The Department of Economic Opportunity will grant an additional $58 million to help revitalize communities hit by Hurricane Michael in 2018.
Gov. Ron DeSantis announced the distribution Wednesday in Panama City, which will receive $19 million — the largest share of the latest pot from the Rebuild Florida Hometown Revitalization Program. That program supports projects in Bay, Calhoun, Franklin, Gadsden, Jackson, Liberty and Washington counties, which suffered the brunt of Hurricane Michael in October 2018.
Downtown areas and businesses are often the core of rural and small communities, DeSantis said.
Hurricane Michael was in the headlines for days after the storm hit, but it had fallen off the radar by the time he took office, according to the Governor. Under the DeSantis administration, DEO has awarded $200 million for Hurricane Michael recovery.
“I got elected, came here in early January 2019, said we’re not forgetting this, we’re going to be in it for the long haul. We made that commitment,” DeSantis said.
The latest funding will help businesses like History Class Brewing Company, which DeSantis described as “a place where people can gather, enjoy a beer and each other’s company.”
History Class Brewing Company’s co-founder, Allan Branch, called rural downtowns the heartbeat of communities and perfect for “bumping into folks.” Main Street is central to Panama City’s origin story, he added.
“We have a government that recognizes that they don’t build these buildings the way they used to, and you cannot replace them, and you don’t abandon communities after Cat. 5 hurricanes,” Branch said. “We’ve seen that time and time again this administration shows up with checks and kind words, and that matters.”
Rep. Jay Trumbull, a Panama City Republican who has represented the city and part of Bay County since 2014, recalled the morning after the hurricane hit less than three years ago.
“I can remember the morning after Hurricane Michael, driving a side-by-side down through Harrison Avenue, driving over glass hearing sirens, listening to horns, seeing people’s faces, not sure what tomorrow was going to bring,” Trumbull said. “It’s really amazing to see how far we’ve come.”
Trumbull, who now plays a leading role in the Legislature’s budget discussions, credited both state resources and local leaders for helping the city recover.
Within the latest round of funding is $5.6 million for Lynn Haven to revitalize the Main Street corridor and enhance pedestrian safety. Additionally, $5 million will go to Springfield to remove structures damaged in Hurricane Michael and install infrastructure to attract businesses to the commercial district.
DeSantis has periodically announced funding for Hurricane Michael recovery and rolled out programs to assist those efforts.
The Florida Panhandle’s tourism economy has boomed the past year, even as the COVID-19 pandemic raged on. The virus is on the rise again statewide, but DeSantis is sticking to his commitment to keep the state open.
“I know, Bay County, you’ve had a hell of a summer last summer and this summer, and I know the whole 2021 you guys are doing records in some of your tourist areas. So we’re really proud of that,” DeSantis said.