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Panama City may consider allowing open containers in a special district

May 26, 2023May 26, 2023

PANAMA CITY − Residents and tourists soon might be able to crack open a cold one while walking around downtown Panama City.

In a Wednesday workshop, members of the Panama City Downtown Improvement Board discussed the idea of creating a social district in downtown Panama City. This would allow those walking throughout the area to openly carry and consume alcoholic drinks.

"Social district seems to be the most common term used for these areas, but they exist around the country," said Catherine Shores, chairperson of the board. "They have been a really popular economic development tool that communities are utilizing to just enhance the visitor experience to downtown (areas)."

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Shores noted the group's vision is for the district to only allow alcoholic drinks purchased from an "authorized retailer" in the area. These drinks would likely have some sort of markings to show law enforcement they were properly purchased.

"You can't just show up with your own drinks in coolers and expect to be able to stroll the area," she said. "The drinks have to be sourced from the sellers within the zone, and be within a specially marked container."

Working plans call for the social district to have a northern border near 6th Street, a southern border near the Panama City Marina, an eastern border near Massalina Bayou and a western border near Beach Drive.

Shores said officials also plan to carve out any residential areas within the district.

"The boundary itself will be marked with signage, and we'll do everything we can to make sure that customers know what the rules are, and that businesses within the area are given the opportunity to either opt in or opt out," she said. "We're not trying to force anything on anybody, just enhance the offering that we have."

The next step in establishing the social district is for the Downtown Improvement Board to present the Panama City Commission with a sample ordinance, which she expects for commissioners to consider at a future meeting. As of Thursday afternoon, there was no timeline for when that might be.

According to the city's website, the Downtown Improvement Board consists of seven members who are appointed by the mayor and commission to help grow and improve downtown Panama City.

"As an economic development tool, these areas have become hugely popular across the country," Shores said. "In the reading and research that we have done so far, we haven't found any problems or issues related to the creation of these zones.

"Instead, we think it's going to be a wonderful enhancement to the experience of downtown Panama City."

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