Council votes to extend the timeline of Front Beach Road CRA Plan
This map shows the revised schedule of the Front Beach Road CRA Plan construction.
The Panama City Beach City Council voted last week to extend the term of the Front Beach Road Community Redevelopment Area (CRA) Plan to 2049. The Council originally adopted the Plan in August 2001 and it was set to expire in 30 years.
City officials voted to extend it due to concerns that the massive undertaking contemplated by the Plan, which involves the improvement and construction of Front Beach Road and its numerous north-south connectors, could not be completed prior to its 2031 project expiration date.
The CRA Plan includes, among other things, a complete revamping of Front Beach Road from one end of the City limits to the other and widening and repaving several north-south feeder roads. It includes laying new pavement, adding trolley and bike lanes designated by red asphalt, burying utilities, installing landscaping and lights and adding wide sidewalks.
The Plan was adopted to address traffic blight on what is considered the City’s Main Street.
CRA Manager David Campbell said the Front Beach Road CRA Plan should be extended, calling it “one of the most important projects the City has ever undertaken.”
“It is vital. This is not only vital to the City for economic reasons but also for transportation reasons,” said Campbell, noting that the beach welcomes 17 million visitors each year. “Our Front Beach Road, we have only finished a small portion of it and we have already seen benefits from it.”
The long-term CRA plan calls for a multi-modal Front Beach Road which encourages people to use other modes of transportation besides their vehicles. Even with the small portion completed or under construction, Campbell said there are “a tremendous amount of people walking and using their bicycles.”
For the multi-modal aspect to be completely successful, the trolley/bike lane completion of Front Beach Road from Richard Jackson Boulevard to the City limits is necessary to see the full potential of the new roadway.
The Plan also includes the City’s north-south connectors from Panama City Beach Parkway to Front Beach Road. A number of those connector roads, such as Hills Road, will need to be four-laned as the City grows.
The Front Beach Road Community Redevelopment Plan is funded and implemented through Tax Increment Financing (TIF). Under the TIF, the dollar value of all real property in a community redevelopment area is determined as of a specific date. The value is “frozen” on that date. Bay County receives ad valorem tax dollars for the fixed value of the property located within the Front Beach Road Community Redevelopment Area but 95 percent of any new tax revenues from the increases in real property values go to the redevelopment Trust Fund; those funds are dedicated to the redevelopment of the area.
Projecting to 2031, Campbell said he looked at the annual Front Beach Road CRA revenue currently around $12.6 million which includes TIF funds and other fees; the City’s debt obligation on the Front Beach Road CRA is $3.4 million annually. Operating expenses total around $1 million annually.
“So that leaves us about $8 million for road construction every year. As I project out, I assume two things – no increase in the TIF and no increase in construction costs. By 2031 we can complete everything up to Segment 4.3 which will give us connection from 79 to Richard Jackson Boulevard. That is completion in the year 2031.”
Without an extension, Campbell said Front Beach Road will not be completed from State Road 79 to the western City limits. The City cannot widen and improve connector roads Alf Coleman Road, Hills Road, North Thomas Drive, Clara Avenue, Nautilus Street and Cobb Road without this extension.
With the completion of the next phase of Bay Parkway from North Pier Park Drive to Nautilus Street, Campbell noted that Nautilus was going to become another gateway into the City, along with State Road 79 and Front Beach Road west of 79 as travelers come from the west.
“It is in the long-term interest of the City that we extend the CRA Plan so we can complete this project. Not only does it benefit the City but it hugely benefits the County in the long-run. Once the TIF retires, the county will get the benefit of all the transportation improvements and the money spent in the CRA to improve Panama City Beach.”
Incorporated and unincorporated Panama City Beach accounts for 10 percent of the total land mass in the county but generates 57 percent of the total tax revenues in all of Bay County. The figure was $8.5 billion in 2018.
The Front Beach Road CRA has generated $119 million since its inception, with 2003 being the first year that revenue was generated. Collections dropped significantly for several years after the recession of 2008.
The City Council, which has the legal authority to reset the CRA Plan’s expiration date, pledged to work with the County in returning any excess TIF revenues, and an October meeting between the City Council and the Bay County Commission was set for October 24 for further discussions.
Mayor Mike Thomas said extending the Front Beach Road Community Redevelopment Plan is necessary for the long-term health of the entire county, but the City Council’s job “is to take care of the City of Panama City Beach.”
Public Information Officer Debbie Ward can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (850) 233-5100, Ext. 2261.