PANAMA CITY— City officials held a public workshop Tuesday evening to review plans for the Panama City Performing Arts and Events Center.
Members of the city's project team, Wilson Butler – Fentress Architect, went through their presentation of architecture, interior and concept designs for phase one of the new PAEC.
The new arts and events center will replace the Marina Civic Center, which was severely damaged by Hurricane Michael.
Architect developers vowed to take part in transforming Panama City into its vision of becoming the premier city of the Panhandle with the new center.
"We want to fulfill a lot of items we've heard over the past few months to make Panama City a vibrant cultural destination," Wilson-Butler architect Josh Stiling said. "We're focusing on those aspects to make sure we can capture with the PAEC and maintain going forward."
In phase one, the new PAEC will accommodate space for arts, culture and entertainment, and local and regional events with key elements to transform the Marina Arts and waterfront district into a downtown cultural hub.
Some of the key elements of the new center include an outdoor amphitheater, promenade, new marina store, retail shops, an art museum, outdoor spaces and ample parking. According to developers, the design allows the capability for a variety of programs and event sizes, with fixed seating capacity of 1,600 to 2,500 seats, more than 3,000 person capacity for general admission and many other event configurations.
New center to cost up to $170 million. Where is the funding coming from?
Estimated costs for the PAEC range from $150 million to $170 million, with an anticipated timeline of completion of the center in late 2026.
Developers concluded with a number of representations the new center will bring to Panama City, including an investment in the city's future, enhancing the quality of life, supporting local businesses, educational opportunity, publicly accessible waterfront and community placemaking.
After the presentation, city officials and residents shared their thoughts on the new PAEC, but many raised concerns about funding for the development. Mayor Greg Brudnicki said the city could not rely on the Federal Emergency Management Agency for funding after many failed developments with them in the past.
He added this is the largest funded project the city has ever seen.
"We're going to have to figure out if this project is probable for the city," Brudnicki said. "The fact that it's going to offer so many things excites me, and I would love to see us be able to justify this new development to provide something the community wants and deserves. But I don't want to be a burden on taxpayers."
City Commissioner Jenna Haligas said she believes the new arts center would be a great addition in a time when revitalization is happening around downtown Panama City. However, she said it's a bigger project the city needs to consider before moving forward.
"This is new territory for all of us, and it's a very scary yet exciting time," she said. "We're looking to build for the future of Panama City, and there are just so many reasons why we should be investing in a new arts center. But it's more about how much of this investment will go back into our local economy."
This article originally appeared on The News Herald: Panama City Performing Arts Center: Design unveiled, funding up in air