Vagrants impacting downtown businesses

Panama City – Panama City Mayor Greg Brudnicki received more ammunition in his battle to move the rescue mission out of the downtown area. A property owner says he’s lost two more tenants, who got tired of trying to run a business the vagrants hanging around. Those business owners claims the vagrants harassed customers, eventually running them away from downtown.

“It’s hard to do business,” said Robert Cogburn, landlord.

Both of Robert Cogburn’s downtown buildings are vacant these days. His renters moved out. Cogburn claims they were tired of vagrants harassing their customers.

“One of my tenants said they would come inside the business and hassle customers. Did they want their windows washed, did they want this or could they get some money,” said Cogburn.

Cogburn says the problem got worse after Panama City Police moved their sub-station from Harrison Avenue to Magnolia Avenue in January.

“I thought it was better when we had the sub-station down here and we use to have police patrols, but like my tenant said its just getting worse since they closed that substation,” said Cogburn.

Mayor Greg Brudnicki says it’s this type of activity that’s standing in the way of downtown revitalization. He’s hopping the new homeless task force committee will find some answers.

“It’s the chicken or the egg. We want to do something very spectacular for the marina, but it doesn’t need to be a haven for bums and until we get tough and until we use some tough love and stop enabling we’re going to continue to have the problem,” said Brudnicki.

Those two businesses did not close. they just moved to new locations. “That’s Too Cute” is now on 23rd Street. “Southern Furniture Liquidators” moved to Eastpoint in Franklin County. Cogburn has been trying to sell both buildings, but his asking price has gone down $400,000 in the past two years.

One only need take a slow drive down Harrison Ave from Sixth street down to the Marina to see the multiple vacant buildings where businesses have either closed or have relocated to other areas of town. This is a direct result of the impact that the rescue mission has had on the number of vagrants in the downtown area. Without the draw of the rescue mission, vagrants would dissipate outside the downtown area. Forward looking investors who see Downtown Panama City as a diamond-in-the-rough, will be willing to make the investment in downtown. They will be willing to repair and restore older properties downtown. They will make commitments in inventory and personnel in building businesses that provide valuable goods and services for our community. However, no investor is will be willing to throw money in our downtown with an ongoing vagrancy problem that draws crime and deters our community from going downtown. It is time for the mission to move.

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