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Builders target Tijuana’s stagnant areas

A new wave of developers is bringing a fresh eye to Tijuana’s old downtown, breathing life into decaying and abandoned buildings, creating new ones

Modern loft apartments overlooking Tijuana’s oldest tourist district. Boutique hotel rooms amid curio stores and taco shops. A breezy red brick office building in the place of a dilapidated drug house.

A new wave of developers is bringing a fresh eye to old Tijuana, breathing life into decaying and abandoned buildings, and creating new ones. They talk of a city with art galleries, cafes, breweries, colorful murals, bike stations, collaborative work spaces, markets with organic produce. They envision bustling streets where adventurous foreign tourists mingle with city residents.

A city of more than 1.7 million, Tijuana is in the midst of a generational transition, and the modest flurry of mixed-use projects near the U.S. border is an expression of that. Whether blending in or standing out from their surroundings, the projects aim to revive a section of the city that has stagnated.

Developers hope their projects set a precedent that will encourage other efforts that bring residents and businesses back to Tijuana’s downtown. It is a vision that would be strengthened under the city’s plans to update development rules and launch a new public transportation system.

About a dozen new projects have arisen in Tijuana’s centro historico, the name for the old center of the city made up of 53 blocks near the U.S. border that includes Avenida Revolucion, the city’s traditional tourist strip. This is an area that has been struggling in part because of the drop in U.S. tourism — the result of long waits at the border after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, economic recession and drug-related violence in Tijuana that spiked from 2008 to 2010.

But in fits and starts, abandoned blocks have been coming back to life. Genaro Valladolid, a commercial real estate broker, sees a turnaround that has taken place in phases over several years — from the revival of bars on Sixth Street to the reopening of Caesar’s Restaurant on Avenida Revolucion and the 2014 launching of the Escuela Libre de Arquitectura in the Zona Norte.

“Everything that’s going on in Tijuana, with the food, wine, craft beer, culture, in my view it’s very organic, very grassroots, where young people, or people with a different outlook started doing things,” he said.

More changes are in the works. Near Seventh Street, an independent arts group called Cine Tonala is preparing to turn an abandoned building into a cultural center, offering film, theatre, music performances. At the corner of Fourth Street, businessman David Saul Guakil is turning the old Sara department store into offices with commercial space on the bottom floor, and perhaps a rooftop beer garden.

Architect Jorge Gracia, founder of the Escuela Libre, said Tijuana’s residents needed to change the city’s narrative: “We felt that our history, our souls were taken by this mafia, and after everything calmed down, the good people felt the necessity of expressing in the arts, music, restaurants.”

Developers in Tijuana are paying attention to what their buildings look like. “They’re investing in architecture, which is something that another generation didn’t do,” said Hector Bustamante, whose company, Bustamante Realty Group, works with several of the projects. “It is changing the face of downtown. Now we have other developers looking at their projects, and saying, ‘I want to do something like that.’”

David Mayagoitia, an industrial real estate developer, called the efforts laudable but said “they’re small projects on a piecemeal basis.” He has his own proposal for downtown: the establishment of an IDEA district that would bring design and tech jobs to the city.

“The first thing we need to do is repopulate our downtown, and make it an exciting and vibrant and beautiful place,” said Mayagoitia, who urges government policies that encourage greater density and the use of public transportation.

Source: San Diego Union-Tribune

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