By Peter Fischetti
That three-mile stretch of asphalt between State Road 79 and Nautilus St. in Panama City Beach initially was to be called Bay Parkway. But when the city’s longest serving mayor, Phillip Griffitts Sr. died last December, the City Council voted to rename it in his honor. So when the road opened last week, the signs read “Phillip Griffitts Sr. Parkway.”
But is that how residents and tourists will refer to it? The road was designed to redirect some of the traffic on Panama City Beach Parkway, a name that is rarely used. Instead, most drivers call it Back Beach Road to distinguish it from Front Beach Road to the south. Similarly, Middle Beach Road is the popular name for Hutchison Boulevard.
Research by Abbie Beck, who works in the Local History & Geneology area at the Bay County Public Library, shows that Hutchison Beach Elementary School was named for Judge Ira Hutchison when it opened in 1956 on a 10-acre tract he donated, so, she added, “I think it’s reasonable to assume that the road was also named in his honor.”
Unfortunately for the Hutchison family, few people probably know about Ira. No one at the school knew it was so named. At the city, communications director Debbie Ward emailed, “No one seems to know. It might be a judge, someone said.” While the city library, which is on Hutchison Boulevard, didn’t know either, it did suggest the call to the county library, which did know.
Will the Griffitts family suffer the same fate? In time, will future generations of residents be unaware of the accomplishments of Phillip Griffitts Sr.?
If history is to be repeated, the new road will be called Back, Back Beach Road. In fact, that was the most popular name (along with Double Back Beach) when Cindy Grimes, who lives in the Open Sands community on the beach, asked for suggestion in an online post on nextdoor. Her choice was “Way Back Beach Road,” a nice plug for Wayback Burgers. Continuing with the food theme, another was Outback Road.
Dorothy Larson, who initially favored “Busy Bee Express,” a service station at the east end of the parkway, now prefers the more dramatic “Nightmare on Nautilus Street” after she said it took her “forever” to make a left turn coming out of Colony Club.
Rob (no last name) suggested changing the sign to “‘Road Closed’ to throw off GPS software for visitors.” That’s interesting since Google Maps doesn’t even list Panama City Beach Parkway; instead, it’s called U.S. Highway 98.
Here are some more: “Boondocks Parkway,” to plug the restaurant; “The St. Joe Highway,” named for the company that donated the land for the road; “Nautilus Strangler,” a reference by Larry Rijkto impending traffic jams on that street; and “Destin Band-Aid.”
Mixed in with the suggestions were comments that felt the new name is entirely appropriate. Beth Fulton of Bid-a-Wee said, “Phillip Griffitts Sr. … was a great man and deserving of this memorial for his family to be proud of.”
In fact, at that City Council meeting, the vote was unanimous. As Mayor Mark Sheldon said, “It's not every day ... that we get to do things that will be here for a long, long time and it's really special.”
And how is Phillip Griffitts Sr. Parkway doing? Ward, the communication director, noted, “When the parkway was first being discussed, it was estimated that each segment constructed would take 7 percent of the traffic from Panama City Beach Parkway. With Phase 2 now open, that would be a total of 14 percent of the daily cars that are no longer traveling on this section of Panama City Beach Parkway between Nautilus Street and State Road 79.”
Public Works director Kelly Jenkins added, “While we have no official traffic counts, we know that many motorists have discovered Philip Griffitts Sr. Parkway and they are using it, just judging by the number of vehicles we see on the new road. Traffic appears to be lighter in this segment of Panama City Beach Parkway.”
A more comprehensive study is "down the road," as they say.