Valencia’s next big financial black hole?

Valencia’s Mayoress, Rita Barberá, has just announced the winner of the competition to design the new Parque Central on an enormous patch of semi-derelict land behind the Central Station. The project will cost 72.9 million euros, but you can bet your bottom dollar that by the time all the lakes, green zones, aroma garden and kids play areas are up and running the bill will be into triple first figures, most of it hidden away by the  Town Hall’s clever accounting.

The winner, Kathryn Gustafson, pocketed the neat little sum of 3 million euros, nice money if you can get it, and I’m pretty sure that there will be some nice fat fees involved for her in the actual building of the park. But I think that our town hall, bulging with councellors under suspicion of enormous amounts of corruption, could have given Ms Gustafson just that little bit less and bunged a bit of the folding stuff in the direction of El Cabañal, the historic fisherman’s quarter, that Barberá and her cronies are determined to destroy by slashing a swathe through the listed buildings to make an extension to the beach. But that’s another story.

Valencia City is my home, and I’m very happy to live here, but I can’t be closed-eyed about the other grand schemes that have done damage to the city, or at least haven’t lived up to their potential because of the narrow mindedness of the city and local governments.

When Valencia won the competition to host the 32nd America’s Cup in 2007, the city turned out in its tens of thousands to cheer and dance in the Plaza de Ayuntamiento. Such great plans were announced, and boasts were made as to how much the city would benefit. Sadly, the only benefit that really exists these days is the benefit of hindsight. True, the America’s Cup did get Valencia’s name known world-wide, but apart from the few months the boats were here, the grandly named Port Copa America, has lain largely empty, its great boat sheds that still bare the name of Alinghi, Luna Rosa, Oracle, et al are staffed by a single security guard, and the expensive cafes and restaurants barely have a client, and have given up the ghost one-by-one. (http://bit.ly/ijaW6b)

There have been numerous suggestions of how the area could be used, but the council always claims poverty, (probably rightly so, as recent government figures showed that the Valencian regional  council was the most expensive to run in the whole of Spain, throwing the words of the regional president, Francisco Camps, back in his face when he claimed it was the cheapest). So where’s the 72.9 million for the Parque Central coming from? Best not to ask.

Yet more fortunes were spent in the construction of the track for the annual Formula 1, despite there being a highly respected race track not half-an-hour’s drive from the city. The drivers hated the track, and the concessionaires of the cafes and restaurants of Port Copa America, which sits alongside it, thought that at least they might make a few bob during three days the races take place to make up for their losses the rest of the year. Sorry, loves, not a chance. As well as looting the city’s coffers to build the track and all the infrastructure, and paying good old Bernie Eccleston a fee rumoured to be 68 million euros just to thank him for coming to the city, the wily F1 owner had also included in the contract that he would run all the catering. So those who were paying their money to the town hall in the way of rents and taxes weren’t allowed to profit from the exercise. The F1 lost money from day one, and we’ve still got five more years to go.

The helmet-shaped shell of the vastly over-budget Agora, which has only been used once since its sort-of completion (council ran out of money); the millions of overspend that’s just come to light about the Pope’s visit to Valencia for the World Meeting of Families (a major chunk of it being part of corrupt dealings by some council members and marketing companies, part of the infamous Caso Gürtel, the largest corruption scandal since Spain became a democracy); the ludicrous idea of putting wi-fi in the nine-kilometre River Turia, the park that runs through the city; the new railway station for the AVE, the high-speed train between Valencia and Madrid, that looks like a big, grey corrugated iron shed, and would have Joaquín Sorolla, Valencia’s famous artist son who gives it its name spinning rapidly in his grave at the thought of such crass design – the list of project flops goes on and on.

About the only real success is Valencibisi, the network of bike hire stations that run throughout the city that has been such a roaring success that further memberships have been stopped because of over-subscription. At least that benefits the people who live here…none of the other fancy projects has done so far.

If you would like to know more about Spain, visit my web site  Spain Uncovered

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