By Liam Higgins
Long considered an undesirable neighborhood, a large part of Cuenca’s historic district appears poised for revitalization and growth, local architects and planners say. The area stretches beyond the southern limit of the district into the Buena Vista neighborhood, between Av. Heroes de Verdeloma and Av. Las Americas.
“For many years, this part of town was thought to be dangerous because the city prison was located nearby,” says Jorge Ramos. “Friends and families of the convicts would hang out in the streets around the prison, going into the historic district across [Av.] Verdeloma and this hurt the neighborhood’s reputation. Now that’s changing.”
The first major change was the construction of Parque Libertad, which replaced the prison that closed in 2011. The park opened last month, featuring an observation tower, restaurants, fountain, playground and a large green area. The second big change, according to Ramos, is the construction of a boutique Supermaxi / Super Aki supermarket at the corner of Calles Rafael María Arízaga and Tarqui.
Earlier additions to the neighborhood set the tone for the revitalization, Ramos says, including the Museo Casa del Sombrero, which opened in 2014 on Arízaga near Luis Cordero.
According to former Cuenca city planner Juan Ruiz, the new development is attracting investors who see the potential for new residential housing. “I’m assisting several foreign investors in locating properties to renovate and build on,” he says. “I think the area will become very popular once the supermarket opens and the tram begins operating. It will be quiet and walkable with a limited amount of vehicular traffic and will be very appealing, especially to foreigners.”
The supermarket, under construction and scheduled to open late this year, is being built by the Favorita Corporation, owner of the Supermaxi and Gran Aki chains. Favorita officials say the store will carry the Super Aki name but will include many features of larger Supermaxis. “It will be a boutique market similar to ones in residential neighborhoods in Europe and the U.S.,” says a Favorita press release. “Architecturally, it will fit comfortably into the existing residential area, with a colonial facade, flowered balconies and lighted walkways.”
The store will occupy a 3,500 square meter lot with underground parking and employ 35 to 40 workers.
“With the new Super Aki, people living in the district can walk to a supermarket without having to travel to other parts of the city,” Ramos says. “Those who live outside the district can take the tram, which stops just three blocks away.”
Ramos says Parque Libertad is equally important in revitalizing the neighborhood. “Already, it’s attracting hundreds of families, especially on weekends, and has two restaurants,” he says. “It is already seen as a safe, modern, family-friendly space. There are unoccupied commerical spaces and I expect these will fill up within a year or two as traffic increases.”
According Ruiz, his investor clients have purchased four houses, which they plan to renovate and subdivide into apartments, as well as two vacant lots that are zoned for low-rise condominiums.
“My clients are foreigners, from Britain and Canada, who recognize the potential of the neighborhood but I expect local investors to take notice as soon as the supermarket comes out of the ground.”