On Location: Panama City & Frank Gehry’s New Biomuseum

Biomuseum Panama

During a pre-opening site inspection of the new Biodiversity Museum in Panama, designed by star architect Frank Gehry, my group and I were stopped cold when the docent providing our private tour stated that building the Panama Canal altered the world’s climate. Then she explained how the Museum will depict why and the ripple effects it caused. Opening this fall, the Museum will have event space inside and out in an extensive botanical garden. I personally know little about world climate, geology, extinct species and plant life, but I know this museum is going to be a destination unto itself for corporate groups.

By late 2014, Panama City will have taken a soaring leap into prominence when the $193 million Panama Convention Center opens next to the Biodiversity Museum. The Convention Center will have 613,500 sf of total space, including an Exhibit Hall, 16 meeting rooms, and two amphitheaters for up to 2,000.

We also toured the Casco Antiguo district, the second “old town” in Panama City built after the first was destroyed by fire. Narrow twisting streets front crumbling buildings with French, Italian and Spanish influences dating from the 16th century. Construction crews are everywhere, repairing, reconstructing, and building to return Panama to its original splendor. Panama straw hat vendors dot the sidewalks. Rich aromas of local foods emanate from tiny restaurants. Old town contrasts sharply with the “new” Panama, one in which building after building exudes architectural innovation and unique styling, from whimsical paint jobs to a verdigris-colored building that twists like a soft ice cream scoop.

PBA Holding Group guided us to the 8th wonder of the world, the Panama Canal. We began with a museum tour and then saw a 3D film presentation that explored the Canal’s history. By then, the first of three large ships were inching their way through the Miraflora Locks. We had front row standing views of the Queen Elizabeth being guided by eight mini trains that had tied onto the vessel. There was only eight inches between the Canal walls and the ship so I caught myself holding my breath until it passed. Besides the platform, there are three prime viewing spots.

The Hotel Panama, located downtown Panama City, owns and operates a restaurant with a fantastic international buffet as well as a second floor event space that can seat 180. Adjacent to those is a third-level event space owned and rented by the Panama Canal that can accommodate 500. All of them have unobstructed floor-to-ceiling glass windows.