With golden shovels in hand, developers and local elected officials broke ground Wednesday on the Pier Park North shopping center project in Panama City Beach.
"Years ago, we used to say we were a strip of sand with some motels on it," said Mayor Gayle Oberst. "We have really become a community... we have become a city."
Pier Park North is being developed by The St. Joe Company and shopping center management companies CASTO and Strategic Retail Advisors. "We're very lucky that in this economy that we've had in the last few years that the demographics, the numbers and everything make a center like this economically viable," said Park Brady, CEO of The St. Joe Company.
The shopping center will cover 360,000 square feet spread over the 42 acre site off Panama City Beach Parkway, across the highway from Pier Park Lifestyle Center. More than 40 stores are planned and include major retailers Dick's Sporting Goods, Kirkland's, Pier 1 Imports, Michael's, Petco, Bed Bath & Beyond, Rooms To Go, Shoe Carnival, Mattress Firm, Lee Nails & Spa and Men's Wearhouse.
"The format that we have designed here and are going to implement here over the next twelve months represents the modern day retail shopping experience," said Brett Hutchens of CASTO.
The joint venture partners kept a close eye on the original Pier Park development and liked what they saw. "The success of that project certainly underlies the fact that there's a good retail base here," said Hutchens.
Pier Park North is expected to employ 350 construction workers and, when completed, provide 1,200 retail jobs – nearly 800 of them full-time.
Both the City of Panama City Beach and Bay County will reap the benefits of the project. "It will be wonderful because we live on a one percent sales tax so this retail will mean a lot to our budget," said Mayor Oberst.
"Things like this really make a difference when we start showing some large growth," added County Commissioner Mike Thomas. "The beach has turned into a city now instead of just a tourist area."
Governor Rick Scott didn't attend the groundbreaking but issued a statement thanking those involved in getting the project off the drawing board. "The Pier Park North project is more proof that Florida's economy is headed in the right direction," said Scott.
The shopping center is scheduled to open in Spring 2014.