An iconic Havana theatre to become a luxury five-star hotel

Posted: 25-Dec-18 13:04

One of Havana´s most beloved cinemas and one of its oldest could soon become a luxury five-star hotel if plans laid out by government-owned tourism group Gaviota go to plan. The announcement came after the publishing of the Portfolio of Opportunities for Foreign Investment by Cuba´s Ministry of Foreign Trade and the project requires an investment of around $300 million.

An iconic Havana theatre to become a luxury five-star hotel

After being closed off to the public for over five years and falling into disrepair, a beloved Havana cinema could be given a second lease of life as a luxury five-star hotel if published investment reports are to be believed. Even when the government has remained silent on the issue and has not confirmed nor denied the proposed project laid out in the recently published Portfolio of Opportunities for Foreign Investment, rumours surrounding the possible impending transformation are plaguing the city.

An idea conceived by Gaviota S.A., Cuba´s largest government-owned tourism group, the recently unveiled investment plans for this part of the city entail the refurbishment and transformation of not just the Payret but the entire block where it sits. Comprising the streets of Paseo del Prado, Zulueta, San Jose and Teniente Rey, the revival of the block would include a second hotel of similar size and category and a shopping centre to replace what today stands as the Kid Chocolate sports hall (Sala Deportiva Kid Chocolate).

According to an article published by CubaNet, the project is part of a short to long-term investment plan that seek to transform El Capitolio´s surrounding area, following its being declared the official headquarters of the National Assembly (the equivalent to a Cuban parliament) serving what was its initial purpose at the time of its construction back in 1920.

A representative from Gaviota, who wished to remain anonymous, revealed:

“We are studying various proposals (…) one of them would be to preserve the Payret´s façade and exterior as well as part of its interior and part of its original decoration (…), this is the proposal most likely to go through although it has some detractors due to Payret´s historic and cultural value as a theatre (…), there are other proposals (…) a conference hall for the National Assembly (…) although I think that the hotel idea will be the likely winner at the end, together with the other planned hotel (Hotel Pasaje) which would also entail the removal of around 100 families still living in the block, plush another hundred in El Capitolio´s vicinity”

His words are in line with what other official documents from the Office of the Historian of Havana reveal, with remarks about the plot on the corner of Teniente Rey and Paso de Marti (a.k.a Prado street) but also with statements made by representatives of UCM, the Cuban company in charge of the construction works, in partnership with French company Bouygues Batiment International.

The total investment would surpass the $300 million-dollar mark, a figure unlikely to be easily raised without the participation of a foreign partner, which is why the plot has now been included (along with some other 12 plots in Havana) in the new Portfolio of Opportunities for Foreign Investment by Cuba´s Ministry of Foreign Trade.

The same source adds:

“All of this area is crying out for a structural renovation as well as a change of the buildings’ current functions, especially to achieve a more cohesive integration with El Capitolio, the Gran Teatro and the surrounding hotels, like the [Gran Hotel] Manzana [Kempinski La Habana] )(…), there are two buildings at risk of collapsing, one of them sits in front of the Tribunal Provincial (…) due to its state [of deterioration] it will have to be demolished, while those facing El Capitolio will be refurbished keeping its original facades (…), the Kid Chocolate sports hall will have to be moved elsewhere and the new Hotel Pasaje will be erected in its place, alongside a new shopping gallery similar to the one that existed before this building was converted into a sports centre.”

In the perimeter classified in official documents as “Manzana Payret” (Payret Block), Gaviota wants to add some 600 new hotel rooms as part of an overall plan that seeks to increase capacity in Havana by some 6,000 rooms in less than five years, and which would cement the company’s position as leader in the Cuban hotel industry, with investments surpassing those of Cubanacan S.A., the second largest government-owned hotel chain and tourism group in Cuba.

A UCM representative spoke to CubaNet:

“No other entity has so many projects in execution at the same time. We’re working on new hotels in the capital, and the development of a further 20 is being studied in a variety of plots in Havana (…). Next year we expect to break ground on two plots adjacent to the National Aquarium, to deliver the P1D at an advanced stage in what was the Feria de Malecon area, to complete other new hotels on Calle 23, among them another five-star plus property in front of Coppelia, which will instantly set a new record as the tallest in Cuba. There’s also the restoration of other hotels in the historic centre [Old Havana], the revival of Manzana Payret with two hotels and the opening of Isla de Cuba in Paseo del Prado”.

So, will a landmark like the Payret become a hotel? According to the UCM representative’s words along with the other sources, it looks highly likely that it will, although for now it´s just a potential project on paper, and plans could be eschewed in favour of restoring the theatre to its former glory instead of transforming it into a hotel. At least, it seems that the second option is what most habaneros would prefer as they would be sad to lose what for many is a symbol of the city, one that has given them joy as a cinema and theatre space since it first opened in 1877.

Waiting for the green light to be given to kick-start works on the revival of “Manzana Payret”, the theatre remains closed awaiting an unknown destiny.

Security guards in Payret are equally oblivious to what will happen to the landmark theatre:

“One day they say it will continue to exist as a cinema, others that it will become part of the Asamblea (Parliament), but now they’re saying it will become a hotel and then we’ll be relocated to Campoamor (formerly known as Teatro Capitolio) once its refurbishment is complete, but given that’s going at a snail’s pace, I think they will end up demolishing it”

Despite the excitement generated by the revival of Manzana Payret, not all “habaneros” would be happy to see the iconic theatre cease to exist to become something else. But only time will tell. We’ll keep you in the loop whatever happens. 


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