New life, new look for Downtown Panama City

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PANAMA CITY, Fla. — Downtown Panama City is filled with historic buildings, each with a story to tell. A team of three local friends is working to bring some of those stories back to life.

“We complement each other,” said Chris Cramer, a Panama City resident and entrepreneur. He’s teamed up with Allan Branch and Kevin Wattenbarger; all locals with an eye and investment for the future of Downtown Panama City.

“There’s a reinspiration around downtown about getting people back downtown,” said Branch, who’s working on opening History Class Brewery by the end of the year. “We were hoping that this would be a spark or part of a spark that revitalized our downtown,” he said.

The group said although office space is a common sell downtown, it doesn’t garner the foot traffic needed to revitalize the area. They’re working to incorporate more residential and community spaces there, like at 456 Harrison, where they’ve stripped down the building to reveal the history underneath.

“We weren’t 100% sure of what we had bought until we uncovered some of what had been put in over time,” said Cramer.

They found the original brick walls and wood ceilings and want to use those unique features to turn the old office space into something new. Cramer says they have a good idea of what they want that to be. 

“We have a development order with the city for a restaurant here,” said Cramer.

While he wouldn’t give too much away he said it’s an idea residents will be excited about, hopefully open by the spring of next year.

“Perhaps a micro-style restaurant that you may be familiar with but you’ve never seen in Panama City,” he said. 

Wattenbarger is working on another project, “The Page Building.”

Constructed in the 1930’s, he’s looking to turn the building into apartments upstairs with retail space below, bringing out its historical qualities like original flooring, walls and markings and  turning them into selling points.

“That’s just stuff we couldn’t replicate today even if we wanted to,” he said.

While this particular project won’t be ready for at least a year, Wattenbarger is looking forward to the future of this building as well as many others downtown. 

“So many other towns are revitalizing and why not us?” he asked. 

The entire group is keen on helping to make downtown a place people want to be.

“This hurricane has forced us to collaborate and work together because we have to rebuild the city,” said Branch.

He said they’re not the only ones with a vision. The team has noticed several other investors and developers taking action on ideas for the area as well. 

“We could point to any number of buildings, throw a stone and there’s something happening there,” said Cramer.

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