Panama City Beach in Florida has long been a popular spring break destination for its beautiful stretches of sand, ample sunshine, and lax open container laws — but all that changed this year when the city banned alcohol on the beaches for the entire month of March.
How did it come to this, and was it successful?
The decision came after years of complaints by locals who were fed up with what they saw as entirely too much debauchery, destruction, and disrespect for the town and its residents. The city council unanimously passed the ban during a three-hour meeting, along with two other spring break ordinances prohibiting alcohol sales after 2 a.m. and drinking in commercial parking lots at any time.
Based on arrest numbers, the ban was a huge success. During last year’s spring break, local police responded to 13,301 calls for service and made 1,332 arrests, according to the News-Herald. This year, the numbers dropped by more than half of the previous totals: 6,409 calls for service and 547 arrests.
Unfortunately, this increase in safety came at the expense of local businesses. Hotel reservations were down more than 50 percent in 2016 and other businesses reported that sales were down anywhere between 50 and 85 percent. College students who used to frequent Panama City Beach have moved on to places where there are still no open container laws during spring break, like South Padre Island in Texas. Others tried out Panama City under the new regulations, but said they won’t return next year. On the flip side, many locals were quite pleased with the change.
The ban will remain in place for spring break in 2017, after which the city will need to make a tough decision: Should it keep the ban and keep the peace for another year at the expense of local businesses, or should it let the party return to the sand in 2018?