Panama, Casco Viejo, Casco Antiguo, San Felipe
Behind every project we do in Casco there is a story. So much love and effort goes into creating a concept and then a building in the historic district. But this is especially true for Santa Familia, just putting together the properties, the concept and the plans took us ten years. Imagine that! I remember the day we got the building: even though it was in good shape (used to be a school), the best use it had at its time was as a paint ball field. For those who know Casco today, it might be hard to imagine it ten years ago. There was so much that was needed, and so much work to do. At that moment, we were engaged with a couple of NGO´s trying to figure out how to help them. And that is where we took a decision: we knew it would take some time to figure out the plans (never thought it would be that long!), so we decided that the building couldn´t sit empty, it would have a positive use. This became a policy in the company: everything should have a positive use, especially if not being used immediately for development.
So our “school” became a community center, a home base for many organizations that were (and are!) starting to make an impact in Casco. For the first time they would be all together, and our hope was that they could grow and create synergies. And they did.
From the afterschool program APROJUSAN to the Scouts and the neighborhood association AVACA, to photographers, artists, environmental and art organizations. For 5 years, AVACA ran the first recycling program in the neighborhood that allowed to gather data and knowledge on both commercial and residential garbage, and engage authorities, who are now starting to tackle recycling in the whole neighborhood. It also served for years as the offices and classrooms for Calicanto´s CAPTA program, an empowering and training program for women in the neighborhood that today has already expanded its wings to different activities and areas. We even had a little store called “Buenas Obras” where we created a currency (called Good Deeds) that could be exchanged for things at the store (that were mostly donated items). We had a lot of fun. Asking Clara what was one of her most beloved memories, she said straight away: the dancing lessons with Luis Sierra! I had completely forgotten he had a dance group. She loved his lessons, and hearing all the activity of the other ngo´s around.
But we also had tough times. Santa Familia served as a critical first response center to help neighbors that got affected by fires in the most vulnerable parts of town. Although very sad moments, they were also the strongest memories; having a place where neighbors would help each other re build their lives. Santa Familia made it possible to have a logistics center where donations could be received and delivered from day one.
It also assisted in consolidating efforts when it came to defend our historic and natural patrimony, to save the beach and protect our UNESCO World Heritage Site, at the time affected by the construction of the marine highway, Cinta Costera 3. Thanks to those efforts, we continue to have a beach we can enjoy, now also a nesting site for turtles and a wonderful city oasis for the community.
When we finally started to get ready to demolish the building, someone in the team asked “does anyone know how much stuff is in there”? At this point we all had to laugh. I would say a lot. Both “stuff” and memories. Hundreds of lives improved. Unpacking Santa Familia was a whole thing. We created a big Patio Sale and donated all proceeds to Aprojusan. It was awesome. And it was the right time and moment for it.
Now, we are embarking in a double adventure: two sister projects that will raise the bar, each one in their own fields: Santa Familia and La Manzana. Fun fact: the original owners of both properties “way back when” where the same!
La Manzana, located right behind the Santa Ana Church, will now be a cultural hub where art schools, organizations and entrepreneurs will be able to own their spaces and become a permanent part of the community. It has even a 150 seat theatre!
And Santa Familia, a development conceived around nature, community and wellness, will become the residential crown jewel of the historic district.
From our own experience as a full time resident in Casco, we can tell you one of the things that we most enjoy from living here is the connectedness your days and therefore your life can have if you chose to. The ability to make a positive impact while enjoying every aspect of the community with a healthy, fun lifestyle. It is all here. Walking distance.
Santa Familia will make you re discover San Felipe, re discover the pleasure of being connected to nature and community in an intimate way. La Manzana will be where you go to go deep into our roots and experience the transformation through art into our future. We are excited, and hope you come join us!
Now, some photos of our most cherished memories! And if you´d like to know more about the history of the building, check out this article by La Prensa: article here.