A celebration of seafood is coming back to Panama City Beach. The fall event will have new sponsors, a new name and a new location.
At Tuesday's combined meeting of the Bay County Tourist Development Council and Panama City Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau, board members approved $91,000 in "seed" money to jump start the Panama City Beach Seafood and Music Festival.
The request was made by the Panama City Beach Chamber of Commerce and Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, the two organizations that will own and organize the event. Representatives estimated the total cost at $145,000. Admission will be free to the public and restaurant "partners" and other vendors will pay to participate, they said.
The event is scheduled for October 24-28 in the parking lot of Capt. Anderson's Marina. Organizers said the festival will focus attention on one of the area's most valuable resources. "We want to support and promote our fishing industry," said Beth Oltman, the chamber's president. "We're really excited about bringing the festival back to the water, where it should be."
Oltman said the festival will feature music, a fishing tournament, cooking demonstrations, activities for children and vendor booths. For a fee, festival goers can enter a VIP area for an "Unwind Experience."
TDC Chairman Gary Walsingham said the board has been criticized for supporting too many special events on the west end of the beach, particularly at Pier Park. Previous seafood festivals, the last in 2010, were held at Frank Brown Park. "We've been looking for different things to do up and down the beaches so you spread out the crowd a little bit," said Walsingham.
Several board members expressed concern over the relatively small size of the new festival's venue. "It can't grow in that location," said Mike Thomas, a Bay County commissioner and member of the TDC board. "It's nice to move something to the other end of the beach, but to move something that can't grow and spend a bunch of money on it, I've got a problem with that."
Oltman said most of the parking areas will be located off site and buses will transport guests to and from the festival grounds.
Board members Andy Phillips and Mike Bennett questioned whether the fall event will attract tourists who book lodging and generate bed tax receipts. "Our mission in life is to put heads in beds, that's what we're here for," said Walsingham.
The board also spent a lot of meeting time discussing how profits would be distributed. The organizers want to fund scholarships, but the TDC/CVB members said the first priority should be building a fund that can sustain the festival over the long haul.
"We want [2012 funding] to be seed money to get it started, and hopefully they won't have to come to us every year," said Walsingham. "We want them to build the event to a bigger and better event so we don't have to put more money into it every year."
Despite concerns over the size of the venue and the potential for parking problems, the board unanimously agreed to fund the festival. Board member Yonnie Patronis abstained from the discussion and vote because he has a business interest in the area where the festival will be held.
In other business, the board approved design plans for expanding Aaron Bessant Park. The proposal now heads to the Bay County Commission for final approval at its budget workshop on Thursday, July 12.