Imagine having a gigantic, empty space just waiting to be developed within the city limits. Not many opportunities like that come along, but during the last dictatorship (1976-83) an enormous tract of land in the southern section of Buenos Aires became the city’s newest amusement park.
Just one problem: it never brought in the expected crowds.
Compare the following aerial views from 1978 & 2004 to see just how desolate those 120 hectares once were:
A group of military personnel & civilians formed the Parques Interama corporation & won the bid to build the amusement park. Interama hired Richard Battaglia, who had spent 11 years at Disney & recently had gone solo, to design the park while Swiss company Intamin provided the rides. No expense was spared. At least U$S 100 million went into the project —probably more— and think what that was worth in the 1970s!
The jewel of the crown was a 200 m tall Torre Espacial, designed & built by Austrian firm Waagner-Biro… probably best known today for the new roof on the British Museum in London or the Berlin Reichstag roof. The Space Tower cost an estimated U$S 10 million alone, went horribly overbudget, & many say that it resembles a sword stuck in the earth. I can see it:
The amusement park opened in 1982 & one year later, management was turned over to the city government based on contract irregularities with Interama & bad debt. A projected IMAX theater was never built. Ultimately closed in 2003 because it was considered dangerous, the park was reopened in 2007 by interim mayor Jorge Telerman. Supposedly rides were to be restored, but the next mayor, Mauricio Macri, shut the rides down again in 2008.
For years I’ve wanted to explore such a controversial & unique space in Buenos Aires. It’s easy to arrive… take the E Line of the subway to the last stop, get the free transfer for the Premetro (an experience in itself) & hop off at the 8th stop in Villa Soldati. Piece of cake. It’s as if you’ve been transported somewhere else… definitely not the Buenos Aires most people know. And I was pleasantly surprised by what I found.
Rides sit unused & only one half of the park is currently open to the public. But there’s so much green it’s amazing. Birds are everywhere. And the Torre Espacial looks even better up close. The city government website claims that the elevator inside the tower runs on weekends, but the Saturday I went, it was shut down. Still yearning to see that panorama in person.
Legal troubles were initially resolved in 2000 with a settlement in favor of Interama, but a 2007 appeal overturned the original ruling. Even though partially reopened & wonderfully maintained, it still fails to attract crowds. It’s a shame.
Looking at this urban space as a park instead of a failed investment, I was reminded of a bit of local history: city officials built Parque Patricios as an alternative to the parks in Palermo in order to keep the lower classes away. How nice. The Parque de la Ciudad is even further south & surrounded by shantytowns, but I wonder how long it will be before those who live in the north discover this clean, pristine & unexpectedly green space… a bit of sweet retribution for those who live in the south :-)