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A recent article published in the English daily, the “Financial Times”, identifies the historic district of Casco Antiguo of Panama City as one of the best areas in which to buy property. This part of the city was awarded world heritage status by UNESCO, almost 20 years ago.
According to Lily Le Brun, author of the article, tourists and Panamanians are returning to Casco Antiguo, which has been coaxed back into life by government efforts to promote its restoration.
“Over the past 10 years we have witnessed a boom in the renovation of historical buildings,” says Andrea Cooper, senior investment adviser with Panama Equity Real Estate, “which has primarily consisted of the development of small condo suites within restored historical mansions. Often these projects sell out in the pre-construction phase.”
These projects have been joined by mixed-use developments with retail space on the ground floor and residential above. The increase in available commercial space has encouraged investors to open restaurants, bars, lounges and galleries, attracting affluent locals when previously their principal markets were tourists.
The American Trade Hotel, which was reopened in 2013, was originally one of the first skyscrapers (six stories) in Panama. “The building is a symbol of Panama’s history,” says Ramon Arias, one of the owners, and the great-great grandson of the man who commissioned the building.
Le Brun explained in her article that Arias is one of many Panamanians who have returned to the neighbourhood and helped to restore it. What’s the appeal? “The best of a tropical Latin American city is all condensed in 40 blocks,” he says.
The Panamanian government is also trying to eliminate obstacles to trade and to attract wealthy immigrants. According to the Knight Frank World Report, the number of ultra-high net worth individuals (those with a net worth of more than $30m) in Panama City rose 80.9 per cent from 2007 to 2014. It is forecast to rise 51.8 per cent over the next 10 years.
Neighbouring areas just outside the UNESCO zone, which are not subject to the same restrictions, are also undergoing construction. One of these projects is the 15-story Casco View in Santa Ana. Its 136 one-bedroom and studio apartments are due for completion in 2018, with prices starting from $90,000.
Casco Antiguo restored historical properties are small but highly sought after. The price per square meter is 25 to 40 per cent higher than for luxury oceanfront properties in downtown Panama City. For example a two bedroom apartment with views of the Pacific can cost $500,000, a three-bedroom house in a private courtyard in Casco Antiguo goes for around $1 million, while a four-bedroom house can be bought for $2.2m.
This area of the Capital City is evolving and becoming a cultural center, where many events take place every week, from flea markets to free concerts. Although the properties are expensive, they will continue to increase in value as adjacent areas such as Santa Ana, El Chorrillo and San Felipe are becoming more gentrified.