By Barbara Liston
ORLANDO, Fla. (Reuters) - A Florida city is taking on its reputation for out-of-control spring break parties by banning alcohol consumption on the beach next March, after shootings and the alleged gang rape of a young woman who passed out on the beach earlier this year.
The alcohol ban was among several restrictions adopted on Thursday by the city council in Panama City Beach, which attracts some 300,000 collegiate spring breakers annually.
Once word spreads through social media, many likely will not come back to the Florida Panhandle city, said Mayor Gayle Oberst.
“The message is, if you want to come to Panama City Beach, you’re going to have to abide by the laws and behave yourself,” Oberst said.
The number of spring breakers in 2016 could be cut by as much as two-thirds, she said.
Other rules include a ban on climbing on balconies and parking on scenic road rights-of-way after dark, and closing down bars at 2 a.m., two hours earlier than the rest of the year.
Bay County has adopted similar restrictions on its neighboring beaches, and both governments plan further rules to address raucous house parties and pop-up nightclubs, Oberst said.
“We don’t want that anymore,” said Bay County Commissioner Mike Thomas.
The new regulations have divided the community, where spring break has become big business, Oberst acknowledged. Rental condominium units that cater to families may see more business, while hotels and clubs that cater to the hard-partying college crowd will lose out, she said.
In the middle of spring break this year, both the city and county adopted temporary emergency drinking bans on the beach and in parking lots after an apparently drugged young woman was gang raped in daylight in front of a crowd of spectators, an incident captured on videotape.
Two weeks later, seven young people were shot at a house party.
(Editing by Letitia Stein and Jonathan Oatis)