Locals: Latitude Margaritaville will boost tourism — and traffic

The St. Joe Co.’s plans to develop a 3,000-plus-home active adult community north of Panama City Beach is being met with praise by Beach officials and business leaders but has some residents concerned it will clog highways even more.

The St. Joe Co. is partnering with singer Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville Holdings and home builder Minto Communities to develop the Latitude Margaritaville Watersound over-55 community north of Panama City Beach. St. Joe and Minto are entering into an agreement to develop the project, and Minto has an agreement with Margarita Holdings to market the project. Singer Jimmy Buffett is a principal in that company.

“We have a license to be an exclusive provider of the Latitude Margaritaville adult community when it comes to branding,” said William Bullock, president of Minto’s Latitude Margaritaville division. “We are almost in daily conversation with the Margaritaville team, and everybody always asks: ‘Is Jimmy involved?’ He’s definitely involved. He’s been out to the Daytona project numerous times.”

Latitude Margaritaville’s first two locations are in Daytona Beach and Hilton Head, South Carolina.

The first phase of the community north of Panama City Beach is slated to be up to 3,000 homes, but that could be only the beginning, the developers said. The property is in the middle of the Bay-Walton Sector Plan, which has been approved for the development of 170,000 homes on 100,500 acres. The first tract of land being developed is 1,500 acres at the northwest quadrant of State 79 and the Intracoastal Waterway.

Panama City Beach Mayor Mike Thomas said the project has many positives.

“I imagine if it gets going pretty good it will help us, because a lot of the people that retire up there, when their kids and grandkids come to see them, they are going to want to stay at the Beach, which falls right in line with our more year-round, family friendly-type atmosphere,” he said, adding the development also should bring more jobs into Bay County and boost sales at stores in the city.

“They’ll have a small shopping area and the (main) shopping will be at the Beach and in Panama City, so it’s going to be a boost to everybody,” Thomas said.

Becca Hardin, executive director of the Bay Economic Development Alliance, said the development makes the area more appealing, which helps business recruitment.

“We are always looking to increase the tools in our tool box,” she said. “This is definitely an attractive amenity we can market in Bay County.”

Bay County Chamber of Commerce President Carol Roberts also praised the project.

“The St. Joe Co. is certainly to be commended for all they have done and continue to do for Bay County and this region,” she said.

But some residents say traffic already is beyond capacity on the Beach, and this new development will make it worse.

“To me, this island is going to sink because they have too many people on it,” said Mugsy Parens, who works at the Panama City Beach Senior Center.

Barbara Salvator, who was at the senior center Thursday, said she also is concerned.

“They are going to have to do something with the roads,” she said. “It’s a huge concern.”

Bullock said the new community won’t be putting as much traffic on the highways during the peak hours of the day as would a community with younger families.

“The great thing about the active adult buyer is they are mostly retired, so you don’t get peak a.m. and p.m. trips,” he said. “They are not leaving to go to jobs more like a typical family-based community where the mom and dad get up and they have to be to work at 8 a.m. or 9 a.m. every day of the week.”

Before building can start, the developers must have a detailed specific area plan approved by Bay County’s Planning Board and the Bay County Commission, said Community Development Director Martin Jacobson.

Jacobson said the proposed development is a big deal for Bay County because it begins to implement the sector plan and its proposed 170,000 homes, which he said “essentially creates a new city.”

“It shifts the development center (of the county) to that area if this is successful,” he said.

Source:  Panama City News Herald


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