Local Residents Speak Out Against Aaron Bessant Park Improvements

by September 1, 2011 • 15 comments

Wednesday evening, the City of Panama City Beach held a public workshop to discuss the improvements slated for Aaron Bessant Park. While many spoke in agreement with the improvements, many local area residents were against the improvements and/or how they were to be done – many making suggestions for how they thought the improvements should be done.

The improvements for Aaron Bessant Park include a new amphitheater, more bathroom facilities and soccer fields.

The opposition

The commenters in opposition of the improvements were concerned about many of the same issues:

  • Traffic
  • Noise
  • The environment

“I called Mr. Jackson at 11pm Saturday night to complain about the noise,” one resident said, “his wife said he was asleep. . .  I said ‘wake him up, this noise is too loud, too late.”

Another area resident said, “I should not be able to hear every word from these concerts from my porch, are the noise levels being policed?”

“I sat through six lights waiting to cross Back Beach while the cops kept letting everyone just turn,” a resident of Palmetto Trace said, “never mind you who want to just go home.”

“These events are nice, but what happens when both entrances of Palmetto Trace are blocked and there is an emergency where fire, emt and police can’t get in to the neighborhood,” said another resident of Palmetto Trace.

This meeting seemed timely for many residents since the Christian Music Fest, the first of the Fun Never Sets Fall Concert Series was last weekend.  The noise levels seemed higher than normal.  I personally experienced the noise levels being able to hear it from Highway 79.

Suggestions from the opposition

One of the commenters insinuated that those that were in ‘opposition’ of the improvements weren’t against a new amphitheater being build, but rather how it was being build and where it was being built.  Many made suggestions for facing it another way, moving it all together or not building it at all.

Facing it towards the Gulf

Several made the suggestion to face the amphitheater towards the Gulf, stating that if it was just point away from residential neighborhoods that it could help. This option was explored in conversation, but didn’t seem plausible based on the facts.

If it were to be placed on the opposite side of the field, the current restroom structure would have to be demolished, increasing the development cost.  “The budget is already extremely tight,” said Mario Gisbert, CRA Manager of Panama City Beach.  In addition, that would face it towards another residential area and a few Gulf-front condos – leading to a reflective effect.  This sound reflection could carry the sound right into even more residential area.

Another suggestion was made to place the amphitheater where the current veteran’s memorial is and direct the sound over Pier Park towards Calypso Resort Towers.  This suggestion drew the ire of Veterans, Pier Park and those residents that stood to receive sound reflection from Calypso Resort.

Moving it to Frank Brown Park

One suggestion was made to move the amphitheater to Frank Brown Park.

One council person’s response was, “I don’t know what that would solve, Frank Brown Park is literally closer to Palmetto Trace.”

Building an convention center up Highway 79

One commenter suggested that we ‘bond’ it out, buy the land and build a convention center up north on Highway 79.  She mentioned “the airport’s up there, we’re trying to grow up there, it makes sense to just build something like this up there.”

Mayor Oberst: “We don’t have the land, we don’t have the money, that’s just not going to happen. . . The Panama City Beach Convention and Visitor’s Bureau has offered to pay for this, and this is what we can afford.”

Additionally, if people are concerned about traffic now, what will happen when 5,000 cars are all coming down Highway 79 to travel through the 79/Back Beach Road intersection after an event?

Supporters of the improvements

“We have to remember, we live in a tourist town.  We all reap the benefits of this.  We enjoy no property taxes because of the sales tax that is mostly paid by our out-of-town guests.  Did you know that 40% of all the month that goes to our schools from that 1/2 cent sales tax comes from tourists? We all benefit from that.  We have to do things that extend our season.  Right now we operate at a 49 to 60 day season – we have to do everything we can to extend that season and bring people down here so we can make a living” – Jack Bishop

“I moved down here five years ago because I love it here, and I love seeing us do progressive things and making hard decisions.  I say go for it,” said a Palmetto Trace resident.

Many were in support of the improvements and agreed that the area needs to do anything it can to bring more people to Panama City Beach stating tourism is the life-blood of our area.  Some of the supporters mentioned some of the good they saw from this:

  • The opportunity to have better quality event infrastructure
  • Solidified event ordinances
  • Firm and contractual operational standards (noise, traffic, time restraints)

Doug Sale, the staff counsel explained that this whole ordeal is not as simple as the “bricks and mortar ‘it’, but about the structure and how it will be operationally ran. . .  and with that, we can determine what sound levels are acceptable, what times are ok to operate, etc.”   He reminded everyone that the purpose of the workshop was to get feedback as to the concerns of the area residents and that “we got a lot of good feedback.”

Comments

Overall, what are your thoughts on this?  Were you there Wednesday evening?  What are your concerns?

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1 Jerry Tucker September 1, 2011 at 12:05 pm

Sounds to me like the powers to be don’t want critisium of there idea. Residents get screwed, it happens all the time. I’m a snow bird, if the music is to loud or the traffic is to much I’ll just move up to Destin and they can take there money pit and shove it. I’m still smarting from the Strawberry festival last year, what a rip-off!!

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2 Concerned Resident September 2, 2011 at 9:13 am

Lets face it!!! This is done and no matter what the opposition says we are stuck with it. The addition of a new walmart and this increased concert venue plus growing tourism to the area is a perfect storm. Watch out when all three happen the only mode of transportation will be on foot. City of PCB and TDC be carefull what you wish for. If you are broke now, who is going to pay for the cops to police all this activity

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3 Rob N September 2, 2011 at 10:25 am

Just more growing pains for the Island!

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4 Bubba Gump September 2, 2011 at 10:30 am

So there’s not enough money to build it right but there is enough to build it incorrectly?
The condo owners shouldn’t complain since they live in the middle of the tourist resort but the residents live in the residential areas, not comnmercial like the condo’s.

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5 sire September 2, 2011 at 11:17 am

Having concerts and shows has always been a challenge in PCB. For some reason officials, or whoever, want to continue to put these venues in places that already have too much going on. I for one would love to see PCB attract large, national touring shows. In order to do that we need to build a venue in a place that has ENOUGH ROOM for parking, exit and entry, and acts that would be too big for Aaron Bessant. Building a fancy stage with no real facility, like say a parking garage, will continue to bring what we already get. I agree with Bubba. We should save our money and think of something else.

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6 Jeanne September 2, 2011 at 9:38 pm

I agree with Sire and others. Do it in another location, do it right, or don’t do it at all. Cheap and fast is getting us nowhere–just making it harder and harder for full-time residents.

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7 Ryan September 2, 2011 at 10:48 pm

Why even bother voicing your opinion. They don’t care. Vote all incumbents out. Let them make their way in the private sector.

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8 jamnolfin September 4, 2011 at 10:18 pm

We’ve needed this for years. What do you people think we are supposed to do with all of the vacant land around Pier Park? Maybe we should leave it woods so you dont have to put up with tourists in a tourist town. To the guy that said he will move to Destin. Im in Destin as much as PCB and PCB is much quieter. If you live near front beach road and its loud, well Duh! How many shows do you think they will have at Pier Park, maybe a couple a month, 4 in the summer. Its a bigger stage with a big show every now and then, no more no less.

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9 Lisa September 5, 2011 at 7:35 pm

We are yearly tourists at PC Beach. We saw the stage being set up for the Christian music concert while we were down last weekend. We stayed on Front Beach Rd. directly across from Hwy 79 in the Beachside Townhouses. The traffic was really light until the Friday preceding Labor Day and at that point it was bumper to bumper down Front Beach. Why not scrap the Pier Park West project and put the ampitheater, new bathrooms and the soccer fields where that is proposed to go? Does PC Beach really need another part of Pier Park? That place is huge. And what about the property where the Miracle Strip Amusement Park used to be? What are the plans for that property? Regardless, PC Beach is our choice for our beach vacation every year, noise or no noise, whatever is decided. We love coming there and spending our money.

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10 Pat September 5, 2011 at 7:49 pm

Great article, Jason. Thank you for relating what took place at the meeting. Please keep us posted.

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11 Sandra Ball September 5, 2011 at 11:52 pm

Everyone wants to grow but along with growth comes expense. We can come up with money for building projects but is there money for maintence??? People have a right to peace and quite at their home. You need to find another place for this. I like the idea of 79 north>

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12 Resident September 6, 2011 at 9:30 am

What most don’t understand is that the cost of this will ultimately be turned over to the city and the residents. The TDC is only putting up “start-up” costs.

Believe me when I say someone is in bed with the TDC and Sports Marketing Group. “Why?” you ask “don’t they put it at Frank Brown?”……they anticipate more baseball fields, and the TDC will support it annually if this deal goes through.

Don’t be fooled, this is a land deal and nothing more. And at the expense of the residents and city, no doubt. Watch…..it’s coming!!!!

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13 greggt September 7, 2011 at 10:54 am

The purpose of the TDC is to use the bed tax collected to pomote tourism. I believe this project will do just that. The additional visitors will add to the sales tax collected which in turn will help support it.
Like it or not, PCB economy is based upon tourism, this is what the park improvements are about. I don’t disagree a better location could have been found.

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14 Resident September 8, 2011 at 1:14 pm

Do you know they blocked off access to our Veterans Memorial during the last paid concert? AND blocked off local paths to pier park from the neighborhoods because they didn’t want people to be able to listen for free. HMMMMM …….They are not bothered that the noise is intrusive to the neighborhoods, but don’t want people to listen for free? Sounds like hogwash to me. Why not put it inside a building, then? They are taking much more than the area where the concert is held away from the public. This was intended to be a City Park for the people.

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