Panama City Beach – County’s New Miller Pier Should be open by July 4, 2010

PANAMA CITY BEACH — The beach around the still-under-construction M.B. Miller Pier was quiet just before 11 a.m. Friday. A handful of spring breakers were starting their day of sunning (at this hour they qualify as early birds among the college crowd), and a lone man fished from the shore.

In four months, the beach near the end of Alf Coleman Road will be more crowded, though, as the late-rising spring breakers are replaced by families, and the reincarnated county pier should be open; it is slated to be done by July 4. The 1,500-foot pier will give pedestrians and anglers another option to walk over water (Panama City Beach’s 1,400-foot Russell-Fields Pier is three-plus miles to the west), but it should also provide a considerable cash stream for Bay County.

The Bay County Commission approved budget amendments last week that take into account the pier’s projected revenue. The county will charge spectators $2 to walk the pier; adults wanting to fish will pay $6, with passes available for 20 visits ($60), three months ($60), or a year ($180).

Staff estimated the pier will generate $446,400 in its first year, using numbers from Panama City Beach’s Russell-Fields Pier. Staff scaled back the amount PCB’s pier generated by 40 percent, hoping not to over-budget.

“We just wanted to make it a conservative estimate,” Dan Shaw, assistant county manager, said Friday. “We feel like we’re going to do a lot better than that, but we feel like that was the most prudent way to go about it.”

The original, 470-foot Miller Pier was damaged by Hurricane Dennis in 2005, and torn down in 2008. The new pier cost more than $7 million. The Federal Emergency Management Agency chipped in $3 million to re-build the length of the old pier.

The commissioners also authorized staff this week to put out requests for proposals for beach services near the pier, opening the possibility of vendors renting beach chairs, body boards, and other beach accessories and sending a portion of income to the county. The county needs someone to operate the bait and tackle shop planned for the pavilion that will be built at the pier’s entrance, and the commission will consider putting lifeguards on the beach near the pier.

Spring breakers who return in July will be disappointed to find that one type of vendor will not be permitted in the pavilion, though.

“We’re surely not going to be able to sell alcohol,” Shaw said.

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