- Published on Thursday, 06 November 2014 12:00
Recently, it became clear that – after its shutdown in 2012 - the Valero refinery in San Nicolas would be demolished, and the premises turned over to the Aruba government.
Currently, negotiations are going on about the terms and conditions of this ----. This also opens up a renewed discussion about the future of the former refinery premises, and the opportunities these may offer. On a broader scope, this also brings back the debate about the future of the town itself, and its surroundings. According to the Chamber, a good moment to bring back the debate initiated a couple of years ago, which had as an outcome the unique seminar held by the Chamber in March 2013, under the slogan: “Aruba without the refinery; planning creates opportunities”. Although many did not support (yet) the idea of thinking ahead what should happen, once the refinery would not be there anymore, a lot of involved professionals, both in the public as well as the private sector, did support the idea of thinking about a new future for this part of Aruba, which has been in decay for more than three decades
While the 2013 seminar was mainly focused on the opportunities presented by the current refinery premises, including both harbor, and other facilities onshore, it also became clear that a broader scope was needed to include other areas of importance for the socio-economic development needed in the years to come.
At this time, four main areas of attention, to be included in one master plan, are identified by the Chamber
1. The current refinery premises as a whole
2. The ancient downtown commercial center
3. The Sero Colorado area, with focus on tourist related activities
4. The remainder of San Nicolas outside the downtown area, with focus on urban rehabilitation
The refinery area
This area holds most of the economic opportunities of the future, ranging from current economic activities, such as the oil transshipment facilities, and the oil products landing facilities for distribution in Aruba, to possible new activities such as logistic facilities for container, cruise terminal facilities in the current San Nicolas harbor, plus other non-polluting light industries on the current refinery area. The remainder of the vast premises could still a host of other activities, including research and test areas for alternative energy, for example.
The downtown area
The acquisition of the refinery area as public property opens the door, for the first time since almost a century, toward the creation of a waterfront for the downtown area, enabling Aruba to acquire a unique asset that will also give new life to the battered downtown area. If Aruba succeeds in revitalizing the downtown area, with all the richness of ‘art deco’ buildings of the thirties and forties, together with a new waterfront, it will contribute enormously to both local and tourist related economic activities. Just imagine this area coming to live with vibrant boutiques, outdoor terraces and good music.
The economic potential of this area has been acknowledged for a long time already, however the existence of a refinery at the horizon was not much of a help when it comes to tourist related development. While it is important that new thought is given to the possibilities available at this time, it is also necessary to do this carefully, taking into account the interest of the Aruban people in, for example, guaranteeing the access of locals to this area as an important venue for local leisure and pastime, more so because of the limited access of the beach areas on the Western side of the island because of tourism. Also, it is important to take into account that Aruba has already such issues with aging, causing a shortage of local labor in the years to come, even when the economy would not be growing. Thus, large scale hotel projects, more so including large scale commercial areas, should be given a second thought, as it does not seem recommendable to have large scale commercial development in Sero Colorado threatening the commercial revitalization of the downtown area.
A good business opportunity in this area would be a marina with yacht repair facilities, which is currently not widely available in the Caribbean. This will attract a new niche market to Aruba. Taking advantage of the location and the high-end tourists it will attract makes the possibility of building an 18-hole golf course more feasible. Exclusivity is important here, yet keeping the area open to locals to keep it vibrant. Developing limited small boutique hotels and upscale houses in Colony would only complement the two other golf courses and promote Aruba in a new way.
Urban rehabilitation San Nicolas
When thinking about, and discussing the socio-economic (re)development of San Nicolas, the much needed rehabilitation of those areas where people live, tends to be left out. However, just bringing to mind the immense decay and destruction, brought about by more than three decades of economic regression and neglect, makes us understand that not giving proper attention to this part of the equation would leave us with an incomplete comprehensive plan. At this time, it is still unclear where funds should and could come from, in order to effectuate the rehabilitation of dwellings, streets and sidewalks. On the other hand, just fixing the commercial downtown area, and creating tourist related facilities, leaving out the remainder of the town, will not be an option. The entire area should be lifted to the proper level of socio-economic wellbeing, in accordance with the level of Aruba as a whole.