Revitalizing the iconic Downtown Mercado Juárez and areas along Avenida Benito Juárez are proposed under a loan from the Inter-American Development Bank. (Rio Grande Digital file photo)
$50 million would fix decaying downtown
Representatives of the Washington-based Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) scouted out downtown Ciudad Juárez last week in anticipation of a possible loan package. The tour was promoted by the Chihuahua state and Ciudad Juárez municipal governments as part of a $50 million investment drive to revive the Mexican border city’s long decaying downtown core.
The visit’s purpose was to obtain bank support for rescuing “public spaces and historic buildings that have architectural value and that will give another image to the first section of the city,” said Everardo Medina, undersecretary of public works for the Chihuahua state government. According to Medina, the buildings include La Fiesta, the Victoria Theater and the iconic Juarez Market on Avenida 16 de Septiembre.
“The Juárez Market is a place where tourists came to hear mariachis, to eat and to buy curios,” Medina said. “We are seeking to improve the zone so visitors feel safe and count on ample parking.”
Overall, the downtown renovation project envisions new pedestrian walks, schools and medical facilities, Medina added.
Launched during previous municipal administrations, Ciudad Juárez’s downtown redevelopment was stalled by the ferocious violence and economic crisis that hammered the city after 2008. In the election year of 2012, however, the Institutional Revolutionary Party-led state and municipal governments are reaching out to the private sector and international lenders to complete an aggressive makeover of downtown Ciudad Juárez.
A $10.3 million baseball stadium that will host the Juárez Indios team is currently under construction and expected to be finished by next September. Sited on the edge of downtown, the 13,500 fan-capacity stadium will seat more people than neighboring El Paso’s Cohen Stadium, and include tourist shops, food stands and other amenities. Once open for ball, the sports park “will represent an icon for the world to see that Juárez is standing tall,” according to Chihuahua Gov. Cesar Duarte.
Less certain is the fate of the historic Josue Neri Santos Gymnasium also in downtown Ciudad Juárez. Although the Calderon administration’s Todos Somos Juárez (We are all Juárez) program has reportedly invested millions of pesos in refurbishing the building, a group of unnamed businessmen are purportedly proposing a new convention center for the site.
The gym is located in the same zone where rumors of new casinos down the pike have circulated during the past two years. Two small gaming establishments are located on nearby Avenida Juárez that leads across the border to El Paso. Ciudad Juárez Mayor Hector “Teto” Murguia said last week that no final decision has been made about the future of the gymnasium property.
Downtown revitalization parallels a renewed push to turn Ciudad Juárez into a mecca for medical tourism. Together with government tourism promoters, members of the health care and insurance industries are apparently wagering that the Obama Administration’s Affordable Health Care Act, which could be tossed out or greatly diluted by a pending U.S. Supreme Court decision, won’t significantly reduce the ever-soaring cost of U.S. health care.
Demetrio Sotomayor, Chihuahua state undersecretary of tourism, said last week that upcoming meetings will craft out medical tourism packages that could bring in $200 million in revenues to Ciudad Juárez.
Sotomayor said that U.S. residents arriving for medical treatment could also partake in excursions around Ciudad Juárez, to the Salamayuca sand dunes south of the city and even to the Paquime ruins in the northwestern part of Chihuahua state. The packages will include all travel transfers from El Paso and within Mexico, Sotomayor stressed.
The Mexican official insisted that the raging violence that has claimed more than an estimated 10,000 lives since 2008 was on the downturn.
“The level of violence in the tourist centers and on the avenues where we traditionally attend patients is not happening as in previous years,” Sotomayor said. “Visitors are returning and there is a reactivation of economic activities.”
Some business community leaders concur with Sotomayor that U.S. visitors are gradually returning to a city they abandoned in droves in recent years. For instance, Carlos Riquelme Canales, president of the Ciudad Juarez branch of the Mexican Hotel and Motel Association, estimated that U.S. customers now account for about 10 percent of the guests in local lodgings.
While homicide rates have dipped since 2010, the Ciudad Juarez press routinely reports fresh murders, frequently several killings each day.
In contrast to the years when spectacular shoot-outs and massacres occurred in popular businesses and on heavily-transited streets, a process of “violence ghettoization” could have taken hold, with most killings now reported in low-income neighborhoods like Tierra Nueva, La Chavena, Colonia Aztecas and others where gangs battle for control of the street-level drug trade, continue to extort small business people and carry out revenge attacks. In many ways, the ongoing violence is similar to the “other side of the tracks” violence that steadily eroded working-class areas of the border city but stayed out of more affluent areas prior to the eruption of the 2008 “narco” war.
Additional sources: Norte, May 10, 11 and 12, 2012. Articles by Salvador Castro. El Diario de Juarez, May 10 and 12, 2012. Articles by Martin Coronado and editorial staff. Lapolaka.com, May 12, 2012. El Paso Times, April 11, 2012. Article by Alejandro Martinez-Cabrera.
Frontera NorteSur: on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news
Center for Latin American
and Border Studies
New Mexico State University
Las Cruces, New Mexico