Sunday, April 16, 2006

Nearer to the Madding Crowd

Photo courtesy of Barrier Island Girl

Economically, the PNJ's Fredie Carmichael reports today, things definitely are looking up at Pensacola Beach.

The metaphor he draws to beach resident and former boxing champ Roy Jones, Jr. is a little unfortunate. Jones, a true champion in his prime, hasn't looked too good in the ring, lately. Perhaps a riff off Thomas Hardy's uncharacteristically optimistic Far From the Madding Crowd would have been more suitable.

But the facts Carmichael reports, and others he alludes to, look solid enough:
  • Casino Beach in the commercial center was visibly crowded with Spring Breakers over the last month, and the 1,200 parking spaces there have been "full several weekends this year."
  • The main parking lot at Quietwater has been in full operation for some time;
  • The longest fishing pier on the Gulf Coast is open 24 hours a day;
  • Beach sand along all seven miles of Pensacola Beach has been sifted and cleared of most debris;
  • The Visitor Center claims "about" 5,000 people stopped by in February and March;
  • Half of the beach hotels are open, including the Hampton Inn, bringing available hotel-motel rooms to about 63% of pre-storm capacity;
  • 200 parking spaces have been cleared at the west-end Ft. Pickens Park;
  • Small impromptu parking nodes near Portofino offer 20 more spaces;
  • The pier at Quietwater Beach is expected to be fully repaired in June;
  • Escambia County's "East Park" facility is scheduled to open next month; and
  • "The Santa Rosa Island Authority took in $226,997 more in commercial revenue between October 2005 and February 2006 than it did during that same period a year ago."
Carmichael also does a creditable job of describing the rest of reality:
  • Fort Pickens Road won't be open this season, for sure, and quite possibly beyond;
  • For the nonce, the Fort itself is accessible only via boat or a 7-mile trek down the desolated part of the island west of Pensacola Beach;
  • Hundreds of homes, townhouses, and condo units are being rehabbed or have been torn down altogether;
  • "[T]he constant pounding of hammers is commonplace as many residents rebuild homes and rental properties;"
  • Quietwater Beach tourist businesses are still playing musical chairs -- and there are plenty of seats left to go around;
  • Temporary port-o-lets have had their service tours extended throughout the island, since most public bathrooms remain unusable;
Still, the reporter tells us, shop owners are enthusiastic. He quotes "Jeff Elbert" of the popular Island Styles souvenir shop as saying:
"There's a world of difference between the condition of the beach this year and this time last year."
We'd bet Jim Elbert of the popular Island Styles souvenir shop would agree.

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