We have all heard the phrase that you can’t halt progress. However, if progress is detrimental, what good is it? Let’s face it, there are people out there who think that all change is bad. You probably even know someone like that. You may even feel that way at times. I am a little of both. While I like to see change, I also like to see some things stay the same. There is nothing wrong with that.
When I first visited Panama City Beach, Florida a few decades ago, I found a pleasant beachside community. It had a mix of small, family motels, larger condos, and even a larger luxury hotel or two. There were plenty of souvenir shops, arcade and amusement places, beachside restaurants, and water parks. The beach, with its radiantly white sand and unspoiled shoreline, quickly became a place that I wished to visit on a regular basis.
You can probably guess by the tone of this article that I no longer feel the same about the modern Panama City Beach. What was once a quiet resort town has fallen victim to corporate greed and over-development. Sure, progress is necessary, but not to the point where the very essence of the town is lost.
To understand my concern, let us go back a two decades to the way it was and perhaps you will understand. On my first visit to Panama City, Florida, I discovered a remarkably clean, unspoiled resort town. After spending many vacations in Daytona or Miami Beach, I did notice that the area seemed off the beaten path and in need of some updating, but it nevertheless had a certain charming appeal. There were only about two new, modern resort hotels, while the rest were the roadside motel type. Still, there was this quaint place on the map that time had apparently forgotten. As more and more people began to discover Panama City Beach, I could see that change was inevitable.
I am not opposed to change. After all, Miami Beach would not possess the same appeal if it were unchanged since 1950. Its vibrant pulse can be felt everywhere, whether it is the nightlife or the seemingly restful pace of the beachfront. Miami Beach has character that development has only enhanced.
Panama City Beach, on the other hand, has completely erased its character in the name of development. Before Hurricane Andrew, the strip was lined with gift shops, small restaurants serving local delicacies, beachside bars, a small amusement park and a water park. The city pier also sported an observation tower for all to see the magnificent views of the crystal sand beach that gleamed in the sun like fresh fallen snow.
The hurricane did enough damage on its own. The crystal white sand that made the area famous was forever washed into the ocean depths. The city’s replacement product was no match for the original and the shoreline is now reminiscent of dirty snow. Perhaps that could not be helped, and that alone would not be enough to warrant an unfavorable review of the area. The observation tower was so badly damaged, its foundation so precariously eroded that it had to be demolished. The real destruction, however, began well after the storm had dissipated.
Perhaps the reason that the city planners did not see a reason to rebuild the observation tower was that, soon enough, it would be dwarfed by the hi rise condos that were springing up everywhere. Beachfront real estate was suddenly a valuable commodity, and the large corporate developers preyed upon the struggling small roadside motels like vultures feasting on roadkill before its last dying breath.
To put it another way, the over-development of the area resembles that woman you see walking down the beach who does not realize she has packed on too many pounds to fit inside that tiny bathing suit. Like that woman, Panama City Beach does not realize it is too big to fit its clothes any more. The main beach road, Thomas Avenue, was obviously laid out long before the city planners envisioned the area’s potential as a major tourist destination. With only a few hundred yards between the road and the beach, large high rise hotels had to fit a cookie cutter mold. One by one, each plot of beachfront land fell victim to the increasingly predictable square high rise condo. Half of the rooms face the street, while the other half squarely face the Gulf. Wedged between the building and the sea wall is a plain, square pool peppered with a few umbrellas. No fancy, twisting artfully-designed hotels to add flavor to the area, no luxuriously sculpted pools with waterfalls, palm trees, and swim up bars. For that, you have to go to Miami or Mexico, not Panama City, Florida.
One real estate website boasts that the area has seen dramatic change not only in its appearance, but in the real estate market as well. If you are looking for great investment opportunities, buy buy buy! That may be good advice. Perhaps, if you invest in the real estate behemoth known as Panama City Beach, you could take the money you make and go somewhere worthwhile, such as Mexico or Costa Rica or Miami Beach. At the rate it is going, even Gary, Indiana isn’t looking so bad.