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One of the most exclusive neighborhoods in Panama City is the area known as San Francisco de la Caleta (Saint Francis of the Small Inlet), which is inhabited by upper middle class and upper class family. There you can find the luxurious Multiplaza Pacific and Multicentro malls, first class restaurants, five stars hotels, art galleries, modern hospitals, schools and some tourist attractions like Omar Torrijos Park and the Atlapa Convention where the majority of fairs in the capital take place.
This neighborhood took the name of San Francisco de la Caleta, because an image of San Francis of Assisi was found by some fishermen on a beach known as Playa Trujillo. Eventually the Claretian monks founded the church in 1933 in his honor, it is located in the exclusive area of Coco del Mar, where embassies have their residencies and financial moguls have their mansions. During the dictatorship years General Omar Torrijos and General Antonio Noriega had homes in San Francisco. Both sites are now derelict as no plans have been made for them.
This “corregimiento” (neighborhood) was created on August 9, 1926 and since then has suffered a total metamorphosis. The old mansions with their expansive lawns and tall walls has given place to modern skyscrapers. The Marcos Gelabert International Airport was moved from the place that is now occupied by Multiplaza Mall to Albrook, the Punta Pacifica Hospital and the Torres de las Americas.
Some private schools like San Agustin and Las Esclavas, which were located in Via Israel sold their prime real estate properties relocating those learning centers to Costa del Este and Clayton respectively. Others like the Albert Einstein Institute, Instituto Justo Arosemena and the Instituto Tecnico Don Bosco decided to stay. The public schools in the area are José A. Remón Cantera, Richard Neumann institutes and the la Escuela Profesional Isabel Herrera Obaldía.
Another place that has changed significantly is the former Panama Golf Club, which is now the Parque Omar, a five kilometer green lung in the middle of the bustling city where many cultural events and fairs take place continuously. Many people go there to walk, exercise, use the swimming pool and just contemplate nature. The National Library Ernesto J. Castillero, which was previously located in near the Plaza 5 de Mayo, now has a modern building in the Parque Omar.
Atlapa Convention Centre (Spanish: Centro de Convenciones de Atlapa) is in the heart of San Francisco facing the South Corridor and Via Porras. It opened in 1980 and it is run by the Panama Tourism Authority. It contains 19 meeting rooms, some of which are capable of hosting up to 600 people and covers eight hectares.
In 2008, following concerns that the centre lacked the necessary capacity and infrastructure, the Panamanian government decided to auction off the centre at the end of that year to fund the construction of a replacement convention centre. At this time, the centre was hosting events 360 days a year but still made annual losses of $1 million.
The auction was delayed by the Ministry of Housing. After initially requesting $150 million, the government reduced the price to $124.6 million, including the nearby land. When this failed to attract offers, the centre was offered for sale at $62.3 million, under the terms of a 2006 Panamanian law. This price proved controversial with business groups, who believed the centre should remain state-owned. In April 2015, the government halted the sale. The lack of offers and the investment of $3.2 million in preparation for the Summit of the Americas were cited as reasons. Currently it is one of the best convention centers in the country.
Some of the most expensive areas of Panama City are Punta Pacifica and Paitilla apartments are $250,000 and up. Skyscrapers can be seen close to the coast, changing the city’s horizon forever. The inhabitants are Panamanian and others from all round the world.
San Francisco has grown significantly and although it does not have the lovely bungalows surrounded by palm trees and the Roosevelt cinema, where you could watch two movies for 25 cents; it still has a charming atmosphere that makes it one of the best neighborhoods to live in Panama.