Panama City family creates investment fund to bring residential lofts and shops downtown

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Nathan Cobb   | The News Herald

PANAMA CITY — To Lacy Branch Counts, downtown Panama City should be a place where people can “live, work, eat and play.

“This vision is what led her family to establish John Fifteen Five, an investment fund Counts manages to breathe life into the historic downtown district. 

“With any small town, if you don’t reinvest in the community that’s brought a lot of joy to your family then the community doesn’t really have a chance,” she said. “If we don’t create jobs for young people so that they don’t have to move away after college … then we’re kind of at a standstill.”

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While the Branch family has invested in the community since the 1940s, creating businesses including Speedy Car Wash, Tally-Ho Drive In and History Class, John Fifteen Five was founded in January with the goal of investing in downtown commercial and residential properties to then lease to local entrepreneurs. The fund’s name stems from a verse in the Bible, Counts said. 

According to her, the first purchase using the fund was two properties on Grace Avenue that sit next to Mosey’s Downtown. They include an empty lot, where “high-end residential lofts” will be built, and a neighboring 7,000-square-foot duplex that soon will house two local businesses and be known as the “Grace District.”

As of Monday, the businesses had not been selected and the number of lofts was still in the works. Counts plans for construction and renovations to begin in the next 60 days, with the building slated to be completed later this year and the lofts set to open next spring. 

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“We’re trying to embrace the community and help revitalize the area because we love downtown so much,” she said of her family. “It’s definitely a special spot to us and we really, really care about that area.”

Panama City Mayor Greg Brudnicki said that he hoped these investments would spark other developments in downtown, increase property values and enhance the area for future generations. 

For him, the Branches’ efforts not only set a good example for other residents, but prove the family cares about Panama City’s long-term success. 

“Nothing but positives comes out of doing (something like this),” Brudnicki said. “Keeping local people here will attract and keep more local people here and sets a good example for the whole community.

“… put your money where your mouth is,” he added.

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