Madrid’s great hole in the ground

The crisis saw an ambitious convention center never make it past its foundations

A bird's eye-view of Madrid's four skyscrapers and the plot meant to hold an international convention center.
A bird's eye-view of Madrid's four skyscrapers and the plot meant to hold an international convention center.álvaro garcía

A large plot of land adjoining Madrid’s four skyscrapers on Paseo de la Castellana, once meant to hold a convention center, has been abandoned since 2010. The city, which invested millions of euros on the project, now wants to rent out the space to a private operator to recoup some of the losses.

Under the terms of the new deal, the building that goes up will have to be used for educational, cultural, social, religious or health-related purposes, but a fourth of the surface area may be used for retail stores and entertainment services.

In exchange for a 75-year license, the operator will pay the city of Madrid an annual rent of around €1.94 million.

Since the local government has already spent more than €82.7 million on the aborted convention center (or more accurately on its foundations, as not a single floor ever went up), this means that it will be 43 years before the city gets its money back.

Taking into account a further €13.4 million currently in litigation in connection with construction licenses, it will take a half a century for Madrid city coffers to recover from the failed investment.

It will take a half a century for Madrid city coffers to recover from the failed investment

That is, of course, if any private companies express an interest in the public bid.

Last week, a plenary session of the municipal council approved the zoning plan that will regulate the new use of the plot. Shortly after that, the executive, presided by Mayor Ana Botella of the center-right Popular Party, authorized the bidding.

The space has been designated equipamiento singular, meaning that the winner of the bid must build a cultural center, a sports arena, a school, a hospital, a senior residence, a church or some other type of building that serves a social purpose. A fourth of the space may be given over to retail stores or leisure facilities.

The plot has a surface area of 33,325m2, meaning that retail space may take up up to 17,500m2. This is the same size as Las Rozas Village, a popular shopping center northwest of the capital, which contains mostly clothing stores.

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There is also an added adjoining area of 33,647m2 that the bid winner will have to convert into a public park.

Once a company wins the bid, it will have nine months to present the project and 32 more months to complete construction. Local authorities figure that it will be complete by late 2019 – as long as the new mayor to come out of upcoming elections in May does not alter the project (Botella has said she will not be running).

In any case, the move confirms the definitive end to “Madrid’s new architectural icon” as described by former mayor Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón. Back in 2007, when a team of three architects won the competition for ideas, Madrileños were told that the site would hold a circular skyscraper rising 120 meters into the air that was described as “a great artificial sun that will light up the city," containing an auditorium with seating capacity for 4,000 people and two other venue halls seating 1,500 each.

In 2010, when the crisis put construction work on hold for lack of money, only three underground floors had been completed.

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