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Havana Bay being redefined as touristic port

Havana's badly weathered and aged harbour is currently undergoing a drastic process of transformation, that will see its now dark, oil-stanched waters, gleam with a new-found air of unpollution, attracting sea life and sea gulls once again and offering passers-by a cleaner, renovated promenade from which to enjoy the most perfect, uninterrupted sunsets with no smoky clouds from oil refineries blurring the view.

Havana Bay being redefined as touristic port

At present, if you walk by the harbour in Havana you’ll be able to spot demolition crews and cranes working hard at tearing down the ruined docks. The bayside colonial squares of Havana have already been lovingly restored, and the remodelling of the bay is the final step that would complete the postcard-perfect picture. This ambitious project plans to turn the polluted waterfront into an attractive, atmospheric seaside promenade lined by restaurants, cafes and public parks.

Already well under way is also the construction of a cavernous brewery right on the docks and former loading bay, on the site of a former tobacco warehouse, an edification that is set to become the jewel in the crown of this new project. In-keeping with the dock’s original structure, finishing touches are now being given to its woodwork in anticipation of its official opening, due in a month or so.

But for all this to happen, all of the bay’s shipping activity had to be moved elsewhere, and this is being gradually done as a new huge port develops at the Mariel Bay. This new ambitious project aims to completely transform the Mariel into a massive international harbour welcoming ships from all over the world, from commercial vessels to large cruises.

This new project will not only freshen up the image of the somewhat gritty area, but it will also revitalise the city’s economy, attract more tourists and transfer all commercial activity to the new mega-large port being built in Mariel, some 50 kilometres west of Havana.

Orlando Inclan, an architect that works for the Project Management Department at the Office of the Historian of the City, the government’s institution in charge of this ambitious project, explains;

"There is the possibility of reversing the deterioration of all the southern area of the bay, where there’s a lack of open public spaces, infrastructure and environmental value."

The majority of the reconstruction process is concentrated on Avenida del Puerto (Port Avenue), on the strip that runs from the old Muelle de Caballeria docks all the way up to the old warehouse of Almacenes San Jose (which now houses the largest crafts market in the city, hosting all manner of arts and crafts stalls in its interiors). On this strip you can also find the old Customs buildings, the Emboque de Luz (which will be completely transformed and refreshed whilst in-keeping the original iron structure) and the Wood and Tobacco Docks, which will also receive a makeover.

Orland Inclan adds:

"The bay is symbolic. It is what gave birth to the city and it is part of what we are today,

"Now it's time to redefine it."

A big part of this project includes the reestablishment of Emboque de Luz as a docking station for passengers arriving to the bay in yachts that connect Old Havana to other parts of the city across the bay, such as the municipalities of Regla, Casablanca and Guanabacoa. This two-story structure built in 1909 stopped working during the 1860s and ever since has been in need of repair which it will now receive.

The second phase of restoration works for Almacenes San Jose is also part of this project and it entails the entire remodelling of its second floor, which will be home to a new shopping centre and a theatre.

Likewise the old Aduana building in front of the picturesque San Francisco de Asis Square will be remodelled entirely to rescue all of its original features whilst creating a new parking lot inside with space for up to 400 cars, as well as a shopping centre in the top floor.

Simultaneously, intensive decontamination work has been carried out the bay since 2006, which has seen the closure of several sewage drains and the installation of a new water treatment plant in the Luyano River.

These works are already seeing the fruits of their labour as pelicans and seagulls once again start flying over the bay’s waters, which are now seeing the comeback of some marine species, thanks to work carried out since 1998 to increase the levels of oxygen in the waters.

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