The site of the Marina Civic Center could house a new center

PANAMA CITY — After losing their battle with FEMA to replace the badly damaged Marina Civic Center, Panama City officials continue the journey to bring back the arts following Hurricane Michael.

Officials briefed residents Thursday evening on the planned performing arts center and events in Panama City, choosing the marina as a potential home.

Members of the city’s project team, Wilson Butler – Fentress Architect, filled the Hall of the Arts Center as they went through their site selection process, plans for potential space and next steps .

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The Marina Civic Center at Panama City Marina was closed as it was severely damaged during Hurricane Michael.  The marina site could house the Panama City Performing Arts and Events Center.

On July 14, Wilson Butler announced that the 13 possible sites for the facility had been narrowed down to two downtown locations: “Site 1”, home of the current Marina Civic Center; and “Site 5”, the entire block directly behind City Hall.

The future home of PAEC

The last community meeting on Thursday highlighted the advantages of both locations, with a decision that Site 1 was the best location. The City Commission approved the site at its Tuesday meeting, allowing construction of the new PAEC at the same general location as the Marina Civic Center.

Scott Butler, Principal and Architect of Wilson Butler, outlined his goals for the new PAEC, including the adaptability of the facility to host a variety of events, have usable outdoor green spaces, and enhance the civic identity of the city. town. He said Site 1 had achieved all of these goals.

The downtown Panama City block that was envisioned for the new performing arts center is bordered by Fifth and Sixth Streets and between Jenks and Grace Avenues.

“We did the whole assessment. …Site 5 was better for resilience, better for vehicle access, it has the potential to sort of activate the street, but the waterfront definitely has appeal,” Butler said. With Site 1, “we think there will be more activity in the parks there, the amphitheaters as part of this project. It’s going to have a huge appeal.”

He also said that Site 1 has other important features such as increased parking with 530 potential spaces, access to retail and restaurants, views from outside the space and potential for “extension of stay”.

The inhabitants weigh

Residents still had concerns about the proposed size of the facility, comparing the old center’s capacity of 2,500 people to the new center, which aims for 1,600 places.

“Fewer seats means higher ticket prices,” said Doug White, resident and music director of St. Andrews Baptist Church. “We have Aaron Bessant Park on the other side of town…that side of town needs a civic center.”

The current Panama City Performing Arts Center was closed because it was severely damaged during Hurricane Michael.

Butler touched on capacity earlier in the presentation, presenting a map of theaters within a 2-3 hour drive with similar seating capacities to what is proposed for PAEC. He said their goal was to create a “full and active” facility, wanting it to be the right size for the community.

He added that his company and city officials will work with the Martin Theater in downtown Panama City, which is expected to have 500 seats. Butler said they want the two facilities to complement each other and the events they will host.

Many residents also questioned the center’s effects on Panama City’s marina and boat docks, including some who said talk was circulating that the boat ramp would be removed.

“I was just curious if that was true…it would be a huge game-changer if that decision had been made well in advance,” said longtime resident Craig Zar.

Butler said they were just starting to explore all of the site’s features, including the boat ramp. He said there had been conversations about moving the boat ramp, but a larger discussion needed to take place with the public.

And after

Wilson Butler officials will prepare for their next step, presenting Phase 1 for approval at the city commission meeting Aug. 23 at 8 a.m.

William E. Bennett