Back in August, 2017, the Reporter published an article which attempted to gauge opinion regarding subway construction along Avenida Alcalde, which has been ongoing since 2011.
The prevailing position, extracted predominantly from forlorn shopkeepers along either Alcalde or the pedestrian-only calle Pedro Loza one block to the west, was that it had killed business in this, the already beleaguered centro historico, and that it was dragging on for far too long. Closures of streets jutting off Alcalde on either side, resulting in limited parking options and the re-routing of bus lines, had steered potential clientele away to more hospitable and convenient climes in which to shop, eat and stroll.
It seemed that subway construction was snuffing out the life of the very area it had come to re-animate.
But a walk around the area west of Alcalde reveals possible signs of renewed confidence in the area’s economic prospects. Near the corner of calles Santa Monica and San Felipe, a pool hall has opened in the shaded colonial inner courtyard of a typically romantic, crumbling but beautifully molded centuries-old building. On pedestrian-friendly Pedro Loza, a gregarious young couple has opened El Deleite, whose various breakfast and lunch offerings are charmingly scribbled in chalk on a massive board hanging above the tiny kitchen giving out onto the sidewalk. And a few blocks south, three utterly incongruous-looking, upscale European-style cafes have opened up right next to each other at the base of the giant and ungainly — and unapologetically downscale — Mercado Corona.
A couple of other signs of life: a handful of freshly painted — and presumably renovated — properties with “For Rent” notices dangling from their window sills, and several frontages along Pedro Loza decorated with fresh works of art, each with a theme relating to whatever the shop it adorns is peddling.
Is this crop of new enterprises and construction a harbinger of the zone’s eventual revivification or just the spasms of a freshly killed chicken whose nervous system hasn’t quite shut down? To help shed some light on the matter, we again refer to those with a significant stake in the centro historico’s revival, i.e., its small business owners.
Socorro, a small, quiet woman in late middle age, expressed both diffidence and cautious optimism towards her neighborhood’s prospects from her perch behind the counter of the small corner store she owns with her family at Garibaldi and Santa Monica. Her litany of soft-spoken complaints and mournful observations — which included a criticism of what she considered the growing disregard for the proximity of churches and schools when opening new bars in the neighborhood — were almost drowned out by a traffic jam right outside her shop door, the result of the roadwork-related closure of several side streets coupled with half-hearted re-routing efforts.
Having expressed reservations about the area’s post-construction re-vitalization, her commentary on the subway project itself was jaundiced at best, consisting of the belief that behind the rail line’s creation was the sinister intent to eliminate multiply bus lines, thus increasing the public’s reliance on the new transportation enterprise and lining its creators’ pockets.
This complete lack of faith is no doubt a representative sample of longstanding, widespread civilian disenchantment with public institutions. A case, perhaps, of never-cry-wolf, in which the government has let down their constituents far too many times, the result is withering skepticism towards even the most benevolent of public works.
The municipal government, of course, is projecting nothing but confidence. Their point man, the intimidating, charismatic Mayor Enrique Alfaro, pugnaciously defends his pet public art projects and crushed the opposition which threatened to derail his plan to replace horse drawn carriages with faux-antique electric versions.
The aforementioned additions to Mercado Corona — two cafes and an artisanal donut shop — aren’t the only works either completed or underway at the Centro Historico’s main hub of commerce; municipal grandees also are of a mind to install a restaurant/hostal on the structure’s top floor. While the proposed additions have been met with some resistance, especially from disquieted fire safety officials, there is little doubt that, given Alfaro’s track record of steamrolling over his critics, the project will go ahead as planned.
All this municipal development giddiness may just be the city’s way of projecting confidence in order to brush aside what it most likely regards as the pesky gnats of doubt. Or it could be genuine optimism in regards to the Centro Historico’s re-vitalization. Both attitudes may eventually prove foolhardy as city hall’s lofty plans for its core’s rehabilitation are consigned to the massive charnel dump of failed civic dreams — or prove prophetic as the zone’s washed out, blurry former glory is brought back into brightly colored focus.