Many people were less than thrilled to see the demolition of Varadero's Hotel Internacional, the pride of Cuba's renowned beach resort and site of countless events linked to the country's history and culture.
Constructed in the 1950s, the emblematic installation was part of the nation's and the area's architectural heritage, for many years one of the most highly regarded tourist destinations, given its harmonious design and the beauty of its natural environment.
It was located directly on the beach, on one of the most beautiful stretches in Varadero.
Staying there was a real experience, and figured among the best memories of Cubans. It was a favorite of well-known artists, who often performed in the Continental cabaret, one of the most popular night clubs in the country for decades.
An expansive, cool, and functional facility, with rooms facing the sea or the gardens. A point of reference for many travelers.
But the Internacional was destined to disappear. Authorities from the Ministry of Tourism, and that of Science, Technology, and Environment report that current environmental regulations, especially those regarding construction on sand dunes, were decisive to the decision to demolish the hotel, which was also in poor structural condition and therefore less attractive to visitors.
Any effort to restore the building would have been useless, commented Aimée Álvarez, a member of the project management group in charge of the new version of the Hotel Internacional, "It wasn't worth making the investment in a building that was right on the beach, on top of the dunes, and therefore the plan to demolish it, like other hotels and installations located in the coastal area."
She insists that the decision was a hard one, but necessary, and that seeing the magnificent new hotel going up is consoling.
"We aren't saying good-bye. It's a new placement, modern, with more capacity, still located on the best section of the resort's beach, but back from the dunes, and with a vibrant design strategy, equally attractive to visitors. It is more beautiful, no one can doubt it."
The building with 11-stories at its center, will make the new hotel one of the largest in Varadero, a five star plus facility with 946 rooms, four times as large as its original capacity, conceived with a very modern design, in accordance with current standards, and decorated with the latest techniques, explained Joel Mena Benítez, adjunct director of the project.
The building will include an exclusive section of 90 suites and guests will be able to enjoy a view of the sea from their rooms, along with a convention center and pools covering 2,400 square meters.
Designers likewise planned the re-construction of the legendary Continental cabaret, from days gone by, and a replica of the original entrance.
Mena Benítez noted as significant that the new hotel is being constructed with strict adherence to the requirements of international certification, using environmentally friendly, sustainable construction methods. This pursuit of excellence reinforces expectations that the hotel will be a favorite among tourists.
The project, in the hands of the Tourism Real Estate Enterprise at a cost of more than 150 million dollars, is being managed by the corporation ARCOS-BBI (Bouygues Batiment International), and is at this time 52% complete.
"We're already done with the easy part. What's ahead is the more complex, that is, the finish, the termination, and the delivery and start-up stage," he said.
The challenge facing builders and all those involved in the project will be concluding the work and handing it over, ready for sales before the current year ends, that would be six months ahead of schedule, according to the original plan.
Facing the greatest challenge is the Architectural Works Construction Brigade (BCOA) no. 36, as well as other forces affiliated with the Ministry of Construction and suppliers, and will involve better organization of the workforce, more support for workers, and guaranteeing resources and materials on the part of project managers, said Luis Valdés Suárez, adjunct director of the Tourism Works Construction and Erection Enterprise.
Finishing by this date, and with the quality expected, will be a milestone for construction projects in Varadero, with a hurricane to boot, that led to a slight reduction in the rate of progress, Valdés said, noting that, over the coming months, the workforce could grow to surpass the thousand individuals currently on the job.
Making the maximum effort, "slugging it out," will be required, according to José Luis Arévalo Sánchez, head of the construction brigade. At least in my area, he said, that is guaranteed, insisting they would finish on time, while similar opinions were offered by Aurora Galindo and Ricardo Áreas, in charge of outside areas.
"For now, we're doing well," Áreas said, "in step with the execution timeline."
José Díaz Cabello, project coordinator for the international company, asserts that the completion date is a challenge for all, but possible. If the means and resources are on hand, there shouldn't be a problem, he said, although, yes, the organization of work must improve and perhaps the workday extended.
The experienced builder noted the better quality of work being done and reported that the new Hotel Internacional will be his last project. Once it is completed, he said with a smile, he will retire after 44 years with the Bouygues company.
Time will tell if Varadero's new Hotel Internacional will be as attractive as its predecessor.
It certainly does not lack special features or beauty, but soon it's superior dimensions will emerge.
The hotel is being constructed with inspiration, from the heart, according to Aimée. "The old building's glory did not die," she said, "We know what it meant to Cubans, its patrimonial and historical value.
"It's a pleasure to see it re-emerging in its new location more modern, more expansive, prettier. When it is finally done, it will be even more beautiful and one of the most popular in the resort."
More than its majesty, visitors will be impressed by its clean lines, and the organization of its areas, where masters have been at work, sharing their skills and discipline with younger co-workers.
No one can be seen sitting down, unoccupied, or doing something else. Shortly after lunchtime was announced, around noon, a large number of people remained on the job. Looking up more than a few ironworkers could be seen in the highest part of the building, doing the most complicated work.
High standards and effective organization are important, but only spirits like these can get the job done, to open the New Year with a re-born Hotel Internacional in Varadero.