‘Private properties warned of illegal encroachments’
Giving Garapan a facelift is on everybody’s wish list and the Garapan Revitalization Task Force is already well on its way toward that goal, with Office of Planning and Development deputy director Chris Concepcion disclosing that they are now in the initial or architecture & engineering, or A&E, design phase, which began just last month.
“We are now doing land surveys to determine where illegal encroachments are, and [doing] a topographic survey to determine any elevation changes, and the location, size and height of all features and improvements located in the right of way. We expect the surveys to be completed this month,” he said. “In the meantime, our design team has been gathering data and documents from stakeholder agencies. We’ll be meeting with our landscape architect next week to see what types of trees, flowers and plants are feasible given the proximity to the ocean and soil conditions in the area.”
The A&E design phase is expected to be completed in four to five months before moving on to the “construction phase.”
“The construction phase will be the main phase of the project since because of this, we will get to see the physical transformation of Garapan Core. All work will take place only within the public right of ways. Private property owners are responsible for any improvements on their own properties,” Concepcion said.
This early, the Garapan Revitalization Task Force is giving fair warning to private property owners who have built unauthorized structures on public lands that they must remove them at their own expense to make way for new and improved streets and sidewalks.
“There may be legal consequences for those who fail to cure any unauthorized encroachments. The CNMI government has procedures in place that will be followed, and we intend to work collaboratively with business owners and [the Department of Public Works] to ensure a smooth and efficient process is followed,” he said.
The Garapan Revitalization Task Force was formed in 2019 and is funded by an $11.2-million grant from the Economic Development Administration of the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Concepcion said that EDA gave them a five-year window to complete the project. “…But our internal estimates had us at 36 months, barring any complications with construction materials, supplies, labor, manpower, natural disasters, or other issues. …The initial grant proposal we submitted to EDA in 2019 was based on cost estimates at the time. However, we are aware that construction costs have gone up significantly since the COVID-19 pandemic hit so we are leaving all options on the table in terms of additional funding needs for the future.”
He acknowledged that the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed down their efforts to complete this project.
“With the government shutdowns and the spread of the virus in our community, we are forced to recalibrate our proposed time frame for project completion. However, we never stopped working, even during the government shutdowns, so we feel [that], with the strong partnerships we’ve built with our stakeholders, we are able to still move forward,” he added.
The improvement and development in the Garapan Core is not only expected to garner interest from people all over the world or lure more tourists from our usual tourism markets but also to give residents an environment that understands their well-being.
“We want to assure the community that we are all on the same page when it comes to the revitalization of Garapan. This has always been the economic center of our tourism industry and we all want to see it improved. Our goal is to clean out all the blight that has been accumulating over the last 20 years or so and replace them with brand new infrastructure,” Concepcion said.
All enhancements will only take place within the public right of ways, not on private properties, Concepcion said. “We will re-grade and re-pave each street in the Garapan Core, add sidewalks and curbs on both sides of each street, add lighting, landscaping, and street parking. Businesses will start to see the improvements, which we hope will encourage them to improve their own properties, enticing more entrepreneurs to open restaurants, cafés, gift shops, museums, art galleries, cultural centers, bars, clubs, clothing stores, and other businesses typically found in tourist resort areas. We can expect to see property values increase with all the improvements we will be making,” he added.
Garapan’s revitalization is also a part of the Marianas Visitors Authority’s 10 years Sustainable Tourism Plan. “The community can expect to see us break ground in the next several months. When construction begins, there will be minor inconveniences for motorists and pedestrians while the project gets underway. We aim to do the project in phases so that any disruptions will be minimal. We seek everyone’s patience and understanding as we get this project done as quickly and smoothly as possible,” Concepcion said.
“It’s been a long time coming and we want to thank Gov. [Ralph DLG] Torres, Lt. Gov. [Arnold I.] Palacios, members of the House and Senate, and all stakeholders for their patience and support as we roll this important project out in the coming months,” Concepcion added.