In the beginning of December, the town of Progreso took the very unexpected move of suddenly ripping up nearly all of the city streets, without any advance notice or warnings to local area small businesses. At the beginning of the Christmas shopping season, and for small stores and shops without the highest profit margins in the world (can you imagine what your profit is from month to month, when all you sell is Doritos?), this meant bad news, as virtually all automobile traffic was blocked.
Rumors swirled. Some suggested that Calle 80 was going to be permanently shut down to traffic altogether, and transformed into a pedestrian shopping zone. Other suggested that Progreso was undergoing a facelift and upgrade to its water system, to appeal to cruise ship traffic. Still others wondered if the whole thing wasn’t just a big show of new government spending, since the original asphalt streets didn’t appear to be in any state of major disrepair.
In mid-December, the Diario de Yucatan stepped in with what really happened, and what was intended. In 2007, Progreso was granted a budget of about 20 million pesos for improvements, that they had somehow forgotten to use and which would be yanked if it wasn’t used by the end of the year. So up came the streets, and down went our ability to get around town. The entire thing has proved remarkably inconvenient, and I questioned the wisdom of taking on such a large-scale project for purely aesthetic reasons, with so many other problems facing Progreso.
Now, in mid-January, it is all starting to become clear, and starting to feel worth it. Though many of the streets are still a mess, the ones that have been completed are quite pretty, done in white stamped concrete and then treated to look somewhat like cobblestone. The new street extends all the way from the malecon up Calle 80, to the main square and the municipal building, as well as a few streets east eand west.
What has had even greater impact, is that Progreso has paid for every local store owner to paint and repair the facades of their buildings. The restoration of the municipal building has thus far had the greatest visual impact (check out the picture above, where you can clearly see the before and after of the new paint job), but it seems that every building in town is getting sparkled up, from the always-grim Super San Francisco de Asis supermarket to the tiniest of pirated DVD shops.
The overall visual impact promises to be quite breathtaking, as Progreso attempts to (at least superficially) transform itself from the dodgy little port town that time forgot and the government ignored, into a beautiful, charming Mexican colonial city by the sea. We can’t wait to see it finished.