Panama City Beach has been the unofficial host for college spring break for years now. Concerts from big names like Luke Bryan and lax laws concerning drinking on the beach have played a huge factor in drawing in young adults by the tens of thousands.
But over the past few years, government officials and local residents have argued the issue has gotten out of hand.
Daytona Beach currently serves as a racing and motorcycle hub for the South. Though nearly 20 years ago, it was well known for something all too familiar.
“When I see it down the street coming, 2 or 3 thousand people – college kids – I say, ‘Oh my God, here they come through the stores. What’s going to happen?” said Zeno Louizes, Owner of Zeno’s Boardwalk Sweet Shop in Daytona Beach.
Back in the late 80s and early 90s, Daytona was known for famous parties, copious amounts of drinking and rampant vandalism.
“We had MTV down here back when MTV used to do those kinds of things,” said Dave Byron, Spokesperson for Volusia County. “And it was just the whole thing was just got ratcheted up and the emphasis from a publicity point of view was basically on raising Hell.”
Byron worked with Volusia County as the numbers of kids flooding the shores became unmanageable. He said the community made a mutual decision to rid the area of spring break.
“The event had gotten out of hand, and the negatives – from a community point of view – were starting to overshadow the positives,” said Byron.
The ‘world’s most famous beaches’ was becoming famous for the wrong reasons. The county de-emphasized spring break advertising and told MTV to not come back.
“When we had the spring break – we were very busy during the spring break,” said Louizes. “And after the spring break left, it went down for a little bit.”
Business took a hit back then. Louizes said a normally very busy spring season became almost non-existent for a while. However, big money-makers like the Speedway, the Convention Center and Bike Week made the rebound a little less painful.
Now, Volusia County advertising and business is focused on families – just as Panama City Beach.
“Even though many, many people still associate Daytona Beach with a spring break experience, the truth of the matter is that we’re not a significant spring break destination at all,” said Byron. “(But) I think it’s accurate to say we do battle that image.”
Even though it’s been more than 20 years since spring break was banished, Byron said the area’s past can still cause problems when trying to bring in new businesses.
“Maybe the kids that were here in the 80s and 90s, maybe they’re company owners today,” said Byron.
That being said, Daytona Beach and Volusia County are better than ever. Development is up. Tourism is up. Daytona International Speedway just underwent a multi-million dollar renovation.
As for spring break, Volusia County is well aware it has migrated to the ‘world’s most beautiful beaches.’
“The leaders need to do what they think is the right thing for your community,” said Byron. “I just know that here, in our county, we’re glad to see spring break is in Panama (City) Beach.”