Panama City Beach, Florida

April 22, 2024

Panama City Beach, Florida

A Gem of Growth, Community, and Innovation


Both a tourist mecca and a flourishing community focused on quality of life, innovative amenities, and sustainable growth.

Panama City Beach, Florida, often hailed as a slice of paradise in the Panhandle, offers more than just its world-renowned sandy shores and crystal-clear waters. According to Mayor Mark Sheldon, this community stands out for its unique blend of natural beauty, innovative public-private partnerships, and a robust tourism industry, all of which contribute to its reputation as a gem in Florida’s crown.

Mayor Sheldon proudly declares, “Panama City Beach is truly Paradise. I say it all the time.” He emphasizes the city’s unique financial structure, which spares its residents from personal property tax, thanks to a thriving tourism sector that fuels the local economy with a 1% business tax receipt. This arrangement allows the city to forgo the usual ad valorem tax, making it a rarity in the state. “We’re kind of a unicorn in Florida because of that,” he notes.

The city’s approach to governance and community development is three-legged, prioritizing residents, the local business community, and tourists in that order. This strategy has fostered a harmonious environment where each sector supports and enhances the others. The mayor shares the importance of the local business community, stating, “Without them, none of it works together.”

Boosting Healthcare in Panama City Beach

In Panama City Beach’s development landscape, the recent focus on healthcare marks a significant shift towards enhancing the quality of life for its residents and visitors alike. This pivot towards healthcare infrastructure, led by The St.  Joe Company under Jorge Gonzalez’s guidance, reflects a broader vision of community enrichment and economic growth.

Gonzalez begins by outlining The St. Joe Company’s structure,  a publicly traded entity on the New York Stock Exchange, with its headquarters firmly rooted in Panama City Beach. “We are a fully diversified real estate company,” he explains, detailing the company’s involvement across residential, commercial, and hospitality segments. The mention of 12 active residential communities, a commercial portfolio boasting 1.2 million square feet, and a hospitality arm with 13 hotels, among other assets, paints a picture of a behemoth driving significant economic activity in the region.

With a landholding of approximately 180,000 acres across northwest Florida, The St.  Joe Company positions Panama City Beach at the heart of its operations. This strategic focus is emphasized by an impressive capital expenditure of $781 million over the last three years, aimed at new projects that bolster the community’s infrastructure and amenities. “Panama City Beach is at the top of our list,” Gonzalez asserts.

Diving into the healthcare initiative, Gonzalez reveals the ambitious plan to establish a medical healthcare campus on The St.  Joe Company property. This project, envisioned in partnership with Florida State University and Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare, aims to encompass a research component, a teaching component, and clinical delivery, thereby attracting top-tier medical professionals and enhancing healthcare quality in the area. “Health care is as important for quality of life as anything else,” he affirms, highlighting the need for expanded and improved healthcare services to match the region’s growth.


Advancing Infrastructure and Connectivity

As Panama City Beach experiences rapid growth, Mayor Sheldon shares the city’s strides in improving infrastructure and connectivity. He highlights the city’s achievements in boosting connectivity, with multiple carriers like AT&T and T-Mobile introducing stiff fiber to various communities, including the Breakfast Point neighborhood. He emphasizes the importance of reliable internet service, especially in the wake of natural disasters like Hurricane Michael.

Addressing the physical infrastructure, the mayor outlines significant road expansions and enhancement developments. The main highway, U.S. 98 but known locally as Back Beach Road, is transforming considerably from four to six lanes. Once scheduled for the distant future, this project has been expedited due to persistent advocacy at the state level, demonstrating the community’s commitment to improving transportation and accessibility. “That project from the 40-year plan is now actually under construction and fully funded,” he reveals, highlighting the city’s capacity to accelerate critical infrastructure projects in response to growing needs.

Furthermore, the mayor discusses the Community Redevelopment Agency’s efforts to revitalize the Front Beach Road area. This project aims to beautify the space and introduce multimodal lanes to encourage outdoor activities and alternative transportation methods. “We’re going from that old sleepy beach town to a gorgeous beachfront community,” Mayor Sheldon states, illustrating a vision to create a vibrant, accessible, and aesthetically pleasing environment for residents and visitors.

Nurturing Growth with Sustainable Infrastructure

Panama City Beach’s push for sustainable infrastructure is central to its rapid development and environmental stewardship. Dan Rowe, president and CEO of Visit Panama City Beach, emphasizes the thoughtful approach to growth led by The St.  Joe Company, praising their long-term vision and commitment to preserving natural spaces. “Saint Joe is very good with the long view… a preservation ethic kind of runs through everything they do,” Rowe notes. This strategic planning ensures that as the city expands, it retains the open spaces and natural beauty that define its character.

Mayor Sheldon then transitions the discussion towards wastewater management, a critical component of the city’s infrastructure strategy. He confirms the involvement of the Florida Department of Transportation in the road widening projects, tying it back to the broader theme of coordinated development efforts. The mayor proudly announces constructing a second wastewater treatment facility, a $100 million project that underscores the city’s proactive approach to managing its resources and accommodating its growing population. “It’s about a $100 million investment for the city,” Sheldon states, highlighting the significance of this development in sustaining the city’s expansion.

The mayor also underlines the importance of planning and collaboration in these endeavors. Regular meetings with stakeholders ensure a unified approach to development, allowing the city to anticipate and meet its infrastructural needs efficiently. “We meet all the time to sit down and say, okay, what’s next? What’s next from a one-year, five-year, ten-year plan so we can work together,” he explains, illustrating the city’s commitment to cohesive planning.

Elevating Community and Tourism through Parks and Recreation

The synergy between community development and tourism in Panama City Beach is nowhere more evident than in parks and recreation. With a discernible increase in investment towards enhancing local parks, the city aims to boost its appeal to tourists and enrich its residents’ quality of life. Mayor Sheldon enthusiastically shares his dedication to parks and recreation, which he associates closely with community spirit and well-being. “I’m a Parks and Rec guy,” he proudly declares.

Under his guidance, Panama City Beach is witnessing the expansion of its recreational landscape. “We are adding pickleball courts, ten pickleball courts, six basketball courts, a skate park, a BMX trail,” the mayor details, illustrating the city’s ambition to maintain and significantly enhance its largest community park. These upgrades are part of a broader vision to offer diverse and accessible outdoor activities, reinforcing the city’s appeal as a destination for families and sports enthusiasts.

As Mayor Sheldon sees it, the ultimate goal is to create an environment that is so enriching and full of opportunity that it retains its young talent and attracts new families by linking recreational development to educational opportunities, like those offered through the FSU med program. Panama City Beach strategically positions itself as a community where people can grow, thrive, and choose to stay. “No parent wants their kid to grow up and move away,” he reflects, underlining the desire to build a city that offers something for everyone, ensuring its vibrancy and sustainability for future generations.

Strengthening the Community through Tourism and Infrastructure

In Panama City Beach, the interplay between tourism initiatives and infrastructure development is creating a vibrant community that caters equally to the needs of its residents and the desires of its visitors. One flagship project that exemplifies this commitment is developing a $45 million outdoor sports park, collaborating with Rowe, Jorge Gonzalez, and their respective teams. This venture, fueled by land donations from The St. Joe Company, and located just outside the city limits, not only bolsters the city’s position as a year-round tourism destination for outdoor sports but also contributes to the educational landscape by establishing a STEM academy.

Rowe also mentions the city’s burgeoning relationship with renowned brands and attractions, indicating a bright future for tourism in Panama City Beach. “The epic brands across the country have identified that Panama City Beach is a great place to invest,” he states, pinpointing the city’s solid fundamentals and effective governance as key factors driving these decisions. The anticipated expansion of Dolly Parton’s Pirates Voyage Dinner & Show  and the arrival of Topgolf to the town are seen as affirmations of the city’s growing prominence on the national stage.

Adding to the city’s diverse tourist attractions is the Duplin Winery. This venture began in North Carolina and  chose Panama City Beach as its latest location. This development, opened in 2023, enriches the city’s tourism offerings and reinforces its reputation as an investment-worthy destination. “It is one of those things that people see and recognize that this is a dynamic beach town,” Rowe comments, highlighting the winery’s decision to expand to Panama City Beach as evidence of the city’s appeal.


Addressing Housing Dynamics in a Flourishing Community

As Panama City Beach experiences an influx of new residents drawn by its coastal allure and high quality of life, the city faces the dual challenges of meeting housing demands and ensuring affordability. Mayor Sheldon articulates the current state of the housing market in Panama City Beach, acknowledging the surge in demand for residential spaces. “We have many residential neighborhoods under construction,” he states, noting the attractiveness of Panama City Beach’s real estate compared to other regions. This perception of value, coupled with the city’s desirability as a place to live, continues to draw people beyond its traditional catchment area.

The mayor then passes the baton to Gonzalez to elaborate on the specifics of the residential developments underway. Gonzalez paints a picture of a demographic shift, with Panama City Beach attracting residents from across the United States, far beyond its historical geographic catchment area. “We are seeing people move here from way outside of that historical geographic catchment area,” he observes, noting the diverse origins of new residents. This trend signifies a transformation in the city’s demographic landscape, evolving from a predominantly second-home and vacation rental market to a vibrant, full-time residential community.

Expanding on the variety of housing options available, Gonzalez confirms the development of mixed-use, multifamily, and starter homes, aiming to cater to a broad spectrum of needs and preferences. The St.  Joe Company’s strategy involves offering a range of residential communities that span multiple price points and lifestyle preferences. From luxury multi-million-dollar homes to more affordable options, Gonzalez emphasizes the importance of providing suitable living spaces for every potential resident.

Beyond Entertainment and Into Quality of Life

Panama City Beach is on a strategic path to enhancing its appeal as a tourist destination and as a vibrant community where the quality of life is paramount. Under Mayor Sheldon, the city’s leadership is keen on diversifying the economic and entertainment landscape to include a wide array of amenities that cater to visitors and residents alike.

Looking ahead, Sheldon affirms that the city’s future focus remains on augmenting its amenities and maintaining a family-friendly yet controlled development strategy. This vision encompasses a holistic view of growth that prioritizes enhancing the city’s quality of life through diverse and innovative projects.

Panama City Beach stands at a crossroads of opportunity, poised to leverage its successes in tourism and entertainment as a springboard for broader community development. By focusing on expanding amenities that cater to a broad audience, including the healthcare and transportation sectors, the city aims to cultivate an environment where visitors and residents can find value, enjoyment, and a high quality of life. As it moves forward, the challenge will be to balance growth with sustainability, ensuring that Panama City Beach continues to evolve as a dynamic, inclusive, and thriving community.


Panama City Beach, Florida

What: A dynamic beach town undergoing transformative growth and development, enhancing its appeal as a premier tourist destination and a vibrant community.

Where: Northwest Florida, along the Gulf of Mexico.



Dewberry –

Dewberry is a leading, market-facing firm with a proven history of providing professional services to a wide variety of clients. Recognized for combining unsurpassed commitment to client service with deep subject matter expertise, Dewberry is dedicated to solving clients’ most complex challenges and transforming their communities. Dewberry has more than 60 locations and 2,500+ professionals nationwide.

The Corradino Group –

Gortemoller Engineering, Inc. –

NGU Sports Lighting –

Panama City Beach Chamber of Commerce –

Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport –

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