Florida beach town tries to tame spring break without killing the party

Wed Mar 18, 2015 1:47pm EDT
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By Letitia Stein

PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. (Reuters) - A tradition of around-the-clock spring break partying has drawn Lance Granata to this small Florida Gulf Coast town three times. But this year, his antics landed him in jail - twice.

The Michigan student ran afoul of a new community effort to tamp down on the debauchery that comes with being a leading collegiate spring break destination, without breaking up a lucrative party.

"They want the underage drinkers, but they don't," said Granata, 20. He was arrested for smashing a window at a Subway store and for underage drinking, which he considered "beyond ridiculous."

Like previous Florida spring break hot spots Fort Lauderdale and Daytona Beach, this Panhandle town is facing a crisis of conscience over the trade-offs involved in hosting a binge for some 300,000 students who arrive through mid-April with coolers, beer funnels and credit cards.

Unwilling to evict spring break, a crucial season in a community where tourism brings in more than $1 billion annually, the city has passed new rules to counter the worst excesses.

Bars must stop serving alcohol at 2 a.m. in March, two hours earlier than before. Partygoers must have a valid ID to drink on the beach, and the practice of digging deep holes in the sand for drinking games and sex is banned.

"We're a very conservative area," said Bay County Commissioner Mike Thomas. "We've got more churches than we do bars.

"When you get this many people together being rowdy, it shows our community in a bad light."   Continued...

Spring breakers gather at a pool party at a hotel in Cancun March 8, 2015.  REUTERS/Victor Ruiz Garcia