by Marcelo Cajueiro and Bruna Gama
RIO DE JANEIRO, Feb. 18 (Xinhua) -- The Brazilian city Rio's government has began in February an eight billion reais (4.8 billion U.S. dollars) renovation effort in its port district to prepare the city for the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games.
The action will completely revamp an area of five million square meters and is the most ambitious of a series of projects.
The port area, which includes walking distance of downtown Rio, used to be one of city's most important regions.
However, since the main docks were moved decades ago to another spot of the Guanabara Bay, the region entered a sharp decaying process, as it happened in several other port cities worldwide.
The district is now full of empty warehouses and decrepit buildings, and has a high crime rate and a large homeless population.
Over the past 30 years, there have been several plans to renovate the port area. The current project, named Porto Maravilha (Port Wonder), was launched in 2009 by the current city hall, and incorporates elements of several previous plans.
Although the original idea precedes the selection of Rio as the 2014 Cup or the 2016 Olympics site, the sports events were a key factor to boost the project, which was eventually integrated to the Games. The Olympic Games' media center and referee's dorms, for example, will be located in the region.
In addition, the docks for ocean liners will be renovated and expanded in order to allow for the docking of eight large ships instead of the current four.
According to Alberto Gomes Silva, the special advisor of the Port Region's Urban Development Company (CDURP), the city agency in charge of the renovation, the goal is to make the port area the most modern neighborhood in Rio.
"The logic is like in Barcelona, which used the Olympic Games to boost the entire city," he said.
The Rio project kicked off in February with the renovation and expansion of the urban infrastructure in the region. The Porto Novo consortium, selected last year in a public bid to carry out the project, is upgrading the local water distribution and sewage networks, as well as the electric distribution net that will be changed from aerial to underground. It is also repaving some of the local streets.
The project foresees an increase in the share of green area in the port region, which will jump from 2.5 to 10.5 percent of the total district.
"The project intends to recuperate the area, for its historical importance, but at the same time build an urban space that is modern, a place with intelligence but also green buildings," Silva said.
The entire project is expected to be completed by April 2016, four months before the Olympics. The new ocean liners' dock, however, will be ready by the 2014 World Cup.
Two museums will be built in the region. The Rio Art Museum will be set up in an existing palace and will have an adjacent art school. Dedicated to science and technology, the Tomorrow Museum, whose construction has already been kicked off, was designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, renowned for the design of the Milwaukee Art Museum and the revamping of the Athens Olympic Sports Complex.
In addition, the port area will be home to Latin America's largest aquarium and to the new Rio branch of Brazil's Central Bank. Companies such as Tishman Speyer are considering the construction of other business towers in the region, said Silva, adding he expected the district to also become a major residential area.
A new light rail line, taking advantage of deactivated port tracks, will link the top attractions of the area to Rio's main railroad and subway Central Station, as well as to the town's interstate bus station Rodoviaria Novo Rio, both located on boards of the renovated area.
The most controversial part of the project is the demolition of the Perimetral Avenue, an elevated highway which connects the downtown region with the north zone. One of the most important expressways in Rio, the bridge blocks the port area's wonderful view of the bay.
Rio's government, which planned and is coordinating the renovation effort, will not directly invest the tax payers' money in the project, Silva said.
The city will issue on February 28 the so-called Additional Construction Potential Certificates (Cepac), papers that authorize the construction of buildings higher than the existing limits for the district.
CDURP expects to sell eight billion reais worth of Cepacs to developers and investors, and thus fund the entire project.
The money will be directed to the Porto Novo consortium, which will use 4.2 billion reais (2.52 billion U.S. dollars) to upgrade the district's infrastructure and 3.8 billion reais (2.28 billion U.S. dollars) to maintain and provide services, such as selective garbage collection and street lightening.
Silva estimated the total investment in real estate in the area will amount to 25 billion reais (15 billion U.S. dollars).
"We expect this port area renovation effort to have a multiplying effect and benefit the entire Rio downtown region," he added.