Donald finally comes up trumps in Panama

The Trump Ocean Club is a bellwether project for Central America and Panama, which went through its own Dubai-like development boom.

The Trump Ocean Club is the tallest building in Central America. AFP
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Q&A: Central location? Of course

Is Panama City a good place in which to invest? Hard to say. It has strong ties to the US, thanks to the Panama Canal – and the US dollar is the common currency. But it's still a Central American country, which means there are risks.

What is happening with property prices? There was a huge rush of construction in the past three years and there is undoubtedly an oversupply of tower apartments as a result. Prices dropped from 20 to 40 per cent from 2008 to last year. But there is still demand in the top-quality buildings.

Where are the spots outside Panama City? For beach life, Bocas del Toro on the Caribbean coast is attracting a lot of development. Inland, the small town of Boquete is popular with North American retirees.

The Trump Ocean Club in Panama City will look vaguely familiar to anyone who knows the Dubai skyline: a wide sail-like structure perched on the water's edge could be a sister to the Burj Al Arab.

The Trump is also a bellwether project for Panama, which went through its own Dubai-like development boom. More than 300 towers with 40,000 apartments were in the planning stages in 2008 as investor money flowed to the "Miami of Central America".

A large percentage of those towers died in the planning stages when the global second-home market stalled.

But the Trump project continued on, defying the odds. The 70-storey tower officially opened this month, setting new standards for high-end apartments in the city.

The Trump Ocean Club, the first completed international project bearing Donald Trump's name, is one of the tallest buildings in Central America. It also commanded some of the highest prices in the region, with the 600 apartments each priced between US$500,000 (Dh1.83 million) and $12m. Local industry executives say the project essentially raised prices for towers around the city.

The project, which despite the visual similarities has no connection to Dubai's landmark hotel, also runs counter to a couple of trends. The developers licensed Mr Trump's name, an arrangement that has not always worked out well for the celebrity.

Projects in Dubai, Mexico and Florida that used his name were never built. Buyers in the Mexico and Florida projects ultimately sued the developer and Mr Trump, claiming they were misled about the extent of his involvement.

Mr Trump denied the charges, but there is no denying they caused him more than just embarrassment.

Trump Ocean Club is designed primarily as a hotel-condominium development, which means many buyers own the apartments, but the units will be rented as hotel rooms. That model fell out of favour around the region when several projects couldn't get financing.

So, Trump Ocean Club has achieved landmark status simply by opening its doors.

Top 5: Central American second-home hot spots

1 Ambergris Caye, Belize

2 Guanacaste, Costa Rica

3 Playa del Carmen, Mexico

4 San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

5 Bocas del Toro, Panama

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