A raucous Spring Break that made some unwanted national headlines has officials on the Florida Panhandle looking to restore their community's image.
After a season that included a house party that dissolved into gunfire and a beach gathering that resulted in a videotaped sexual assault, Bay County is negotiating a contract for a new marketing strategy to boost public perception.
County Manager Bob Majka said the potential deal with marketing executive Jerry Ray and attorney William Harrison could help undo some of the damage.
"The damage is not just to the tourism industry," Majka said, adding it could affect everything from home sales to business relocations.
Panama City Beach is a prime Spring Break destination, but it has been recording an increase in crime as the droves descend. Arrests recorded by the Panama City Beach Police Department and Bay County Sheriff's Office were up in the six-week Spring Break period, with 2,423 recorded this year. Dozens of guns were confiscated, hundreds of drug arrests were made and thousands of calls for police response were received.
Under county policy, Majka has the authority to hire Ray and Harrison if they reach a contract totaling $100,000 or less. Otherwise, the county commission must approve it.
Ray said the goal would be not to re-brand the area, but to restore it to its former glory.
"Your brand is what people expect from you," he told the Panama City News Herald. "It is a promise. And people judge a brand by the way it keeps — or breaks — its promises."