BONIFAY — The mayor of Panama City Beach, Gayle Oberst, paid a visit to the Bonifay Kiwanis Club as a guest speaker at their March 27 meeting.
“With the road becoming a four-lane, their driveway essentially will be our driveway and with only 45 miles and two red lights separating us, we’re practically becoming neighbors,” said Roger Brooks, program coordinator for Bonifay Kiwanis Club.
Oberst agreed with Brooks, saying that a large majority of their visitors come through Bonifay and that the expansion and improvements in Panama City Beach also affected the Bonifay area as well because of the four-lane expansion project to State Road 79.
“The new airport is doing well and we may be getting another low cost carrier with Delta,” said Oberst. “Our address is Panama City Beach, not just Panama City. Pier Park was finished in 2008 and they do have a Pier Park West and they are planning on selling that.”
She said there was groundbreaking ceremony held just north of that property where they expect another shopping center to be erected and will include stores such as Dick’s Sporting Goods, Rooms to Go, Logan’s Steak House, Chili’s and a Fresh Market or World Market.
“We’ve opened yet another Super Walmart, but it is not replacing the other Walmart it is in addition to, as well as a new Shoney’s at Pier Park; and that means thousands of new jobs for this area,” said Oberst. “Aaron Bessant Park is a beautiful park located next to Pier Park and through the Tourist Development Council and the benefits from BP due to the Oil Spill we were able to redo that area. The new stage is big enough for some professional acts to come in.”
She said on April 5 there would be a performance held there by the Panama City Pop Orchestra then later on there would be a jazz festival and performances by Martin Theater.
“We’re trying to bring some culture to the beach,” she said. “We’re adding 58 more bathrooms to Pier Park and when I mentioned this while waiting in line to the women’s restroom and got a standing ovation.”
Oberst said there would also be an upcoming festival site, which will be parking during events and three soccer fields when it wasn’t in use.
“There’s a 3,000-acre conservation park with nature trails and board walks free to the public that came from efforts with every environmental conservation agency in Florida to stop putting reused water into the Bay,” she said. “We’ve used Department of Transportation grants to pave nine miles outside the parks. We’re transforming Front Beach Road to include a mass transient lane and underground utilities.”
They’ve completed three streets and one section of Front Beach Road, according to Oberst.
“We’ve completed the place in front of Pineapple Willie’s,” she said. “It is beautiful with places to walk and sit and wander it leisure. This is an exciting development for our area.”
She also thanked Bonifay for being an area that helps traffic arrive in Panama City Beach.
“Since you’re helping us get traffic to us we’ve had over 200,000 visit our area last weekend alone,” said Oberst. “Things are going very well for Spring Break, we’ve only had one casualty who drank himself to death. We’ve increased our protection efforts, there’s more security and they’re more strict.”
She said that Back Beach Road has been enabled with fiber optics at all the lights to help alleviate congestion.
“There’s a room with a wall of televisions featuring every light on Back Beach Road,” she said. “They’re constantly being monitored and those lights can be tripped if they need to alleviate congestion. We’re also six-laning more of Back Beach Road, which increased traffic capacity by 25 percent.”
Oberst also said that Panama City Beach is growing fast.
“We’ve almost doubled our population since the last census,” she said. “For the first time Bay County and Panama City Beach got together to make our ordinances the same and developed a mutual aide agreement, which allows arrests to expand into each of our areas and increases our security.”
She said that Bed Tax is now at five cents to the dollar and managed by the Tourist Development Council, a Bay County Agency, to renourish the beach and market to outside areas that they are a “fun, family beach.”
“The TDC did a great job with the Oil Spill,” said Oberst. “We talked about no oil on the beach and that people could keep coming out to a safe clean beach when the scare was at it’s highest.”
She said that things are looking very well for Panama City Beach.
“The economy is looking good for us,” she said. “Now if only we could get the national economy under control.”