Valparaiso, the Puerto Barón project is being re-launched
Interview : Gonzalo Davagnino Vergara, Director General, Empresa Portuaria Valparaíso, Chile
Empresa Portuaria Valparaíso is member of AIVP since 2002.
The Puerto Barón project, a planned urban and waterfront transformation, was awarded to Mall Plaza in 2006. It has been widely debated and must also comply with the requirements of UNESCO, as Valparaiso has been classed as a World Heritage City since 2003. Valparaiso Port Company, Mall Plaza and a number of authorities announced last July that it was being re-launched. Work on the final phase of the project is also due to be launched.
AIVP – Could you remind us of the main outlines of this project, and how they have changed in response to community debates and concerns about their impact on the city’s heritage infrastructure?
Gonzalo Davagnino Vergara – The origin and purpose of the Puerto Barón initiative is to open up the waterfront to the public, permanently – all day and every day. Today this space is used for port traffic and transfers, blocking any direct relationship between the city and the waterfront in the area opposite the El Almendral quarter; this is the widest flat area in the whole of the city’s low coastal strip before it starts to climb up the surrounding hills. Puerto Barón offers a mix of public spaces, largely lacking in Valparaíso, connected directly to the Metrotren (urban light rail) network and thus to the inland districts of the Region. A project was initially designed to achieve this aim, and has been further improved over time through interaction with public bodies. Finally, additional guidelines were incorporated at UNESCO’s request, principally aimed at reducing the height and size of the new volumes and also at making good use of the whole Simón Bolívar warehouse, a heritage building protected by local regulations.
AIVP – What facilities are programmed for the final phase and what is the timetable?
Gonzalo Davagnino Vergara – The Puerto Barón project is one of the pillars of the Port of Valparaíso Development Plan (PDPV), understood as an initiative to harmonise port growth with the city’s needs and development. This is an unprecedented initiative to open the waterfront to popular use, creating a window onto the sea for the city in a 12-hectare space. Two thirds of this area will be open to the public free of charge 24/7. In 2006 the tender was awarded to Plaza Valparaíso S.A., based on the guidelines and approaches established in a Municipal Public Council in 1991 with broad participation, which approved the popular will to recover access to the waterfront in a framework which would complement port operation and growth.
The project represents an investment of more than US $200 million, one of the largest investments in the city in the last 80 years, and will generate around 4,000 jobs (1,500 in construction and 2,500 in operation). The plan includes a big waterfront promenade 840 metres wide and 40 deep, two open plazas of 11,000 and 5,000 square metres, green areas, cycle paths, a public marina and areas for relaxation. This initiative is in tune with the challenges and needs of the port city of Valparaíso, and follows international trends for developing waterfronts in the coastal areas of cities.
Urban designers and social leaders in the city have raised a series of criticisms of the initiative, principally because of its supposed threat to the designation of the Valparaiso World Heritage as a UNESCO Site. UNESCO took note of this concern and asked the government to analyse the implications of the project. The Heritage Impact Study, carried out by the expert contracted by the government, architect Juan Luis Isaza, and disseminated widely in May this year, finally laid those concerns to rest. The Study concluded that there were no factors which justified the continued postponement of the project, which not only poses no threat to Valparaíso’s heritage status, but will actually strengthen it through archaeological exploration and making the finds recovered accessible to the public.
In contrast, various opinion polls have found a favourable perception among the city’s inhabitants. The most recent are: the Veas Study (2015) which concluded that 64% of the population knows about the project, 59% rate it positively, 71% believe that it will generate jobs and 67% believe that it will contribute to the city’s development; and the Adimark Study (2015) which indicated that 97% of the respondents know about the project, 57% rate it positively, 75% believe that it will generate jobs and 71% say they will visit it.
In 2015, at the behest of the government (following the recommendation of UNESCO), an Intersectorial Round Table was established called “Committee for the Conservation of the Historical Area of the Port City of Valparaíso”, consisting of the Regional and Provincial governments, the Monuments Council and other organisations, which reviewed the project and suggested improvements in the design. After several months’ work they reported 19 issues, which were accepted willingly by the concessionary, and have now been channelled by the government through EPV – Empresa Portuaria Valparaíso.
Finally, July this year saw the start of the Archaeological Management Plan which the government required of the concessionary through the National Monuments Council. This phase is now nearing completion and it is expected that construction of the Puerto Barón project will re-start in December.
AIVP – There used to be a cruise ship terminal in this part of the port. It has been be relocated. Why was it relocated, and what is planned to take its place?
Gonzalo Davagnino Vergara – This infrastructure needed to be re-located, as the Puerto Barón project is to be built on its old site. This was also an opportunity to modernise its standards of service and its capacity. I may add that the project is finished and is operating not at the end of Muelle Barón but on the waterfront opposite Avenida Francia, next to the area where the Plaza Francia of the Puerto Barón project will be built, connected to the Francia station of the Metrotren.
AIVP – Your cruise ship activity runs from October to April. Outside this season, what activities and functions are programmed to make use of the terminal? More generally, how will it be integrated into the everyday life of the city and its inhabitants?
Gonzalo Davagnino Vergara – The new Cruise Ship Terminal is a project developed jointly by EPV and the Agunsa Group, which is the concessionary of the Valparaíso Passenger Terminal (VTP). It represents an investment of 8 million dollars (+VAT) and is fully operational. It was built over a 10-month period by the company Cypco and since October it has been serving cruise ships arrivals for the 2016-2017 season. Construction was essential to improve the standards of tourism services, and its new location allows the Puerto Barón project, intended to open the waterfront to the city, to go ahead. The terminal will be connected directly to the finished project.
The new VTP will be an important basic infrastructure for the Chilean cruise ship industry, allowing more cruise ships to berth at the same time and to receive improved service. More cruise ships means more tourists who spend, invest and consume services in Valparaíso – the industry already contributes nearly US$ 16 million per year to the city – and the surrounding area; they also “viralise” the good image which they take away of the city, thanks to the good service of the VTP. The new terminal has 5,237 square metres of construction, with a facade 120 metres long and maximum height of 7.16 metres. It will have a parking area for 47 light vehicles and 26 platforms for tourist buses.
Developing this new passenger terminal has meant serious investment and dedicated work, in order to consolidate tourism as an important driver of city development and national identity. Apart from serving cruise ship passengers during the high season, it will double as a top-level Events Centre for the whole Region, providing the city and its inhabitants with a site for fairs and conventions which has previously been lacking in Valparaíso.
As part of the port’s search for increased competitiveness, in view of the resurgence of the cruise ship industry, the Port of Valparaíso is developing a feasibility study for a dedicated cruise ship berth. This will allow us to determine the need to develop additional infrastructure specifically for passengers’ requirements, deciding on details of its projection over the coming years and possible business models.
AIVP – Last summer you announced to the Municipality your interest in the Subercaseaux palace, a heritage building in the port quarter which has suffered a fire. What are your projects for this building and what other initiatives have you developed to support the ‘heritage’ of this city where the word resonates so strongly?
Gonzalo Davagnino Vergara – We have reached the conclusion that Valparaíso and the port are an indivisible whole; it is hard to imagine the city without port activity, since that would be to deny the history and customs that have made it world-famous. By the same token, we believe that the port cannot concern itself only with its own operations, but that it should develop an integral view which is integrated with the concerns of the city.
In this sense, our heritage is what really marks the city. In view of the stress which has been laid on the possible impacts of our projects on the World Heritage Site – which was declared as such considering the port and its future expansion – and its current abandoned state, we have decided to collaborate actively with the heritage site and carry out concrete actions to improve it. One important step was to carry out Heritage Impact Studies in our port projects; another very important aspect is the initiative to move our corporate headquarters, currently inside the port, to the old Subercaseaux Palace in the heart of the city’s historical area, under an agreement with the City Council and the Government. Today, nothing but the old walls and an empty site remain of the historic building, which was destroyed by fire in 2014. We hope that this joint project will be only the beginning of other initiatives to raise the profile of the Port district.
The recovery of a symbolic building and its immediate surroundings, in the centre of the heritage sector of Valparaíso where the city was founded, aims to consolidate the historical links between port and city. By committing ourselves to the recovery of the Port district, we are protecting a central part of our identity, the origins of the port which gave rise to this unique city. At the same time, intervention in structures which today are abandoned and severely damaged – using the best architectural and construction techniques, raising a living building on the site – is also a sign of confidence in the city, of how to make progress in conserving and promoting our heritage.
The initiative has reached the pre-project stage – carried out by Aginva – and is now awaiting budget approval by the government. It involves intervention on a 1,100 square metre site to create a total usable area of 5,600 square metres on four floors, two underground levels and a terrace, proposed as a fifth floor facade which meets the heritage requirements of the UNESCO Typical Zone and World Heritage Site where the building is located.
The plan also includes recovering the structural and architectural value of the old walls which have been conserved, by installing a contemporary structure inside, slightly separated from the exterior walls, with an inner court from the ground floor to the roof allowing internal communication between the floors of the building. The exterior will respect the height and volume of the original building and nearby structures. The project will also include refurbishing the small public streets on either side, Almirante Goñi and Pérez Gacitúa. The pre-project also considers a first floor open to public use, recovering the commercial function of the building before the accident, with a theatre-auditorium and a Documentation Centre with a public library devoted to the port.
AIVP – The development aspects of the Port Plan contains different expansion projects: expansion of Terminal 1, creation of a new container terminal on land reclaimed from the sea for Terminal 2, and expanding activity on Yolanda (Terminal 3), which is certainly the area with the greatest potential for development. In any of these cases, and this is one of Valparaiso’s strongest characteristics, port activities are in immediate contact with the city. For the Yolanda sector in particular you stress the need to increase your logistical effectiveness while ensuring harmonious development which is integrated with the city. One of the levers of action for this port-city integration is to reflect on port access. What measures have you planned? And can you tell us any more about the project presented by Mathias Klotz which won the competition for the southern access routes and Muelle Prat which you launched in May 2015?
Gonzalo Davagnino Vergara – The so-called “Public Competition for Urban Pre-project – Landscaped Viaduct for Southern Access – Muelle Prat” was an enriching experience of community participation in the design of future port infrastructure. As a port we could interact with multidisciplinary teams. We obtained a satisfactory number of applicants and we ended up with a proposal – to everyone’s surprise – designed by one of the country’s top architects. This initiative proposes urban intervention in two very sensitive sectors of the city’s historical area; the Plaza Wheelwright and the Plaza Sotomayor, with their surrounding areas.
The challenge is to generate an architectural project in harmony with a work of road infrastructure, i.e a new viaduct and a tunnel inside the port and close to the waterfront.
Mathias Klotz proposed that the viaduct could have a walkway – a viewpoint backing onto the functional structure starting from the side of Artillery Hill to connect Plaza Wheelwright with the 21st of May tourist viewpoint, a distance of around 700 metres. He also proposed to build a big open esplanade over the tunnel, covering 6,000 square metres, with new commercial outlets, street furniture, lighting and shaded areas for the people taking the tourist launches from Muelle Prat which offer trips round Valparaíso Bay.
We see this proposal as a concrete action to integrate the port with the community; there might also be an option for people to vote for their preferred solution during the public exhibition prior to the announcement of the winners.
The detailed architectural design and engineering plans are already finalised, and we are about to submit the project for environmental approval.Cette expérience aura pour nous été l’occasion d’impliquer de manière concrète la communauté qui aura, entre autres, eu l’occasion d’exprimer ses préférences lors d’une exposition publique organisée avant le rendu de la décision finale. Les études d’architecture et de génie civil sont aujourd’hui achevées et le projet est sur le point d’être soumis à l’autorité d’évaluation environnementale.