29-01-2019 14:39

Reviving Skalo Into a Trendy Residential & Business District

Over the last few decades we have seen the restoration of many beautiful mansions in Scharloo, (Skalo). Brought back to their former glory, they have become beautiful office spaces to many companies. This development was just what this area needed to inject life into this historical residential neighborhood built by Curaçao’s wealthy merchants during the 1800’s. During 1870’s this area became very fashionable and attracted many discerning residents.

We spoke with Marcel Dennert, Managing Director of Stichting Monumentenzorg, who shared his fresh outlook on the Skalo area. Since 1954, Monumentenzorg has been maintaining and restoring buildings and other properties that represent the cultural heritage of Curaçao, especially in Willemstad.

The present focus is to make Skalo an area that is sought out by young and dynamic entrepreneurs that create Curaçao-based projects to form a unique neighborhood character as part of the totality of the heritage city. Think of art, wellness, café’s, recreation areas, shops and more. The possibilities are endless. Our heritage city is divided into different areas. As Marcel explains, “If I take Punda for instance, I see more possibilities for residential activities, accompanied with food & beverage and retail activities. Pietermaai has already developed into a hospitality area, and we are very happy with the outcome and hope that it stays that way. Skalo, on the other hand, should be more focused on the younger generation, young entrepreneurs looking to share their ideas, their talents, their offerings with less focus on harbor activities as is currently the case. We have to gentrify it a little, but not completely, so we can keep its edginess.” 

Recognizing that we have many monuments in our heritage city and that it is costly to maintain them, there needs to be a source of income for the project to be successful. The need then arises to have a portion of the area dedicated to residential buildings, to reduce the number of vacant spaces and to keep the area alive. It would not be enough to have only businesses in Skalo. The area also needs to offer residential buildings in order to encourage people to spend more time in the area during non-business hours. Therefore, the district needs to be trendy and desirable in order to attract people with a higher disposable income who are willing to pay a premium to live there. A similar situation can be found in Amsterdam, whereby the city started re-converting office spaces to residential spaces once again. People love to live in thriving cities. We have to make our city trendy in order for it to thrive. Indeed, big cities do offer more methods of transportation and facilities for pedestrians, compared to what Willemstad currently has to offer. Marcel acknowledges, “It’s difficult to compete, but that’s not our aim. The question is, how can we make it work for us? I believe you have to have a holistic approach towards the city. It’s no use to duplicate the same things everywhere in the city. You have to make each district unique.”

There are certain functions related to Skalo Abou, that have very little to do with the wharf and harbor activities. For instance, there are storage buildings that get their goods from Nieuwe Haven, not from the ships that dock along the Skalo waterfront. In fact, they have no harbor activities at all, but are simply just located there. So, the idea would be to relocate these functions that are located on prime waterfront property to develop an upscale bayside residential area in its place. The hope is to attract people that contribute to creating a high-standard living area, making Skalo once again, the desirable residential area it once was. Living in a historical monument should not be relegated to those with a very low income, because of the high cost of maintaining these valuable buildings. As a result, these precious pieces of history fall into disrepair and decay. So how do we solve this? The island needs to provide lower cost housing for lower income tenants and relegate the monuments to higher income tenants. 

Another challenge that cannot be overlooked is parking. Curaçao residents are not used to city living. We have grown to expect a parking space right in front of our door. The intention is to make the city less car dependent by looking at other forms of transportation, like for example, using more bicycles, including shared bicycles with docking stations. Despite the fact that there is ample parking in the nearby Waaigat area, many people do not want to walk much. Marcel proposes, “For those who do not want to walk, maybe a bike could be a solution. Or maybe a trolley or a ‘hop-on-hop-off’ bus as a form of transportation to decrease the pressure of parking.”

Marcel notes, “I already see a positive move towards a town center. I’ve seen more people coming to town who want to start a business and live in the city center, than you would have seen in the past. And the housing facilities are becoming more modern.” One such example would be Bargestraat, where there are four units; some one-bedroom and others two-bedroom apartments. These units combine character with modern features. This combination characterizes the design of all the buildings that are restored now as modern living facilities. They feature much more than you would expect in a traditional monument, with more spacious bathrooms, good quality modern kitchens, connections for air-conditioning, higher-end finishes and ample electrical outlets. 

Marcel also hopes to add more artistic impressions in Skalo, to give the area a more edgy and artsy look. They have recently revived the park to attract more people, especially families, and eventually hope to attract more tourists to this area once more businesses arrive. They will be making more use of the park this year with at least four park-related events, and are considering the option to provide free wifi. As Marcel sums it up, “For right now, we invite current neighbors and businesses to participate in the upkeep of the park, and offer it to host more activities like the great events that ‘Hello Skalo’ has been offering. We can’t do this alone. We need more people to join us. So, let’s do something great together.”