- The Washington Times - Monday, March 8, 2010

PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. | March and April on Panama City Beach conjure images of raucous concerts and throngs of barely dressed teens and twenty-somethings cruising the city’s streets. But tourism leaders hope to clean up the hard-partying image a bit in time for the May 23 opening of the Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport, the first new airport to open since the 2001 terrorist attacks.

“The airport is the big, new story of the day,” says Dan Rowe, president of Panama City Beach’s Convention and Visitors’ Bureau. He touts the hundreds of new Gulf-front condominiums that have replaced dilapidated hotels in recent years and a sprawling beachfront pedestrian shopping center that opened in 2008.

Spring break is one part of Panama City Beach, but shouldn’t define it, he says, adding that the new airport will make it easier for tourists from all over to reach this traditionally Southern vacation destination on the Florida Panhandle.

“There is a balance we are trying to hit with spring break. There are folks in our community who wish the spring break would go away, but there are others whose depend on it for a major part of their business,” Mr. Rowe says.

Spring break’s studious side

For 2010, the city has ended its relationship with concert promoter mtvU, owned by parent company MTV, after problems with crowd control at a Lil Wayne beach concert last year, and the City Council recently voted to spend $25,000 to hire 24 state troopers for extra support on the beach from March 14 to April 11.

A drive down the city’s main drag shows both old kitsch and the more upscale, while a quick check of Internet and Twitter postings give a hint of the madness that will soon hit this 17-mile stretch of white sand and turquoise blue ocean.

Photos show condominiums with dozens of students hanging out of every balcony, beaches crammed with partying youths and packed night clubs in Panama City Beach.

“It’s affordable compared to Cancun or Acapulco, and you’ve got the [nightclubs],” said Matt Scriven, sales director of ParadiseParties.Com, who has booked hundreds of trips for spring break students. “A lot of other places like Fort Lauderdale and Daytona Beach, they haven’t wanted the kids for a long time.”



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