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Cheers! Panama City Commission Approves Downtown District Where Public Drinking is Ok

Starting Friday, residents and tourists now can crack open a cold one while walking around a portion of the downtown area for two days a week.

Panama City commissioners on Tuesday voted 4-1 to approve the second and final reading of an ordinance to create the Downtown Panama City Social District, or a region in the downtown area where people can openly carry and consume alcoholic drinks. Mayor Michael Rohan was the lone member of the commission to vote against the district.

“I still don’t like the idea of open containers all over downtown,” Rohan said. “I just think there’s more bad than good.”

“I have to base things on fact, not emotion,” Commissioner Jenna Haligas said. “Right now, the facts from other cities don’t tell me that this is a negative impact. I don’t know doing it what will happen, and if it’s negative, we’ll have to (terminate it), but we don’t know that.”

Information from the meeting notes the social district has a northern border near Sixth Street, a southern border near the Panama City Marina, an eastern border near Luverne Avenue and a western border near Grace Avenue and West Fourth Street.

It allows people to openly carry only alcoholic drinks purchased from licensed vendors within that area on Fridays and Saturdays between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m. The ordinance also includes a sunset clause of May 31, giving officials the ability pass an ordinance to eliminate the social district if it negatively impacts the city. All drinks served in the district will come in labeled cups to prevent people from bringing their own alcohol.

Many residents spoke during the meeting about the social district, with some in favor of the ordinance and some opposing it.

Among those who believe it will benefit the city is Brad Stephens, owner of Sunjammers, a watersports business that sits at 1129 Beck Ave. Stephens said he wished there also was a social district for the St. Andrews area, where his business is located.

“Anything that can add people moving around a community is good,” Stephens said. “People walking around drinking is not going to deter me form taking my kids anywhere. I have full faith in our police to keep it under control, (and) I have faith in our citizens of Panama City to act like adults.”

Though he believes the social district will improve downtown, Pastor Craig Conner of First Baptist Church of Panama City, who also spoke during the meeting, worries it will be a detriment to the area. He urged commissioners to “strongly consider” opposing the ordinance.

Conner also noted First Baptist Church is “deeply” involved in downtown Panama City, having invested about $30 million in the area over the past two decades.

“I really am concerned about the open-container ordinance,” he said. “I believe (this ordinance) will have many negative consequences to our city. I think that (with it in place) no longer will our downtown area be considered to be a family-friendly environment.

“I really do feel like … it will radically change the complexion of our downtown area for the worst forever.”

Past reports state the ordinance to create a social district was submitted to the commission by the Downtown Improvement Board (DIB), a seven-member board appointed by local officials to help grow and improve downtown Panama City.

According to Catherine Shores, DIB chairperson, the ordinance was sparked by downtown business owners and property owners, not local officials. The ordinance went into effect following the meeting, meaning Friday will mark the first day people can openly consume alcohol within the district.

Source : Newsherald