PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – A new National Palace will be built over the next several years to resemble the iconic 90-year-old structure smashed during Haiti’s cataclysmic 2010 earthquake, authorities announced Wednesday.
President Jovenel Moise, who took office in February, launched a palace reconstruction commission that includes Haitian architects and historians. He pledged that the Parliament and the Palace of Justice will also be rebuilt during his five-year administration.
“The new National Palace will make the connection between the history, the culture and the future of the Haitian nation,” Moise said at the site of the former structure, where peacocks wander the grounds and officials conduct day-to-day operations in pre-fabricated buildings.
The planned presidential residence and offices would be at least the fifth National Palace at the Port-au-Prince site. One palace was destroyed in 1869 when rebels ignited munitions. Another was leveled by a bomb blast in 1912.
The most recent presidential residence was designed by Haitian architect Georges Baussan but finished in 1920 by U.S. naval engineers during a 19-year U.S. military occupation of Haiti. The enormous complex with three domes and pillars was larger than the White House.
Following the magnitude 7.0 earthquake in 2010, it became a twin symbol of the devastation and of the shattered government’s dysfunction. The caved-in structure was one of thousands of buildings toppled or badly damaged in the capital and surrounding areas.
The severely damaged palace overlooking Champ de Mars square was demolished in 2012 by the J/P Haitian Relief Organization, a nonprofit group started by Hollywood actor Sean Penn.
Clement Belizaire, executive director of the government’s agency for public buildings, said a revived National Palace will “absolutely” be completed before the close of 2020. He said it was too early to say precisely what will follow but added that the Beaux Arts architectural concepts of the old complex will be retained.
The palace project, part of an ambitious plan for an “administrative city” covering 30 hectares (75 acres) in downtown Port-au-Prince, is expected to go to a competitive bidding process later this year. There are no estimates of how much reconstruction will cost.
Some Haitians welcomed the reconstruction plan, noting Moise’s declaration that it will mean local jobs.
“The National Palace is the most important symbol for our nation. Rebuilding it shows the state is functioning,” said Alexis Josue, a technician at the Ministry of Finance.
But Nathanael Merceus, an aspiring mechanic, called the idea a waste of money, particularly when chronically struggling Haiti is facing so many other deep challenges.
“We don’t need more big government buildings when there are a lot of Haitian people suffering,” he said.