customer safety and resident safety is first and foremost to us and public safety as a whole is first and foremost so for us, it is important economically without an ad valorem tax but we’re still watching the data everyday. We still look at the cases that come out,” he said.
Since the news was announced, many rental owners and managers say their phone lines have been extremely busy.
“Schedules just ramped up, everyone’s ready to go and a lot of the guests that were waiting to see if the rental ban was going to be lifted, those guests have gone ahead and booked so it’s hitting on all cylinders right now,” said the owner of Live the Gulf Coast Property Management and Vacation Rentals Davis Bass.
Bass and his office manages about 40 properties in the panhandle and say the closure has impacted everyone they work with.
‘To not be able to have that money in their pockets, that hurt the owners, that hurt the property managers, it hurt the housekeepers and that hurt our internal staff as well,” said Bass.
Chris Jennings and his wife own multiple vacation properties in Panama City Beach and say they have taken a major financial hit, along with many others in the area.
“There’s a ton of people around here that run their own businesses, there only source of income and when you shut everything down, that’s fine for a while. I’m not denying the virus is real but you cannot shut the world economy down for a period of time and expect people to just lay back and take it. This is the only way we make money by catering to tourists,” said Jennings.
When it comes to finances, Jennings says he believes this hit is worse than the one Hurricane Michael threw at the county.
“The hurricane did its damage but I honestly think from a financial standpoint, from businesses, maybe not so much from properties and the physical damage but from a financial standpoint, I think this virus has really done a number,” he said.
Jennings says another frustration he and others felt was the fact that hotels/ motels could operate but they couldn’t.
“I’m glad that finally got through on that double standard and once again, the condos and short term vacation rentals in Bay County are on this beach here are a good 70-80% of occupancy that we can handle here so when you take that away, it kills every other business that relies on the tourist economy,” he said.
The two businessmen and city leader agree though, things are looking up in the county with this move.
“It’s a big financial push for the city that it does open but at the same time, we’re always focused on resident safety,” said Mayor Sheldon.