Downtown Panama City Is Lively Again

By Paul Hughes on April 30, 2012 at 3:37 am EST


Ten years ago, “downtown was pretty much non-existent” says Downtown Improvement Board Director Dutch Sanger. “It was full of boarded-up buildings as customers moved to the malls.”

Now Sanger couldn’t be more effusive.

“We have 85 percent occupancy, and it’s rising,” he says. “The city installed all new infrastructure, fixed building facades, put in new light-posts, nice bricks and landscaping.”

Business owners are doing their part. The Clemons Company and Neil Carroll Engineering both purchased older buildings and renovated the structures in order to move their offices downtown.

From a handful of businesses a few years ago, downtown has attracted shops selling antiques, home décor and ladies apparel. New restaurants are also finding a home downtown. In addition, downtown is home to professional firms, business offices, banks and other services.

The shops and restaurants draw steady foot traffic, while special events fill the streets in the evenings and on weekends.

For those seeking a cultural experience, the Visual Arts Center is a budding museum with an extensive permanent collection, special exhibits and art classes for every age.

“We’re growing,” says Ellen Killough, arts center director. “It began as a true grassroots guild; now we’re celebrating our 20th anniversary.”

The permanent collection focuses on American paintings of the 19th and 20th centuries. Special exhibits have featured artifacts from the Titanic and the works of adventurous American painters such as Andy Warhol.

Redevelopment, successful entrepreneurs and art institutions combine to create a thriving downtown Panama City. More improvements are in the works as the city updates its compre­hensive plan to allow more mixed-use development – including residential space.

The Main Street Program helps preserve history while promoting the area. Downtown Panama City continues to grow and improve, while still maintaining its charming character.

“Our community has it all,” Randall says. “We have a water­front, history, beauty and a thriving business community.”

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