News Column

Not everyone happy with emergency gate

August 4, 2014

By John Henderson, The News Herald, Panama City, Fla.



Aug. 04--PANAMA CITY BEACH -- The owners of Miracle Strip Amusement Park, who have been at odds with the company that owns Pier Park, have opened a new western entrance that accesses Pier Park's parking lot.

The park owners and city officials said they have not heard whether the Simon Property Group, which owns Pier Park, objects to the new entrance.

"Typically, there would be an (access) agreement," City Manager Mario Gisbert said. "I've not seen the agreement. Either way, without somebody complaining, there may or may not be an issue. I don't know. It's a civil issue."

Simon was not commenting.

"I have forwarded along your inquiry to the mall team and Simon. If they choose to address these questions, I'll make sure to let you know immediately," said Kelley Santiago, a spokeswoman for Simon via email.

But city officials said they did hear complaints recently from the Simon Property Group and St. Joe Co. when Miracle Strip opened up its back emergency gate on the northern side of the park. People were parking on St. Joe Co. property just outside of the gate to get into the park, and St. Joe officials raised liability concerns. Simon officials had expressed their displeasure that amusement park patrons were using Pier Park's parking lot.

The Meeks family, the owners of the amusement park, closed that northern emergency gate a few days ago.

"The gate opened onto St. Joe property," Gisbert said.

Mel Leonard, director of planning and building for Panama City Beach, said when the back gate was open, people who were trying to get into the amusement park were jumping the curb at L.C. Hilton Drive and parking their vehicles on St. Joe Co. property.

In April, the amusement park that was in Pier Park opened in a new location outside of the park with an access on Powell Adams Road. The site is about 250 feet away from where they were previously located in Pier Park.

The Meeks were displeased with lease conditions put forth by the Simon Property Group for them to remain in the Pier Park location.

Jenny Meeks said they initially opened the emergency gate on the northern end of the park and recently opened a western entrance to ensure the safety of the many people walking from Pier Park to the amusement park.

"We started opening it because it is so dark," Meeks said. "People were walking down L.C. Hilton and Powell Adams Road at night and there is no sidewalk. We had a tremendous amount of families with strollers and groups of people who, once they get to our front ticket booth, said, 'We almost got hit by a car.' We had to have a pedestrian access on the back side to make sure nobody got hurt."

Meeks said she hasn't heard any complaints from Simon about opening the new western entrance.

She said she hopes it stays that way, pointing out that the entrance allows pedestrians to cross back and forth between Pier Park and the amusement park, which is good for business for everyone.

"Every night I have people at our place come in and ride the Ferris wheel and go right through to Dave and Buster's (in Pier Park)," she said.

Leonard said at this time, the Meeks do not need the city's approval for the western opening.

"They haven't put any improvements in there," he said. "Once they move the ticket booth into place, and make it official and people come in there and get tickets, then what they need to do is amend their development order to show that connection," he said.

He said he hasn't heard from Simon officials whether they object to the new western entrance. He said if Simon does object, they always have the option of putting up shrubs or something else on their property to block people from parking in Pier Park's lot.

But he said it would be a positive if the entrance stayed open.

"It would allow for the flow of pedestrians back and forth instead of having to get into their car," he said.

In April, Miracle Strip Amusement Park opened in its new location outside of Pier Park, about 250 feet away from where they were previously located. Another amusement park, Pier Park Rides, is now opening.

In June, the Panama City Beach City Council approved a development order paving the way for Pier Park Rides to open a 10-ride park where Miracle Strip was previously operating. The decision was made after council members listened to lawyers debate whether the project should be allowed under city code and the Development of Regional Impact for Pier Park.

Lawyers for Simon and Pier Park Rides argued that the Meeks were challenging the development order for the new park to snuff out potential competition, and at the very least, extend the hearing process so Pier Park Rides would miss the season.

___

(c)2014 The News Herald (Panama City, Fla.)

Visit The News Herald (Panama City, Fla.) at www.newsherald.com

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Source: News Herald (Panama City, FL)


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