In this undated photo, Ricky and Karen Jones enjoy the sunset at Panama City Beach in Florida. (Photos submitted)
With vacation season just around the corner, one local family is encouraging Middle Tennessee residents to take an affordable trip south to Panama City Beach, Fla., this year.
Husband-and-wife duo Ricky and Karen Jones invested in the beachside community in 2006, just before the real estate market took a turn for the worst.
But as the economy has recovered, so has Panama City Beach with its white sandy beaches and emerald green waters.
Like many others investors, the Jones family initially sought to purchase a vacation home in Destin, Fla., but condominium prices were above their price range. Their realtor encouraged them to visit the city, as several newly constructed resorts were opening.
Naturally, they resisted.
Ricky Jones said he envisioned the beach of his teenage days, when the city was a popular spring break destination, known for its “party, party, party” atmosphere. He remembered rundown hotels and novelty shops, neighbored by Club La Vela and Spinnakers.
Upon their arrival, however, they were greeted with brand new 25-floor resorts, complete with all the amenities a vacationing family could dream of having at their disposal –granite countertops, beautiful resort-style pools and state-of-the-art fitness centers.
That day, the couple signed a contract for their first condo, and the rest, as they say, is history. Shortly thereafter, they launched Resort Condo Services and now manage 25 luxury high-rise condos in four different Panama City Beach resorts.
“That’s probably the biggest misconception people have if they haven’t been to Panama City Beach in a long time,” Karen Jones said. “Panama City Beach has really grown up. It’s a whole new area now. That spring break party image has faded a significant amount, and a family fun location is really coming to the forefront. It’s fun to see that transition.”
Since then, they have also become strong advocates for Panama City Beach. The duo recently launched www.VisitPCB.com, implemented advanced social media advertising, and hired a full-time rental manager and maintenance supervisor.
Karen Jones attributed the company’s success to “combining their information systems technology skills obtained at IBM and Nissan with their customer-first attitude and a true love of the beach.”
Ricky Jones, a Nissan retiree, said developers made the conscious decision to branch out of Destin. At the time, Panama City Beach was a natural next step, due in large part because of its complete transformation.
In fact, they say, it has made a complete 360-degree turnaround, as developers have created a prime locale of shopping, restaurants, and entertainment and upscale lodging.
Construction of Pier Park, an entertainment and shopping complex, is complete and now features 125 businesses, including Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville and Nashville’s own Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge.
And a Pier Park West destination is already in the planning stages.
“They’ve done a really great job with the condos they build and the infrastructure they put in place,” she said, “but Panama City Beach has also been really smart with how they’re investing in the area and what they’re trying to grow in a really good, controlled way.”
The area has really become a cool mixture of old favorites and new developments, she added.
And with the 2010 addition of non-stop flights from Nashville to Panama City Beach, the trip is much more convenient. In less than two hours, it is much faster, and sometimes cheaper, than driving.
“The airport has a quick and easy feel,” she said. “It’s easy to zip in and out of, and it’s nice and new. It’s just so convenient.”
Citing its affordability – and further discounts if travelers have a flexible schedule – and its laundry list of amenities, the Joneses continue to encourage Middle Tennessee residents to vacation in Panama City Beach.
“We’ve even created a tradition with New Year’s Eve,” Ricky Jones said. “They close down streets, have vendors and music and face painting – the whole bit. It’s really turned into an awesome New Year’s Eve party down there. We brought three or four couples down with us, and now they all go back down there to celebrate every year.”
Karen Jones added, “We’re really sold on the area. I grew up in south Florida, but the beaches in Panama City Beach to me are better than not just south Florida, but beaches all over the world.”