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Santinis San Juan
With more than $200 million in investment for different projects about to go to bid, the mayor of San Juan wants to bring prosperity to San Juans forgotten areas and improve the quality of life for its citizens
BY TAINA ROSA
December 20, 2001
A resident recently obtained $18,000 in financial help from the city of San Juan to continue running his familys business. In the citys Cantera sector, 62 new homes were built to provide adequate housing to low-income families. A public higher-education institution is being revamped to train people to meet the demand for skilled employees.
These are just a few examples of San Juan Mayor Jorge Santinis plans for the capital city. He is on a mission to take the capital citys economy to new heights. To do so, he says, the city must be run like a businessdesigning income-generating development strategies that attract investment while improving the quality of life for its residents.
To spearhead the effort, Santini created the Tourism, Housing & Economic Development Department. The task of this department is to integrate initiatives ranging from infrastructure development to job training. The department is comprised of five offices; San Juan Integra, Municipal Businesses, Business Development, Housing, and Tourism.
Santini is convinced that his strategies will benefit residents because "when people are armed with training, an appropriate home, and clean and safe surroundings, they have greater probability of being successful and, thus, be able to contribute to the overall economic development." Meanwhile, he will continue streamlining government services, security, and cleanliness to help make the capital city more investment-friendly.
Providing the tools for economic empowerment includes developing incentives that help form micro-enterprises or build up businesses. Santini wants to improve the citys infrastructure so micro-enterprises can be successful.
San Juan Integra
According to Tourism, Housing & Economic Development Department Director Dana Cruz, the San Juan Integra office manages federal funds and offers residents a one-stop service center where they can receive administrative assistance. Santini said the past administration didnt maximize the use of available federal funds so a considerable amount of these were returned to the federal government. San Juan Integras goal is to use them in their entirety, especially to promote the independence of those currently on welfare.
The Departments Municipal Businesses division plans to invest more than $60 million to develop a Sports Complex by improving the Hiram Bithorn Stadium as well as the Roberto Clemente and Pedrin Zorilla Coliseums. Infrastructure will be modernized with computerized equipment, retail space will be developed, leisure parks will be added, and the parking lot will be expanded, according to Santini. A new 94,000-square-foot exhibition center for industrial fairs will also be integrated into the Sports Complex. Architectural firm ARCH Caribbean PSC will handle the $27 million exhibition-center project. Project completion is expected in three years.
Municipal Businesses also plans to develop a tourist route around Santurces Plaza de Mercado and outdoor cafescalled Cafe Al Aire Libre (Fresh Air Cafe)and other leisure enterprises at selected city surroundings and plazas.
Another projectAventura Siglo 21 (21st Century Adventure)requires a $50 million investment. It is intended to turn the current San Juan dumpsiteto be closed Dec. 31into a 200-acre urban park that will include a public golf course, walking trails, and bicycle routes. According to Cruz, developers specializing in turning dumpsites into profitable leisure centers have received information on this project and a request for proposal (RFP) should be out in February. Local and foreign developers are already showing interest in the project, she added.
The citys Santurce sector will be the site of the $10 million Paseo de Las Artes (Walkway of the Arts), which consists of upgrading the areas avenues by adding lighting and replanting to make them more attractive and safe for visitors and investors.
Launched in July, Rio Piedras Renace (The Rebirth of Rio Piedras) aims to revamp that part of the city as a shopping zone. Its primary goal is to improve the areas image through a $26 million investment that will improve its streets, lighting, security, and parking.
The Business Development Center was launched in June to empower potential entrepreneurs and to help businesses that want to expand. It will also develop employment sources. The Center has invested some $2.8 million in diverse activities, according to Cruz.
The center offers counseling, training, financial help, and other resources. City employeesamong them accountants, lawyers, and other professionalshelp residents incorporate businesses, develop business plans, and obtain loans, among other forms of assistance.
"By developing more micro-businesses, we reduce dependency because people who work in them will support themselves instead of depending on the government," said Santini.
The Center goes hand in hand with the citys Training & Employment Program, which develops educational programs to satisfy job demands, having already served about 1,700 San Juan residents. A priority of the Program is the $6 million revamping of the Colegio Tecnologico de San Juannow called Colegio Universitario Tecnologico de San Juanto upgrade and update its functions.
"This public higher learning institution was being ignored. It was not advertised and course offerings were dwindling. Its physical infrastructure had deteriorated. Now, we are remodeling and adding courses, among them a bachelors degree in nursing. We will also add a plastic arts school and a graphic arts school, as well as courses in environmental promotion & awareness, sports & recreation, electronics, automotive mechanics, and other areas that lead to well- paying jobs," said Santini.
With a more than $40 million budget, the Housing Office plans to develop adequate, affordable housing to low-income families through two programs: Hogar en Reconstruccion and Hogar Propio (Home in Reconstruction and Your Own Home, respectively).
Hogar en Reconstruccion will use city-trained construction workers to refurbish homes.
"A group of people is organized and creates a micro-business to rebuild the homes in their community. This creates a bond within the members of the community as well as employment opportunities," explained Santini.
Hogar Propio combines various federal funds (Community Development Block Grants, Section 8, and HOME to help qualified buyers with down payments to purchase homes.
"By reevaluating the diverse federal funds available for the purchase of homes, we can help families that didnt qualify for a social-interest home because they surpassed the financial requirements, though they would be able to pay the mortgage. We refocused the way these funds are granted so these families, particularly young married couples, wouldnt be left on the street," Santini said.
San Juans Tourism Department is investing $250,000 in an advertising campaign, which began in September and will run until the end of December. The project aims to create a tourism campaign for the islands residents to spur internal tourism, offer educational programs on the history of San Juan, and promote San Juan as an ideal setting for international events to be held at the Sports Complex. The mayors office is lobbying to bring the Miss Universe pageant to Puerto Rico again, this time to San Juan.
This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.