A plan by the Mexico City government to remodel a public transportation center is drawing opposition from lawmakers and neighborhood activists.
The Chapultepec Intermodal Transfer Station (Cetram Chapultepec), located near Metro Chapultepec, is one of the most important public transportation hubs in central Mexico City. Allowing passengers to transfer between the Metro and buses, the Cetram serves over 230,000 people a day, including residents of the suburbs of Tlanepantla and Naucaulpan who work in Mexico City, residents of central Mexico City neighborhoods who work in the neighborhoods of Polanco and Lomas de Chapultepec, and visitors to the Chapultepec park, the largest city park in the western hemisphere.
The city government’s proposal with regard to the Cetram is to set up a public-private partnership, winning an investment of 477 million pesos ($25.9 million) from the Spanish development firm Inveravante and a group of investors at the company called “Desarrollo Urbanístico Chapultepec.” The investment will be used to remodel the Cetram, building a two-level underground structure to house the buses. The structure will also include space for restaurants, convenience stores and other businesses. The underground structure will run along the strip of land between the Health Secretariat and the Chapultepec park, but will also expand into the park.
In exchange for remodeling the Cetram, the city will cede 30,000 square meters of public land to the investors, including 2,529 square meters which are inside the Chapultepec park, and change land-use regulations to allow the construction of a three-story shopping mall and a 49-story building containing offices and a hotel. The shopping mall will be above the underground structure, and the tower will be placed at the southwest corner of the Health Secretariat triangle. The entire project will cost 3.2 billion pesos, of which 477 million pesos will be used to build the transfer station itself. In addition to the shopping mall, private businesses will have space to operate in the transfer station.
The land cession will last for 44 years, during which the investors will only need to pay a 7.88 percent tax to the city. After the 44 years, the land and buildings will be returned to the city.
The project has generated opposition from neighborhood activists, academics and legislators.
In an interview with The News, Mexico City Congress (ALDF) Deputy José Alfonso Suárez del Real, of the left-wing National Regeneration Movement (Morena), expressed his opposition to the project.
“No one is opposed to remodeling the Cetram in general, but we need to find another way to finance it,” he said. “We could work with the Inter-American Development Bank, we could work with the city budget, but a public-private partnership that cedes land for 44 years and allows the construction of a 49-story hotel is a very bad deal for the city.”
Deputy Suárez del Real also questioned the city’s claim that there is a lack of government money for large development projects, noting that the city government funded a large redevelopment of Presidente Masaryk Avenue in the upscale Polanco neighborhood in 2015.
“There is government money,” he said. “If last year, the government spent half a million pesos on Avenue Masaryk, we can afford to pay for the Cetram Chapultepec.”
In a press conference on Tuesday, Aug. 2, a coalition of opponents of the project expressed their concerns.
Many residents of neighborhoods near the Centram share Suárez del Real’s concern that the city is getting a bad deal from investors.
“The investors will make back their investment after 20 years, even if they pay for the upkeep and operation of the Cetram,” said Amellali Magallón, a resident of the Verónica Anzures neighborhood. “What happens for the other 24 years? They should have to pay rent to the city for the use of the land.”
Others connect the Cetram project to what they see as a sinister pattern of privatization of public space in Mexico City.
Pablo Gaytán, professor of urban studies at the Autonomous Metropolitan University (UAM) Xochimilco campus, thinks that it is important to oppose the Cetram Chapultepec project because the government plans to use similar financial models to remodel the other 49 Cetrams in Mexico City.
“Since 1997, under the pretext of a government budgetary crisis, the city government has been privatizing public space,” he said. “My hypothesis is that they’re going to try to convert the 49 Cetrams into shopping malls.”
Similar public-private partnerships have been used to remodel the Cetram Zapata, in the Coyoacán borough, in 2003, and the Cetram el Rosario, in the Atzcapotzalco borough, in 2013.
The project has faced many legal hurdles. In 2010, the Mexico City Housing and Development Secretariat (Seduvi) gave authority over the city’s 49 Cetrams to the mayor, allowing the executive to take action without the consent of the Mexico City Congress (ALDF). Many ALDF legislators have expressed their opposition to the project, especially from Morena, the National Action Party (PAN) and the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), who together control a solid majority of 38 of the 66 seats in the ALDF. If the project were subject to approval by the ALDF, it would probably not be approved.
Opponents of the project have suggested various legal challenges to the project, including the fact that part of the construction will take place in the Chapultepec park, which is a protected area and the fact that it will limit the visibility of the Health Secretariat, an art deco building protected by the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH). Such a project would require the approval of INAH, which has not been given.
ALDF legislators and neighborhood activists have made various requests for “amparos” to suspend the project. An “amparo” is a Mexican constitutional legal process that protects citizens and their basic rights. Various requests for “amparos” have been rejected, while one, which argues that the Chapultepec park cannot be subject to executive actions, is awaiting resolution.
Deputy Suárez del Real is confident that judges will block the project, but some neighborhood activists are less sure, and have begun the process of collecting more than 34,000 signatures to trigger a referendum to approve or block the project. Anyone who has been a resident of Mexico City for more than six months would be able to vote in the referendum.
Such a referendum has precedent in the Chapultepec Cultural Corredor referendum, a proposed project that would have turned Chapultepec Avenue between the Glorieta de los Insurgentes and Metro Chapultepec into a pedestrian mall and expanded commerce. Critics said the project was an attempt to privatize public space and collected the necessary signatures to trigger a referendum. On Dec. 6, 2015, residents of the Cuauhtémoc borough voted against the project by over 60 percent.
“We shouldn’t need to have a referendum about an illegal project,” said attorney Gustavo García, a resident of the Ampliación neighborhood. “But when an illegal project has been awarded all the necessary permits and is about to be carried out, we don’t have much choice.”