Daytona Beach spring break crowds worry businesses

ASSOCIATED PRESSMarch 24, 2013 

DAYTONA BEACH -- Some businesses in Daytona Beach are worried they are losing much needed revenue as spring break crowds dwindle and hundreds of thousands of tourists head to Panama City Beach.

Daytona Beach was a spring break haven for college students for years, peaking in the 1980s with MTV hosting live events there and injecting an estimated $120 million into the local economy.

But with the booming business came tragedy. The Daytona Beach News-Journal reported eight people fell off balconies, one fatally. Fights broke out and three hotels were shut down amid reports of urine, vomit and feces in the halls and stairways. Some tourism officials felt the spring break market had high risk and limited reward and scared away family vacationers.

"There were many businesses that made a lot of money, but the (negative) impact on the community was too much," said Blaine Lansberry, who owns the Best Western Plus Aku Tiki Inn. "Our hotel business agreed to evolve away from spring break and focused more on families."

Seabreeze Boulevard used to be a popular gathering spot for college students for its bars and clubs. But now on most nights, those clubs receive sporadic business during spring break.

"It's going to fold up," said Derrick Butler, owner of BEG4It Entertainment, referring to the businesses along the boulevard. "You already see it now, all you see is for rent signs in the windows. It's obvious what's happening."

The owner of Maui Nix Surf Shop, George Karamitos, says the city has turned its back on a high economic generator and hasn't replaced it with anything.

Many spring breakers now head to Panama City Beach, where tourism officials there are expecting between 250,000 to 300,000 students this year. Daytona tourism officials anticipate only 15,000 spring breakers.

The state Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco made 1,800 arrests in Panama City Beach and Bay County in 2012. This year, a 21-year-old Tennessee man fell off of a balcony, suffering two broken ribs and a broken tailbone, while a 20-year-old Michigan man died from an apparent alcohol overdose.

But Panama City Beach Police Chief Drew Whitman said "99 percent" of the students have a good time and don't cause problems.

Scott Edwards, with the Daytona Beach Welcome Center, wants the city to find a way to balance the spring break crowd without alienating families that now come to the beach.

"The notion that they will destroy this place is total fantasy," he said. "Today's college student is more sophisticated."

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