The World Heritage Centre received a request from the State Party dated 27 November 2007 to organize a technical mission to the Historic Quarter of the City of Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay, concerning recent developments as part of a longstanding construction project, “Marinas de Sacramento”, which includes a yacht harbor, hotel and convention centre adjacent the World Heritage property. The documentation provided by the State Party as a basis for the technical mission indicated the principal problem to be a lack of agreement among key national and local stakeholders concerning the abovementioned project. At the time of the request, the World Heritage Centre received information from the State Party which provided the official baseline information to undertake the mission.
This project was initially launched by the Ministry of Transportation and Public Works of Uruguay in 1994, prior to the inscription of the property on the World Heritage List in 1995. Following a study by a special commission created by the Ministry of Transport and Public Works for this purpose, the project was approved in December 1998. Between February 1999 and December 2001, project planning began and environmental impact procedures were set in place. However, the project was suspended in 2000 and recommenced in 2006 with the support of the Ministry of Transport and Public Works, and the Municipality of Colonia del Sacramento, with environmental impact assessments still incomplete.Subsequently the Executive Council of Colonia and the National Directorate of Environment (DINAMA) have expressed reservations about certain aspects of the project.
The World Heritage Committee has also expressed its own reservations about the project. At its 27th session (UNESCO, 2003), the World Heritage Committee invited the State Party to proceed with the revision of the hotel-casino project in accordance with the recommendations of the 2002 ICOMOS expert mission, and to urgently initiate the preparation of master and management plans for the area. At its 29th session (Durban, 2005), the World Heritage Committee was notified that the hotel-casino plan was being revised following recommendations of the ICOMOS technical mission in May 2004. The World Heritage Committee asked to be kept informed of subsequent progress with the project and the development of a management plan.
In February 2005, the “The Bay and the Islands of Colonia del Sacramento” property was inscribed on Uruguay’s Tentative List as a possible future extension of the existing World Heritage property.
An ICOMOS technical mission to the property took place from 9 to 11 June 2008. The mission particularly looked at the situation of the yacht harbor, hotel and convention centre, and provided a very useful social context for examination of the project. In evaluating the possible impacts associated with this project, it is important to recognize the social changes which have occurred in the years since its inscription. The residential population of the Historic Quarter of Colonia del Sacramento has declined by 50% since 1995, and the focus of the district has shifted to accommodating tourism initiatives (hotels, restaurants, entertainment centers) within what used to be residential structures. The proposed project would bring in tourists and visitors in much greater numbers than at present, and is likely remove the “living” qualities of the historic quarter.
The principal conclusions and recommendations of the mission are as follows:
a) In spite of the negative impacts offered by the rapid growth of tourism and the replacement of part of its residential population by tourism-related activities, the World Heritage property maintains its outstanding universal value, as well as its authenticity and integrity;
b) Nevertheless, management effectiveness and technical conservation efficiency needs to be improved, and several threats to the property need to be confronted to maintain its heritage values. The mission report makes particular recommendations about the need to establish guidelines for treatment of facades, siding, colors and the retention of plaster;
c) The lack of an integrated management plan requires urgent attention in efforts to improve conditions on site. In particular the mission recommends the completion of the management plan that began in 2003 and was interrupted in 2007, and provides a detailed description of the activities that the plan must direct, the issues it must confront, and the forms of control, coordination and collaboration it must employ. As well, it suggests the need to initiate the restoration of buildings on the “Calle de los Suspiros” and several buildings in the old port;
d) While the operating institutional frameworks at national and local levels are adequate, it would also be important to provide a management authority specifically charged with safeguarding the property’s heritage values in the context of World Heritage, to guide the implementation of the required integrated management plan, related conservation activities, and the coordination of the actions and interventions of other national and local actors and organisms;
The mission report suggests that the project “Marinas de Sacramento” be suspended pending studies of alternate locations for the project which would not compromise the integrated qualities of the Historic Quarter and its maritime environment. Additionally, the Bay itself now figures in the Uruguayan Tentative List and has underwater heritage values. The mission report suggests that the alternatives developed must be