With two giant, jagged overhead panels running its length like a crown, Costa Rica’s jewel, the National Stadium, will officially open its doors to the public on Saturday. The mammoth stadium, built to accommodate 35,000 fans, is the largest, and by far the most modern, event venue constructed in Costa Rican history.
It’s hard to imagine that barely two years ago, the plot of land on the west side of San José’s La Sabana park was a muddy lot, a final resting place for the old National Stadium, torn down in May 2008. In its place, thanks to the Chinese government, sits an aerodynamic masterpiece equipped with two jumbo television screens, three decks of seating, ground-level office buildings, a small sports museum, a hotel, banquet hall and a palatial staircase serving as the southern entryway.
The pace of construction of the new stadium was unparalleled by Costa Rican standards. While most large construction projects in Costa Rica take excessive time to construct or repair, such as the Caldera Highway which took 34 years to plan and create (and continues to undergo repairs), construction of the National Stadium was an impressive example of how quickly a major project can be assembled when the right crew is employed, government bureaucracy is pushed aside, and funding isn’t an issue.
Or maybe it is just a sign of what the Chinese are capable of doing.
While a giant Costa Rican flag waves on the western side of the National Stadium, the “Jewel of La Sabana,” as it was deemed by former President Oscar Arias, was constructed by a staff of entirely Chinese workers. In June 2007, Arias severed diplomatic ties with Taiwan to officially establish Costa Rica’s new partnership with China. As a token of appreciation, the Chinese government offered Costa Rica a new National Stadium as “a gift”, and spent an estimated $100 million on its construction.
“Thanks to the immense generosity of the nation of China, this dream will be possible in a matter of months,” Arias said during the National Stadium ground breaking ceremony on March 12, 2009. “Today we lay down the first brick of a stadium that will be proportional to the passion of our nation; a stadium that will be the heart of our country, in the middle of the lung of the city.”
Next week, with two weeks of sporting events and concerts scheduled for the stadium’s inauguration, Arias will be introduced as the guest of honor prior to a soccer match between Costa Rica and Argentina on Tuesday. In addition to the game against soccer power Argentina, which will feature one of the world’s best players, Lionel Messi, the event lineup also includes a game against China for the inaugural ceremony on Saturday, a performance by the National Symphony on Wednesday, a boxing match with Tica World Champion Hannah Gabriels on Thursday, a concert featuring national bands on Friday, April 1, a 26-band music festival on April 2, and a salsa and reggaeton concert by Victor Manuel, Gilberto Santo Rosa and Don Omar on April 3. The final event of the inaugural ceremonies will be a concert by Colombian pop star Shakira on April 10.
Amid all the celebration and festivities that surround the inauguration, some lingering concerns remain about parking and area maintenance. While 35,000 can fit in the stadium, officials announced that only an estimated 3,000 parking spots are available in the area around the stadium. In December, Juan Carlos Bonilla, a spokesman for the Costa Rican Sports and Recreation Institute (ICODER), which monitored stadium development, told The Tico Times that only 200 parking spaces were available on the stadium premises (TT, Dec. 10, 2010).
“The public will have to look for parking close to the stadium,” Bonilla said.
“[People] can come by train or bus. If they drive, they will have to find parking near the stadium.”
This same idea was echoed in a press conference Tuesday, when Transportation Vice Minister Maristella Vaccari outlined traffic routes for event attendees. Vaccari said that parking around the stadium will be prohibited beginning at 1 a.m. Saturday morning, and that special bus routes to the stadium will be available from Desamparados, Moravia, Alajuela, Heredia, and Santa Ana. Buses will also join with parking lots in Tibás, San Antonio de Belén and Heredia to limit driving into the area.
“We strongly encourage all motorists to consider coming to the game in buses or via train,” Vaccari said. “We anticipate that the traffic around the stadium could be heavier due to the inauguration events and use of mass transit would greatly decrease any unforeseen issues from occurring.”
While increased organizational efforts have been created for the inauguration events, a fixed transportation plan for activities at the National Stadium remains undeveloped.
Perhaps the staunchest opposition to the National Stadium development came from former Culture Minister Guido Sáenz, who designed La Sabana Park in 1970s. In an interview with The Tico Times, Sáenz referred to the National Stadium as a crime and that he thinks it “will lead to the eventual ruin of the park” (TT, Dec. 24, 2010).
“[Former President] Oscar Arias could have built that stadium anywhere he wanted,” Sáenz said. “There’s plenty of room for a stadium in other parts of San José that are not designated areas for a public park. But he chose to build it in the biggest public park in the center of town. Now there are going to be 35,000 people trying to get in to see a game in an already crowded part of town. It’s a catastrophe.”
The other aspect of the National Stadium that is yet to be seen is what China will expect in return for their gift to Costa Rica.
“So far, Costa Rica hasn’t given anything to China,” said China’s former ambassador to Costa Rica, Wang Xiaoyuan, in 2009. “But we are confident that in the future there will be projects that benefit both countries” (TT, Mar. 20, 2009).
The $100 million stadium, which will be celebrated throughout the nation during the upcoming weeks, will most likely incur some residual cost for Costa Rica in the upcoming years.
For a full schedule of events, see www.ticotimes.net's calendar page.