Just as workers are clearing out of the renovated Pasaje León building on the south side of San Francisco Plaza, trouble could be brewing with dozens of vendors who sell their goods in the plaza.
City officials say renovation work will now shift to two other buildings, including the crafts mall Casa de la Mujer, while work on the plaza itself could begin by the end of the year. The project still awaits final architectural plans that will be delivered in October.
This city plans is to relocate the Otavalan vendors, now located on the verandah at the north side of the plaza, to Pasaje León, but the Otavalans say the relocation will remove them from public sight and cripple their business. Plans to relocate the vendors in the central area of plaza, most of them housed in metal structures, have not been announced, but they too say they are wary of being moved.
“People know where we are now,” says Paúl Sanchez, who sells imports from China in the center of the plaza. “If they move us, how will our customers find us?”
The city says there is no alternatives to the moves. “The project is impossible without the relocation. The area they occupy will be a work zone,” says Pablo Barzallo, director of the municipal historic preservation office. “What they have to understand is that once the plaza is reconstructed, their business will be better than ever.”
The Otavalans have suggested that they might refuse to move but Barzallo said that too is impractical. “When work begins, we will block off the area where they are now so they will have no customers at all. They will have to move.”
Barzallo and others say the completed San Francisco Plaza will be a “crown jewel” of Cuenca’s historic district. “It will do for Centro what Parque de la Madre has done for the Barranco area,” said architect Gustavo Corral. “It will be gathering place for tourists and residents, with the town’s biggest crafts markets. The plaza and the tram will transform El Centro.”
Reconstruction of the plaza has been planned since 1956 but has been derailed on several occasions by political disputes. The most recent dispute came when current Mayor Marcelo Cabrera rejected the plaza plans drawn up during the administration of his predecessor, Paúl Granda. Granda’s plan called for an open plaza, with planted gardens and seating areas. The plan was criticized by some architects as being sterile and out of context with the surrounding historic buildings.
During the 1700s and most of the 1800s, San Francisco Plaza was the center of public life in Cuenca. Once the new cathedral was constructed, in the late 1800s, Parque Calderon became the focus.
The San Francisco project includes converting two of the streets fronting the plaza to pedestrian malls.
Plaza work is budgeted for $8 million with funds already allocated.