After a year and a half of remodelling, the parque central of León was reopened to the public last Friday in an event that concluded a week-long celebration of the 146th anniversary of the birth of national hero and poet Rubén Darío, who is buried in the Cathedral of León.
Plastic chairs lined the park facing the Cathedral of León for a light show illuminating the church’s facade. Traditional dancers and musicians played to a packed audience, as the city’s newly elected municipal officials looked on from their VIP seating next to the stage.
It was a day for city pride and the crowd stood and sung repeated renditions of “Viva León, Jodido!” Youths danced around inside “La Gigantona” effigies and screamed out patriotic “bombas.” As evening faded to night, an impressive fireworks show shot off from the roof of the mayor’s office.
The reconstruction of the central park began in May 2011. In partnership with the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation and the Nicaraguan Tourism Institute (INTUR), the mayor’s office of León got almost $700,000 for the redevelopment and restoration of the historic center of the city. The reopening of the park marks the first stage of the project, which has cost more than half of the total investment.
While many Leónese families are happy to get their park back, others are expressing disappointed with the final product after a long wait. One life-long resident said he was unhappy with the restoration project, claiming that nothing seems to have changed in the park except the removal of trees and parks benches. Of the 37 trees that originally lined the park, only 10 survived the restoration process. The decision to remove so many trees in the name of beautification—including a 50-year old Malinche that was used as a local landmark—was protested by a university environmentalist group from the UNAN. But Benita Bergara, a member of the municipal team responsible for the redevelopment, said that the decision to remove the trees was recommended by ecologists because the trees were sick and being destroyed by termites.
It is also unfair to say nothing has changed. The $400,000 spent on the redevelopment has gone into laying a new concrete floor, moving electricity and telephone cables underground, repainting the water fountain and giving the façade of the Cathedral a new coat of white paint. New trees have been planted and the two lion statues that stand guard outside the doors to the Cathedral have been cleaned up and repainted. While there were no major design changes to the park, the redevelopment has certainly improved the over aesthetics. The park is now much cleaner and the area feels more spacious.
But some are worried about what’s to come. Some citizens are concerned that the remodelling of the park is part of a plan to remove the vendors from the park, deter families and groups from congregating, and eliminating the central market behind the Cathedral—all under the guise of “beautifying” the area.
The concerns are not entirely baseless. Back in 2011, when the reconstruction project was still being debated, the person in charge of the park for the mayor’s office, Isidra Silva Velasquez, said, “The reality is that the park and surrounding area has been proliferated by traders – it looks like a market.” Some residents are concerned that the second phase of downtown restoration project, which will focus on cleaning up the north side of the cathedral, will be an attempt to remove the marketeers.
In June 2011, the Cathedral of León was recognised by UNESCO and placed on their list of world heritage sites—one month after construction began on the park. It remains to be seen whether the fully remodelled center will serve the needs of the people of León, or whether the goal is to attract more tourists to the city, making the historic centre a “beautified” area like Granada.
Whatever the case, the majority of those in attendance for the reopening performance joyously sang along with the band and the weekend proved to be an ideal time for the people of León to become reacquainted with their central park.