Opinion: Why all the 30A Love?

by September 11, 2009 • 20 comments

Recently a trip to 30A by the TooCreative team, meant to experience the magnetism of a increasingly popular area just west of Panama City Beach, caused grumbles among a few of our readers. Questions as to why a hyper-local media outlet would suddenly focus on a totally different city filled comment and email boxes. Well, just so you know, there was an underlying purpose behind the trip that walking the cobblestone streets only seemed to underscore: the future of Panama City Beach is on 30A.

It should be said that Panama City Beach’s future is much, much, larger than 30A and to be frank, I’ve always seen Panama City Beach becoming a smaller-less-hedonistic version of Miami. At the same time, however, I recognize how badly PCB is in need of an identity change. With the new airport scheduled to be operational in less than a year, there is not enough time to truly make the change needed to not only win over the new market but to change the unflattering perceptions of PCB in current markets. The solution then, is 30A.

Many readers took our trip to 30A as betrayal; us PCBdaily guys going over to talk about the enemy. You’d be shocked at how many people criticized us saying we were turning our heads towards Destin. My initial reaction was that perhaps they don’t realize how close Panama City Beach is to 30A—much closer than Destin, they don’t realize Bay County ends mere yards from the luxurious strip, they don’t understand that when that new airport comes online Panama City Beach’s inevitable expansion will go westward right into, you guessed it, 30A. So why all the canoodling, you ask? Well, it’s all about perception.

If you’ve never been to New York City, New York, you may not realize the actual size of the city. It’s big, but not as big as you may think. Southerners are notorious for assuming that when someone from “Up North” says, I’m from New York, they automatically are from New York City. That’s not the case. But the perception still lingers. Same case for 30A. When people talk about Rosemary Beach, Grayton Beach and great restaurants like Calizas or the Red Bar, others assume they are talking about Destin. Imagine if those same people associated those places with Panama City Beach. All of a sudden, the Redneck Riviera takes on a more artistic and cultural identity. Imagine if Panama City Beach a held few of its events in Rosemary Beach or encouraged Seaside to hold part of its festivals at Pier Park. Imagine if the magic that makes up Panama City Beach blended with the magic of Seaside. The benefit would be immense.

This idea, mind you, didn’t come out of thin air and surely I am not the first person to think of it. I once worked for a company called Paradise Found Vacation Rentals, who coincidentally rented units in the Villages of South Walton. I saw firsthand the guests who stayed spent more time in Panama City Beach than 30A. Currently, Oaseas Resorts rents units within the Village of South Walton.

The big question on everyone’s mind is, when that new clientele from Chicago and New York fly into the new airport will they be more inclined to turn left off 79 or right? Many of these people have never heard of Panama City Beach and if they have they know the city as the party-capitol-of-the-south. I’ve lived in St. Louis, been to Chicago, Cincinnati and spent time in New York. What Panama City Beach is growing and developing into is a better, more multifaceted landing pad for this new clientele; a clientele who likes jazz and blues, good wine, attractions, shopping, beach lifestyle and well staffed, nicely appointed accommodations. Panama City Beach will be that place, and it almost is now, but not quite. What you have on 30A is a ready-made transition for that clientele. I’m not suggesting Panama City Beach guests go out and stay or spend all their money on 30A, only that they see 30A as an extension of Panama City Beach’s versatility, giving Panama City Beach a richer, enhanced perception.

This all begins with co-operatives. As it stands, Panama City Beach allows the Destin area to assume 30A as its own. With new ad/creative and PR agencies representing Panama City Beach, co-operatives with businesses, accommodations and events in that area will be easier than ever. And, truth be told, if you don’t think 30A businesses have PCB envy already, you’re wrong. During our trip to 30A, we found that lots of business would be more willing to work with Panama City Beach than you might imagine. In fact, only one comment, out of dozens, said “only if Panama City Beach cleans up its image,” the others were excited about the prospect. There simply needs to be a greater participation and Panama City Beach imprint in that area. We could exchange databases, co-op for events, work together on city programs such as beach clean-up and recycling and so much more. In the end, Panama City Beach will absorb some of 30A’s magic and 30A will ride the wave of Panama City Beach’s expansion. It’s a virtual win-win, if not an inevitability.

I guess this piece is a call to action. Panama City Beach needs to extend a hand to 30A. This isn’t “betrayal” thinking as much as it is “futuristic” thinking. We only have one shot to make a great impression on New York, Chicago, Detroit and cities we never dreamed would have direct flights into our little town. Now is the time to set aside our differences and show these new vacationers everything we have to offer. So, CVB, TDC, JB Inc, Fahlgren, Lou Hammond and all you local business owners we encourage you to take a ride and re-discover 30A; I’m positive you’ll find yourself thinking what I’m thinking.

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1 Mac September 11, 2009 at 9:42 am

Panama City Beach will not be like 30A, period. Would Seaside let the Spring Break drunks & druggies behave the way they do in PCB? Where are the adult shops, tattoo shops, and other run down buildings on 30A? If PCB wants to become 30A you have to decide if you are really serious about changing. Getting rid of Spring Break would be a start. You cannot be a luxury destination with a porno shop next door. Your kidding yourself if just Pier Park & the airport will change your image.

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2 Michele September 11, 2009 at 12:00 pm

You’re absolutely right, Mac!!! 30A is upscale and classy. PCB is not, and will never be 30A. Cebo, I understand what you’re saying (and hoping). I live in Chicago and I can tell you that when Chicagoans drive from the new airport they will turn right off of 79 and head toward 30A and Walton County.

I hope I am proved wrong, and PCB can lean up its act, but I really don’t see it happening.

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3 Tim September 11, 2009 at 12:30 pm

Can you provide the Readers Digest version of this post? I get tired easily.

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4 Bearabull September 12, 2009 at 7:34 am

I’m curious as to what type of advertising will be done in the cities mentioned such as Chicago and when. The only advertising you see in Chicago is for Florida and that does not mention PCB, only the cities in the lower part of the state.

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5 Jellen September 12, 2009 at 6:14 pm

Rosemary Beach and Alys Beach use a Panama City Beach zip code, not a Destin zip code.

I like your intent, Cebo, but PCB is not even close to a high-end destination. PCB is not competing against Destin or Fort Walton or Mexico Beach or any other Emerald Coast town for well-to-do vacationers from Chicago, New York, LA, Detroit or any other location that is outside of PCB’s regular 8-hour drive tourist areas. For those vacationers, PCB is competing against other Florida coasts, South Carolina, Mexico and Carribean Islands at the very least. Well-to-do northern vacationers have only vaguely heard of PCB and not in a good way. They associate PCB (actually they generally just say “Panama City”) with drunken spring breaks and, if they’ve been here for the Ironman events, as “very blue-collar”. I know. I try to encourage people in those markets to visit PCB and I always get the same responses. PCB has a very long way to go. Judging from the focus of the marketing conversations on PCB Daily, I don’t see your hopes, Cebo, being realized in the near future. Stay on message, though, and maybe you will get through to people.

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6 Jake September 13, 2009 at 3:40 pm

Fantastic idea and concept – but I am afraid the reality of it is at least a decade (if not more) away. PCB is going to have to work twice as hard to be considered half as good as 30A. Yes, PCB is making great strides in changing the overall image due to the TDC, new shopping, restaurants, etc., but one point many seem to be missing is that 30A was created/evolved as an extension of planned luxury resorts (Seaside, Rosemary Beach, WaterColor, etc.). The clientele for the area came from these resorts, helping to establish the area’s reputation. PCB was NOT built like this, rather is a blend of old non renovated stores built in the 70’s right next to brand new high rise condos. Where else can you find high end condos overlooking a mobile home park? You will not find this along 30A – hence a different clientele. I agree with Mac in regards to how the 30A corridor would react to the lewd behavior of the spring breakers and the stores that exist on the beach that you would never see driving up and down 30A. I hate to sound negative, but once an area has an established reputation, it is virtually impossible to diminish or change that reputation without eradication of businesses and business owner’s livelihoods. Basically, I think that until the businesses that cater to spring breakers and perpetuate the “Redneck Riviera” image run their course and cycle out and new/more relevant shops and establishments take their place the overall image of PBC will remain as is. How can we expect to have a prior Rosemary Beach renter stay within eyesight of a place that advertizes “Pipes, Tattoos, Adult Novelties, and Piercings” in the window?? Bottom line, we can not expect visitors to lower their standards; rather we have to raise the bar.

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7 Jeff September 15, 2009 at 10:33 am

It didn’t take Ft. Lauderdale a decade to transform from Spring break mecca to world class resort. It just takes a unified effort. If enough interested and powerful parties, including St. Joe, get together and truly desire transformation, it will happen. Bay county needs to step up and extend the proposed Front Beach Road inprovements west from Panama City Beach to Carillon Beach. In addition, height restrictions need to be implimented on the west end to form a buffer from 30A to the existing 20 story highrises. Height and density restrictions contributed to the success of 30A. If a developer can not maximize profit by building 20 stories on the beach, he will maximize profit with very high quality low rise structures. Restrict the party atmosphere to the Thomas Drive area. There are no tattoo or adult stores from Pier Park west to Walton County. Keep it that way. Also, the locals who I know that live on 30A are thrilled that Pier Park exists. There will never be a Target on 30A. And frankly 30A can get boring. Panama City Beach should not try to become another 30A but should be more like it. And more associated with it than with Panama City. Remember, the new airport isn’t in Panama City.

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8 Rob September 15, 2009 at 7:26 am

Its a good article, and I hope you are right Cebo. But like the other commenters, PCB has a long way to go to clean up its image.
Compare Rosemary Beach with Thomas Drive, from Schooners up to La Vela. True, that’s probably the oldest part of PCB (and largely residential) but areas like that need to change as well. The sidewalks and resurfacing are only a small part.

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9 Steve September 15, 2009 at 8:34 am

How many motorcycle rallies do you think 30A sponsors and welcomes. No, Rosemary Beach is kicking off a partnership with FSU for cinema. We have wine tastings on 30A, not wet t-shirt contests. You are very confused.

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10 Steve September 15, 2009 at 8:38 am

I had a renter from Chicago call me as they drove through PCB on their way to their destination in Rosemary Beach. They were TERRIFIED that their destination was going to be IN PCB. Fortunately, I was able to assure them they could relax. They didn’t have to STAY in PCB. Most people that come to 30A are looking for something very different than what PCB has to offer. Sad, but true, PCB has sold their identity for short term gain.

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11 Nikki Lindsey September 15, 2009 at 9:08 am

The more PCB seems like the high-end areas to the west, the more it will attract families who aspire to, but can’t afford, a 30A or Destin vacation.

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12 Larry Couch September 15, 2009 at 10:40 am

I worked at Seaside, Pinnacle Port and as a manager for a rental operation in Panama City Beach. The differences between 30A and PCB are immense. Seaside folks used to drive to PCB for the theater only (before Destin Commons opened up). Otherwise, they found everything they wanted on 30A. What makes and has kept 30A special is it’s building height restrictions and parks. PCB has high rise condos. Too late to change that and the only part of PCB that can still be saved is the west end.

I know I must travel West to Sandestin to make a living as a musician because there’s just not many good paying jobs in PCB. And on average, the musicianship in Destin/30A is a lot more diverse. I hope PCB can change it’s image. It seems to me that PCB gets all of the “left-over” events that nobody else would touch – bike week, spring break. No offense, but how many cities would invite those types of events?

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13 Don September 15, 2009 at 3:24 pm

Cebo, very good article! I agree with your intent, but question if it goes far enough. Yes, PCB should encourage their connection with 30-A. I also understand some desire for distancing on the part of those on 30-A (as mentioned in other comments). 30-A may currently prefer a connection to Destin as opposed to PCB, but why make them chose. Why can’t they have both? I frequently read comments from those in PCB that insinuates that Destin is the enemy. Mention of a desire to “steal” tourist from Destin. I don’t read those demeaning comments coming from Destin. The most negative I read coming from Destin is the dislike of PCB ruining rental rates. We all lose due to the heavy discounting.

It is my belief that Destin’s and PCB’s competition should not be each other, but the beaches in other states and other areas of Florida. We have so much more to offer than they do, but we waste out resources competing with each other. It would be far better to combining the many splintered marketing efforts for our area into a collective, cohesive, more effective force. When will we wake up and see this?

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14 Tony May September 15, 2009 at 5:21 pm

We were first introduced to the Emerald Coast with visits to Seaside. Many years and visits later, we invested in a pre-construction PCB condo at Tidewater. Objectives included the convenient proximity to what would become Pier Park, the new airport and less than 10 miles from 30A–all at an affordable price. The entire experience has exceeded our expectations. We live in a very upscale area of suburban Detroit. Many friends and neighbors from Michigan have visited our Tidewater condo. At first we were a bit apprehensive about preparing them for their visits. The eclectic mix that is PCB has not been a problem but the beaches, Pier Park and day trips to 30A are what bring them back. But it is a tad sleepy over there! PCB is moving in the right direction at an incredible pace–thanks in large part to JOE. Consider the upscale Seabreeze Jazz Festival which migrated to Pier Park. Plz keep up the momentum. Cebo is on target!

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15 Rob September 15, 2009 at 5:23 pm

I’m going to finally settle here in PCB, moving out of an apt and closing on a home on the West End this Friday. I really would like to see PCB clean up its image, but it will take time.
Perhaps Pier Park’s upcoming western section will help. And the CRA construction about to begin on Front Beach might help. I’ve been here three years and I avoid the stretch between FBR and 79 as much as I can.

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16 Rob September 15, 2009 at 5:25 pm

oh, I forgot to add that my fiancee and I love visiting 30A. Its like a vacation for us!

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17 Craig September 15, 2009 at 5:33 pm

Brands create a set of permissions with their audiences. PCB doesn’t have permission to be 30A. PCB’s brand was created whether intentional or not as a lower-cost destination and therefore became popular with spring breakers and blue collar audiences. Businesses were built to fully leverage those audiences. PCB has to decide if they want to change that brand. And at what cost? Having just purchased property three years ago in Rosemary Beach, my opinion of PCB was shaped by MTV. And in driving up the beach side of 98 on occasion, the haphazard zoning reminds me of trips to Gatlinburg, TN when I was a child. Changing brand permissions is a difficult task. One only need to look at the US auto industry as they try to convince the buying public that their product is as good as or better than their foreign competitors. Even if the US product is better, how long and what will it take to convince the target audience otherwise? PCB may have a long road to go in changing its perception, but if those with the most at stake want to sacrifice short-term gain for long-term change, then it will take a coordinated and very well-funded commitment.

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18 Richard September 15, 2009 at 5:35 pm

I think you are way off base. We are not trying to be 30A, and promoting 30A will not help PCB. Come on man, it isn’t even in the same county (no tax money for us.) What we need to focus on is the whole Thomas Drive area. There are plenty of vacant lots and parking areas that could be turned into our own version of 30 A. We should be touting St Andrews State Park, and we need family oriented attractions going east. We already have pier park, and it is wonderful to see the families having a good time there. But we do not want the rest of Bay count to be the low in trashy area and send tourist toward Walton County. You are right, there is a lot of work to be done. So, quit dodging it by going to 30 A and get with the program of cleaning up our beach area. We have the prettiest beach around and we are proud of it.

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19 duggan0 September 19, 2009 at 10:30 am

I am excited! I think, by paying attention to what 30A has to offer and its landscape, we are going to improve and expand on the scenarios for PCB. How beautiful it will be and how economically attractive it is going to prove for our beach community.

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20 30A Junkie September 30, 2009 at 1:24 pm

30A is to the Hamptons as PCB is to Coney Island.

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