PANAMA CITY — Another new year means another chance for Panama City to reach its goal of becoming the premier city in the Panhandle.
Panama City officials recently outlined how 2022 would bring more growth and opportunity to the city with new businesses, infrastructure improvements and restoring city staples.
Glenwood and St. Andrews.”
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The city commission has secured nearly $300 million in funding and grants for these upcoming changes and improvements, including:
$113 million from the State Revolving Fund for water and sewer lines throughout the city.
$19 million from the Community Development Block Grant for Disaster Relief, which will go toward helping Millville with its water and sewer lines.
$80 million line of credit to begin working on approximately 167 FEMA projects, once they have the engineering and architectural serviced contracted.
$25 million Hazard Mitigation Grant for the Robinson Bayou storm drain, which runs from the Panama City Mall to the Gulf Coast Regional Medical Center on 15th street.
$20 million from Gov. Ron DeSantis to help small businesses in St. Andrews, Millville, Glennwood and downtown with restorations.
“We’re executing the dollars that they’ve procured for us so that we can start finally impacting the lives of our citizens,” McQueen said. “Our citizens are going to start seeing roads being repaired, water lines being repaired, sewer lines being replaced, lift stations being replaced. They’re going to see new ball fields coming into play. They’re going to start seeing more businesses emerging in the city of Panama City.”
Mayor Greg Brudnicki said residents have been burdened since Hurricane Michael in 2018 and both the commissioners and himself wanted to make sure the costs of these new projects will not fall onto the residents. The commissioners have been taking the time to seek out and find the resources for these projects, as well as carefully spend the money before getting reimbursed by the government, Brudnicki said.
“If you don’t have the financial wherewithal as a municipality to do that, then you can never really get started. We’ve got to be very prudent in how we borrow our money at as low rates as possible, get the jobs done as quickly as we can,” Brudnicki said. “But we don’t want to rush to failure. We want to make sure we do it right and not have the burden of what it costs for the time value, the money until we get reimbursed from the government.”
One of the most anticipated projects is the relocation of the Millville Wastewater Treatment Plant. The plant has been in operation for 72 years and back in October, saw thousands of gallons of raw sewage leak into Watson Bayou following a mechanical error.
“The city commission reached out and asked the state Legislature to help us to do a $1.5 million study on the relocation of the Millville wastewater treatment plan,” McQueen said.
The goal of the study is to find an inland industrial area for the plant to reside, instead of waterfront on Watson Bayou.
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Stormwater and sewer infrastructure repairs will be one of the areas that will take priority on the city’s 2022 list.
“We’re doing all of the engineerings for all of the water and sewer lines in nearly 20 different areas of town that are our most needed areas for replacement of water and sewer lines,” McQueen said. “We’re going to be replacing and repairing over 30 different lift stations throughout the city at Panama City. We’re also working on improving our roads, our storm drain systems, and our sidewalks.”
Another area residents are expected to see growth in is employment and business opportunities, with many new companies set to call Panama City home soon. One of which is the new 251,000-square-foot FedEx Ground facility, which will support 208 jobs.
McQueen said the city would announce more businesses throughout the year. The city also plans on working with existing local businesses to restore and highlight their buildings.
“We’ll be working with shop owners to help enhance their businesses and make them safer and you know, more resilient to storms and being better positioned to provide business and to our citizens,” McQueen said.
Brudnicki said it is important to pay attention to the city’s current businesses and the upcoming businesses, especially since a lot of people come to the area for tourism and health care, since there are two major hospitals — Ascension Sacred Heart Bay and Gulf Coast Regional Medical Center.
“A lot of people have to come here to use Ascension and also Gulf Coast and they also come here to shop,” Brudnicki said. “It’s a big deal that we are the biggest city between Pensacola and Tallahassee and we provide a lot for people outside of our county.”
Certain areas across Panama City will start to see more businesses popping up soon, especially near Tyndall Air Force Base, which is currently rebuilding from Hurricane Michael damage.
“We, as the county seat, are going to provide a lot of the retail services and quality of life for that particular base. We’re going to be spending about $400 million in the city of Panama City,” Brudnicki said. “They’re going to spend 10 times that much or more on Tyndall. That is really going to help us grow and be a bigger picture on a bigger map, but we’ve got to be able to come through and provide the education and the retail services that are needed to be able to support just Tyndall Air Force Base.”
Both city officials stressed that quality of life was one of the main focuses of their projects, especially for the upcoming restoration and revitalization projects.
The Harrison Streetscape, the performing arts center, and the Civics Center are all on the list to continue to receive updates and construction throughout the year.
Various parks, such as Daffin Park and the MLK recreation center, will see makeovers with new utilities and more trees. McQueen said it is vital to get the lost tree canopy back after 80% was lost to the hurricane.
“The commissioners have approved funding for us to go and start repairing and replacing a number of our parks throughout the city,” McQueen said. “They’ve allocated funds to help us with #ReTreePC and planting thousands of trees by tree donations and giveaways that we have.”
Both McQueen and Brudnicki said they are excited about the upcoming projects for this year and believe this will take them to another level. Making their dreams of not just becoming the hot spot in the Panhandle, but also leading residents away from the destruction that Hurricane Michael caused them more than three years ago.
“They’re the ones that have shown their determination and persistence and perseverance and resilience and are pressing on,” McQueen said. “Their homes are rebuilt. They’re getting their businesses rebuilt, they’re reestablishing their lives, which the city just gives them a huge salute to what they’re accomplishing.”
This article originally appeared on The News Herald: Panama City has high hopes for 2022. Here’s how leaders plan to improve the city this year