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UPDATED: Panama City Beach Announces Event Cancellations; Beaches Remain Open

City of Panama City Beach

Update: 3/19


Another major tourist attraction in Panama City Beach will close through the end of the month. Pier Park, an outdoor shopping mall and amusement park, closed on Wednesday evening, according to a release from Simon Property Group.  The attraction will reopen on March 29. 

Original Story: 3/18

Several events that typically bring thousands of people to Panama City Beach in the spring have been canceled, but the town’s sandy shores and warm Gulf waters aren’t off-limits. 

"I’m not trying to get people to come down here, but I’m not going to tell people they can’t either,” said Mayor Mike Thomas.  

At an emergency meeting on Tuesday, city council members announced restrictions on public gatherings to help prevent community spread of SARS-Cov-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. But they refused to close the beach. “Panama City Beach has no business shutting the beach down,” Thomas said. “I will never vote to close the sand down.”


Gov. Ron DeSantis’s executive order closed bars and restricted restaurant capacities by half, but it stopped short of keeping the public off the state's beaches. Instead, DeSantis directed beach-goers to limit their groups to 10 people or fewer, the guideline set by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 


Panama City Beach officials are asking people to follow that advice, but they have no specific plans to enforce it. 


Instead, beach patrol with the city’s police department will look out for large groups, and ask them to disperse, said City Manager Tony O’Rourke. 


“I think it’s more a function of education,” O’Rourke said. “I think people are smart. They understand the underpinnings of why we need to do this to prevent community spread of this disease.” 

City council members unanimously voted to cancel several major events and to put a hold on issuing any special permits through May 1. This move is part of the city’s effort to comply with federal and state guidelines against mass gatherings. 

One such event is the spring Thunder Beach motorcycle rally, a five-day event that attracts roughly 60,000 - 70,000 people from across the Southeast, said Joe Biggs, the event’s organizer. He says he’s working to persuade the city council to issue a special permit to allow scheduled concerts and shows for motorcyclists to continue in early May. 

“I don’t want to promote doing something that is not in the best interest of the community, but the event does bring in many millions of dollars into the local economy, which I suspect is going to be sorely missed if we’re not able to do it,” Biggs said. 

Even if the rally’s organized events don’t happen as planned, several motorcyclists have notified him that they will ride down to the area during that weekend, Biggs said. 


“Our riders are very loyal to this event and they love coming to Thunder Beach,” he said. “ A lot of those folks have been coming here since they were kids.” 



Here’s a list of spring events that won’t happen this year to comply with federal and state guidelines against mass gatherings: 

  • UNwineD wine-tasting and music festival, previously scheduled for March 20-21. 
  • World Sports League Adult Softball, previously scheduled for March 21-22. 
  • Frank Brown Park two-person 10k relay, 5k and 10k races, previously scheduled for March 28, have been postponed for a later date still to be determined. 
  • Furry Friend 5k, previously scheduled for April 4 at Frank Brown Park. 
  • Doggie Easter egg hunt, previously scheduled for April 4. 
  • Annual Easter egg hunt at Frank Brown Park, previously scheduled for April 11. 
  • Color Run for Autism, previously scheduled for April 18. 
  • Parrot Head Rendezvous concert series to benefit Girls Inc. of Bay County, previously scheduled for April 16-19.
  •  Seabreeze Jazz Festival, previously scheduled for April 21-25, won’t happen again until next year. 
  • SandJam Music Festival, previously scheduled for April 24 - 26. The annual music festival won’t happen again until next year. 
  • Soccer Skills Unlimited Spring Cup, previously scheduled for April 25 - 26.
  •  Thunder Beach motorcycle rally, previously scheduled for April 29-May 3. The fall rally scheduled for Oct. 21-25 is still happening as scheduled. 
  • Soccer Skills Unlimited Memorial Day Cup, previously scheduled for May 23 - 25. 
  • 5 Tool Baseball - Playcations World Series Tournament, previously scheduled for Aug. 10 - 16. 
  • PAC Sports Baseball Tournament, previously scheduled for Aug. 20 - 23. 

With its resorts, hotels, condos, restaurants and retail, the town that’s home to roughly 13,000 people has the capacity for 150,000 people, said City Manager Tony O'Rourke. And despite event cancellations and state-wide restrictions on bars and restaurants, he assures visitors that the town remains “open for business.” 
Tourism is the “lifeblood” of the local economy, he said. “We don’t create widgets or cars, we service tourists.” 

Valerie Crowder hosts and produces state and local newscasts during All Things Considered. Her reporting on local government and politics has received state and regional award recognition. She has also contributed stories to NPR newscasts.